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Cedar shake will last 20 years even if properly installed, if not properly maintained.

First off ventilation is of the utmost importance to a cedar roof, about equally so as to an asphalt shingle roof. Most cedar roofs are install atop plywood which doesn't allow them to breathe like in the old days when they were installed on planking. Products such as Cedar Breather can be considered.

Second algae, lichen and moss attack cedar roofs especially in shaded areas. To help prevent this I prefer the use of all copper flashings, valleys, etc... Even copper or zinc strips should be recommended to help reduce the ammount of vegetative growth on the roof. Many guys use galvanized steel which will help little to none against preventing the vegetation from growing.

Lastly, would you leave a fence or a deck untreated? No, many people stain and treat their decks and fences every 2-3 years or so. Why would the roof be any different? A PRESERVATIVE treatment should be applied within the first year, and then on a regular cycle, after 5 years, another 3 years and then a 3 year cycle there after usually. I prefer the use of oil based preservatives, the water bourne are nothing more than solid colored stains. They don;t preserve the roof, they just hide the defects.

Also I have seen some of the cedar maintenance "specialists' in my neighborhood simply paint over the roof without first cleaning the roof. Both a mechanical cleaning should be performed to remove junk trapped between the shakes, but also a low pressure wash using some kind of bio-cide soap/bleach should also be used to kill and remove the plant life from the roof and open the pores in the wood. After a 48 hour dry the oil based preservative can then be applied.

For what it is worth I don't even promote our ceder preservation any more because the cedar maintenance "specialists", cough cough hacks, are often 1/3 my price. But they simply are not offering a complete treatment of the roof... and the customer is often just throwing away their money with these companies.

http://www.reliableamerican.us/services/cedar-cleaning.htm Keep your money in your pocket if you're not going to do it right.
 

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It does seem that cedar shakes are particularly susceptible to algae, lichens and moss. Once on there, it is a slippery, dangerous job to remove it. Even many seasoned roof cleaning professionals will turn down roof cleaning jobs when it comes to cedar shakes. It can be done though, but you don't want to use high pressure or bleach, which can damage and dry out the wood.
 

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I repaired a cedar roof a few years ago that the HOs had the home built and they mooved into right after they got back from their honeymoon, that was fifty years before I did the repair.
They had the roof stained red, I often wonder if the color has anything to do with it still being in good shape? There are a few other old cedar roofs around that have been stained red, they are still in good shape, most of the other cedar roofs I have worked on were curled or just falling apart after twenty or more years. They were torn off and resheathed and shingled with comp.
I've always been curios about how good the cedar roofs that were stained were in comparison to those that were just left plain.
 

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My old secret for specifying shakes was to always specify Fire treated. Not because I necessarily cared about the treatment process, but because they only fire treat THE BEST shaked. A big problem I see with shake roofs is that a bunch of bad shingles were installed.

Here in CO 25 years is a good life on plywood. I strongly believe these roofs should last 40 years (except in snow country) with the proper ventilation and yearly maintenence.

Working with insurance companies they all want to get rid of them, i fell bad, Id like to help keep roofing history alive. Sometimes on certain homes nothing looks better than a good shake roof. Most likely the handy homowner who has educated himself, could maintain the maintenence on his roof.
 

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I like the tip about the fire treated cedar. I'll look into that. Not that we do much cedar anymore anyways.

Here's my take on cedar shake. Would you leave your deck unpreserved or untreated? Would you leave your fence unpreserved or untreated? The answer is probably not. Therefore then why would someone totally neglect their roof and leave it unpreserved? A cedar roof is a maintenance roof. Like all roofs it requires ongoing care, however I believe a cedar roof requires more care and more maintenance then most other sloped roofing products. You can start with the best shake, but if it's left uncared for, it won't last any longer than an asphalt shingle.

For what it is worth, ALOT of 10 year old cedar shake roofs are being replaced in my area due to nail failure. Cheap Chinese nails fail. <gasp> what a shocker. Therefore when we install cedar we only use stainless steel nails.

I also encourage my customers to install the use of a product known as "cedar breather" beneath the shake if the roof is installed on plywood.
 

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Hi, we are suppliers of cedar shakes. If people would step up and buy premium, 100% edged grain shakes, they would get a product that would last longer. As far as treatment, either fire or CCA goes on regular or premium shakes or shingles. A lot of distributors in the Chicago area stock regular shakes. Some have a lot of crap in the bundles. we do sell a lot around Chicago.

Dick
American Pacific Wood Products
 

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Dick,

Thats interesting. When I was specifing in MT Only 2 years ago, multiple (2) suppliers said only premium grade shakes were being fire treated. Something to keep an eye on. I always felt like if you had the right contractor #1's worked but they need to throw some out.

Grump,

Whats your history like with cedar breather? I like the stuff, just doesnt seem like it would work to me. Its not like a ridge vent where you have a head of air on either side forcing air through it. Doesnt seem like it would do much. All that said I always specified it cause it couldnt hurt.. Even though I hate that approach. ;)
 

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Actually, guys, it was 25 years ago that I did that repair.

The main reason for the longevity of the roof, I believe, was that it was done over spaced sheathing, inside the attic you could look out because of the spaces between some of the shingles. I don't think there's any better ventilation than that, but there must have been some kind of preservative in the red stain, log oil or maybe a paraffin based product. The only shake and cedar roofing I did was in the middle 70s, so I'm not an expert on wood roofing, I have done many repairs and was curious about why the red stain on cedar roofs seems to last as long as it does. Also, the roofs are usually in better condition than most other cedar roofs.
 

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I have to respectfully disagree it is because of cost. They like the cost because they can charge higher premiums. But when you have a 28 year old, minimally ventilated, not maintained wood shake roof that’s so dry you can’t even walk on it, even pea sized hail does damage. Then they are stuck replacing the whole roof. I don’t blame them... But I don’t feel bad for them either because they probably shouldn’t have insured it in the first place. An insurance policy is not a maintenance policy. If HO's stopped treating them like they were, all of our premiums would be lower.
 

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I have to respectfully disagree it is because of cost. They like the cost because they can charge higher premiums. But when you have a 28 year old, minimally ventilated, not maintained wood shake roof that’s so dry you can’t even walk on it, even pea sized hail does damage. Then they are stuck replacing the whole roof. I don’t blame them... But I don’t feel bad for them either because they probably shouldn’t have insured it in the first place. An insurance policy is not a maintenance policy. If HO's stopped treating them like they were, all of our premiums would be lower.
Cedar shakes have to breath. On the insurance, we had insurance agents, in the midwest, after a storm, they would pay there deductable and give them $5000 cash, if they would switch to comp roof.
 
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