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The Expected Life of a Cedar Shake Roof

The Expected Life of Cedar Shake Roof


Why choose a cedar shake roof? 

Seasons sometimes pass unobtrusively, and it is the roof above our heads that keeps us sheltered from sunshine and storms.   

A cedar shake roof is a durable and aesthetically-pleasing roof option. It adds a classic and natural look to a home, increasing its curb appeal! In addition, such a roof can easily be repaired if it becomes damaged or worn out.   When compared to asphalt shingle roofs, cedar shake roofs have several advantages.   These roofs do not need to be replaced as often as asphalt shingle roofs do, and they do not require any special maintenance such as painting or sealing to keep them looking good for years. 

This article aims to shed some light on a common question about cedar shake roofs:  how long would they last?   

The life expectancy of a cedar shake roof depends on various factors – some more controllable than others. For instance, you can’t do much about the location and climate of where you live, but you can extend your roof’s life expectancy by keeping your hand on maintenance issues.    

Cedar shake roofs are weather-resistant and organic. The longevity of cedar shake roofs is primarily due to cedar wood’s high oil content, giving natural resistance to rotting, insect attack, and fungal decay. 

Here are a few things that bear thinking about so that your cedar shake roof will stay in great shape for as long as possible. 

Table of Contents

What is a cedar shake roof?

A little bit of history

You might not be familiar with this type of roofing option.   

A cedar shake roofing material is made from cedarwood.   Cedarwood, of course, has a beautiful color and exquisite fragrance and is known for its hardiness.   Ancient cultures used it for building temples, houses, and canoes.   These wooden shakes are durable, organic, eco-friendly, sustainable, and cost-effective.  

The large Western Red Cedar, native to North America, can reach a diameter of 15 feet (4.5 meters) and a height of over 200 feet (60 meters.)   In the 19th century, cedar shakes and shingles became the primary source of roofing material for many private homes and public buildings.   

Today, premium cedar shakes are cut from the best part of the cedar, the heartwood Shakes are split along the grain of the wood, whereas shingles are sawn flat.    Cedar shakes are typically cut to about 3 feet (just under a meter) and attached to the roof with nails or screws.   Cedar shakes will give your home a rough and rugged texture which offers a fantastic look to a home.

Types of cedar shakes

Three types of shakes


There are three types of wooden cedar shakes, and each differs in quality.    The life expectancy of your cedar roof will depend on the grade of cedar shake you choose.   The higher the grade, the longer the lifespan of your roof. Of course, higher grade cedar comes with a premium price, but the more extended durability of your roof will outweigh the initial savings on a different product.

Let’s look at the different options:

  • Common-grade cedar shakes:   Common-grade shakes are usually made up of random (and sometimes left-over) pieces of cedarwood. These shakes are prone to damage as the pieces of wood sometimes don’t stick properly and will curl. So, if you want your cedar roof to last long, these shakes are not the way to go. However, common-grade shakes can be an option if you want something inexpensive and quick to install, say, on a shed or porch. 
  • Select-grade shakes:  Also, commonly known as ‘cull shakes,’ select-grade shakes will last longer than common-grade shakes but will still be prone to damage.   These shakes are a good option if you only need your shakes for a few years and don’t mind replacing them.   Select-grade shakes comprise about 20% common-grade shakes and 80% straight grain shakes.   They usually are thicker than common shakes, which gives them a more natural look and texture.   
  • Premium-grade shakes (or 100% straight grain grade shakes.)  These are the shakes you want if you look for maximum quality and longevity in a roof.   This is your most expensive option, but 100% straight grain shakes will last the longest.   The shakes are 100% pure quality material and won’t curl.   Should you choose this option, it will undoubtedly increase the life expectancy of your roof, but keep in mind that it does not mean you can get away with not doing regular maintenance. Premium cedar shake roofing material is lightweight and easy to work with. It can even be stained to match the exterior color of your home. It will not degrade in the sun and does not contain any harmful chemicals that may harm your family.   

More factors that will heighten the life expectancy of your cedar shake roof.

