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Maintaining a Cedar Shake Roof

Cedar shakes are a resilient and beautiful roofing and siding option. The natural oils in cedar shingles make them naturally resistant to decay. Cedar wood not only offers insulation, but it is also impact-resistant. With these qualities, it’s easy to see why cedar shakes are one of the costliest roofing materials. Because it’s a sizable investment, homeowners should properly maintain their cedar roofs as they age.

If it’s well maintained, a cedar roof will last 40-60 years. Seasonal cleanings will maximize its lifespan, as will an occasional deep cleaning. In this guide, you’ll learn how to maintain a cedar shake roof and when to call a professional.

Shingles and Shakes

Though the terms are often used interchangeably, shakes and shingles are different. A shingle is sawn from a block of wood; it has a tapered, smooth surface. Cedar shakes are gently split from the block. They’re not as uniform in thickness and texture. Of the two, shakes have the more rustic appearance. Shakes and shingles can be used for siding as well, but for the purposes of this guide, we’ll focus on roof maintenance.

Seasonal Upkeep

Before the rainy season comes around, take time to inspect the roof. During the inspection, remove debris from the roof’s shakes and valleys. If left untended, organic matter may:

  • Prevent the roof from shedding water
  • Promote water retention, fungal, and mold growth

It’s easy to clean a roof with a firm broom and a garden hose. Pressure washing isn’t recommended for cedar roofs, as it may damage the shakes. Look for signs of fungal, mold, algae, and mildew growth, and call a professional if any are found.

Each season be sure the gutters are unobstructed. A clogged or non-functional gutter will allow moisture to feed fungal growth on the shakes, and it may even lead to damaging roof leaks.

If loose and damaged shakes are found, mark them carefully and call a roofing expert. The contractor will replace rotten, broken, and lifted shakes, restoring your cedar roof to like-new condition.

Ensure Adequate Attic Insulation and Ventilation

This is one of the best ways to extend a cedar roof’s lifespan. Without enough ventilation, moisture and heat may build up in the home’s attic, leading to insulation damage and roof rot. Similarly, a well-insulated attic will make the roof more efficient.

Check the Fasteners

Nails and fasteners may back out or pull loose as the roof naturally expands and contracts. Loose nails are a threat to the roof’s structural integrity, but luckily, the problem is easily solved. In many cases, a roofer will simply nail the fasteners back down.

Prepare for the Weather

Wooden shingles are more damage-prone than other roof materials. Loose shakes, for instance, are much more likely to be torn off in a windstorm. Most homeowners assume that they can’t protect their cedar roofs from the elements, but that’s not the case. A roofer can preserve the shingles by coating them with a semi-opaque stain.

Treat the Roof Right

Once the cedar shingles have been cleaned, you’ll need to decide how to treat them. There are numerous options available, and not all work in every case. Many of these treatments require the usage of protective gear, and that’s why many local homeowners decide to hire an expert.

Choosing a Cleaning Solution

In most instances, a simple detergent mix will remove slight staining and discoloration from a cedar roof. The mixture works best when applied with a broom or a brush, and it can be removed with a garden hose. However, a roofer has the tools and equipment to do the job safely and quickly.

Chemicals and Pesticides

It’s important to wear protective equipment when using these harmful chemicals. Be sure to follow the product’s instructions carefully and wash the equipment after use. Because the runoff from these chemicals may affect nearby plants, it’s best to hire a contractor to clean a cedar roof.


Stubborn stains may require the use of bleach, which should be applied with a brush to avoid damage to surrounding areas. Allow the bleach to soak in for a few minutes before rinsing the area carefully. Persistent stains may need several treatments but avoid leaving the bleach on for more than 30 minutes.


Applying a preservative to cedar shakes will prevent rot and minimize mold growth. With regular application, these preservatives may extend a roof’s lifespan. The application process is complex, and many homeowners leave it to the experts. For the best results, the contractor will clean the roof thoroughly before applying the coating.

Discolorations and weathering give cedar shakes a unique character. To enhance the natural look of cedar, consider a colored finish that will preserve color and stand up to the elements for years.

These treatments require special equipment and training, and if they’re incorrectly applied, they may cause serious damage. Your roofing contractor can recommend the appropriate cedar shingle treatment and apply it safely.

Hiring a Contractor vs. DIY

When maintaining a home’s roof, owners should consider several factors before doing the job themselves.

  • The roof’s slope
  • Its physical condition
  • The roof’s height

If you’re not sure how to do the work safely, hire an insured, bonded, and licensed professional. DIY roofing repairs require the use of specialized safety gear and equipment, which can be expensive. In most cases, it’s cheaper to hire a roofing contractor than it is to go the DIY route.


Though cedar shakes and shingles are designed for years of durability, they still need occasional maintenance. Protecting the wood from decay is crucial, as failure may happen in less than a decade. Refinishing and staining are two viable options to protect a cedar roof from decay.

By hiring a roofer, you’ll get the job done in a way that protects plants, animals, and people from harmful chemicals and other risks. Consult a local roofing contractor to learn how to properly maintain a cedar roof. With regular maintenance, these roofs will stay beautiful and functional for decades to come.


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