What to do when the new shake roof buckles?

In a home renovation, the owners decided to install a cedar shake roof, but it buckled in the first serious rain.

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    After a debate about what kind of roof to put on Sheep Dog Hollow, a 1902 farmhouse that's being renovated, a cedar shake roof was installed. But it developed a problem. What now?
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So far Martin and I have been extremely fortunate in our attempt to renovate Sheep Dog Hollow in as green and economical manner as possible. While the 100-year-old farmhouse has needed a complete overhaul – from its once impressive granite foundation to its crumbling roof – we’ve been blessed to work with capable carpenters and masons who’ve dealt quickly with whatever problem the old house has thrown up at them. And there have been plenty.

That said, we’ve been spared the harrowing scenarios that can be found with a quick Google of “home renovation nightmares.”

But now we have a problem, and a serious one. The new cedar shake roof that was finally put on in the past two weeks has buckled after the first serious rain. And not just a little.

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Just two days ago, you could look up and see the beauty the natural cedar shakes lent to the old place which, if I do say so myself, is looking rather pleased and proud of itself with its recent upgrades.

Now, thanks to the buckled shakes, it’s looking kinda rumpled – like it needs to brush its hair.

Our roofing contractors are from a local company with a good reputation. They’re aware of the problem and they’ve assured us that it will be taken care of. And I have to trust them, since I’ve already paid 98 percent of their bill and the check has cleared. (I know, I know, I should have waited at least 30 days to be sure there were no problems. But they asked for payment of most of the cost when it was three-fourths of the way done. Is this common practice?)

Now, I have to mention here that I was never a big fan of putting on cedar shake roof. I wanted a standing seam metal roof, like Thomas Jefferson used at Monticello and also the people who built my grandparents’ old Virginia farmhouse.

But in the spirit of compromise, I bowed to the wishes of my loving fiancé, who wanted his “green” roof also be beautiful. (This was also a question of taste since I think standing seam metal roofs are just as lovely…)

Now, I’m not going to engage in “I told you so….” (Although, just by mentioning this, I sort of already have. Forgive me, Martin!) Many of you who commented on the debate agreed a standing metal seam roof was a better, longer-lasting green option and I thank you.

But there were plenty, too, who favored the cedar, and they had good advice, like that from Erik Eselstyn of North Montpelier, Vt.,, who counseled it was important to make sure the roof is properly vented:

“Most important was using CedarBreather beneath the shingles. CedarBreather, a mat of tangled plastic strings, allows the constant flow of ambient air upwards beneath the shingles. Yup, the ridges must be vented.”

The roofers, indeed, did make sure Sheep Dog’s roof was properly vented. And we haven’t even put in the insulation yet, which could have caused moisture to build up if it also wasn’t properly vented, according to the Guardian Roof website:

“Buckled shingles could fracture and cause leaking. This could also be a symptom of a much more serious moisture issue. This can be related to shingle failure, or buckling of the sheeting beneath the roof. If you have buckling in your roof contact a professional for an inspection and diagnosis.”

Other than that, I was surprised to find very little on the Web about buckling cedar shake roofs. Although, ironically, the Stucco Co. did have a good discussion about buckling cedar shake siding.

Our contractors have said the problem might be that some kiln-dried shakes got mixed with the green shakes. Or maybe, the shakes buckled because they were installed in the chill of the winter. Although last week, when most of the shakes were put on, it was a "balmy" 35 to 45 degrees F. here in Connecticut.

So here is a plea for advice and counsel from any of you cedar shake roof enthusiasts who may have some advice to offer this newbie green renovator.

Editor’s note: Alexandra Marks blogs twice a week – usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays – about her green and budget-friendly restoration of a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut. Click here to find all her blog posts and articles.

The Monitor's Environment section has a new URL. And there's a new URL for its Bright Green blog. We hope you'll bookmark these and visit often.

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