1. Proper installation 

Use a professional

Proper installation of your cedar shake roof will increase its expected life.   It makes sense, as structural damage is a genuine threat if the correct spacing and general installation are not done as they should be. A contractor that cuts corners in one area can cause issues (like roof leaking) in other areas.   A cedar shake roof needs a professional that knows the technicalities and has the expertise to install a roof properly. 

Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • The wood must acclimate.   Cedarwood expands and contracts with different weather conditions. If not allowed to acclimate before installation, the shakes may end up misaligned and push each other up as they try to expand and contract. 
  • Use the correct manufacturer-recommended fasteners.   Aluminum, stainless steel, or galvanized steel nails are the best options and should preferably be installed by hand as a nail gun can penetrate too deeply and shorten the overall lifespan of your roof. 
  • The shakes must be appropriately aligned. The space between each shake must have the correct ‘keyway’ to allow proper ventilation and water run-off. 

2. General Maintenance

The expected life of a cedar shake roof also depends on how it is preserved and maintained.   Your cedar shake roof can withstand snowy, windy, and other harsh conditions, but you need to maintain it for it to last.  

Depending on the local climate and weather conditions, a cedar shake roof needs proper maintenance and a full clean roughly every 7 – 10 years. It is also recommended to make sure the gutters are clear and there is no organic matter (such as leaves) settling and staying on the roof –do this once or twice per year.   The water build-up will ultimately destroy your roof if you don’t clean the gutters. 

Experts say if you only do these two things, you can double the life expectancy of your roof. Of course, it is always better to have it done professionally, as a roofing expert will adhere to safety protocols and ensure that the shakes won’t break during maintenance. 

Please note:  Many people will suggest adding oils, sealers, and other chemicals to a cedar shake roof to supposedly help increase the roof’s lifespan. Unfortunately, this is simply a marketing and upselling technique and can do more harm to your cedar shake roof than good. A waterproofing sealant, for example, forms a film on the wood, which, in time, traps water, causing mold and rot.  A cedar shake roof should breathe naturally.

3. Wood repairs 

Get rid of fungi, mosses, and lichens. 

Fungi, lichens, and mosses are common organisms that grow on wet wood.   Although these do not cause structural damage, they can disfigure the appearance of your cedar roof.   You’ll find fungi typically under the shake overlaps where moisture helps it grow.  

Mosses accumulate soil and other debris on the roof, causing the top to remain wet for longer. Although cedarwood is resistant to these organisms to a large extent, wood rot can still develop, especially if the moisture level rises above 20%.

The proper cleaning of your roof will help avoid harm to the cedar shakes and possible leakage.    Cleaning a cedar shake roof requires a soft wash technique and a non-aggressive approach.   Doing it correctly will increase the expected life of your roof and should be done by a professional who will do so with care and caution so that the cedar shakes are not damaged. 

Slight curling is typical.

It is natural for cedar shakes to age and warping and distorting occur because of heat and rain.  

However, if your cedar shakes start to curl too much, your roof can eventually begin to leak in numerous places. At this point, a complete roof replacement is the only answer.   

Regular observation and timely repairs can help to get shakes replaced before any real damage is done to the felt underlay of your roof.   Timely maintenance will therefore increase your cedar roof’s life expectancy

4. Keeping an eye on bugs and pests.

Bugs, squirrels, and rats.

The expected life of a cedar shake roof is affected by bugs and pests.   Although cedar shakes usually resist bug infestation, an invasion can happen, especially in wet and snowy climates.   You should get a professional cedar shake roof cleaner to deal with the problem if you find any signs of infestation. Power washing the roof is not the solution! 

Squirrels and rats can also access a home through missing, and broken cedar shakes.   Once inside, these pests can cause extensive damage to the wood itself, electric wires, and eave troughs.   They can also carry diseases.    To limit problems to your home’s structure and prevent the shortening of the lifespan of your roof, first, get rid of the pests and then contact a professional for repairs as soon as possible.


In time

‘Weathering’ is a word for wind, rain, and sun damage to a structure. The effects of climate on your cedar roof will not be seen immediately, but you’ll see a gradual deterioration of the wood over time. (Extreme weather conditions such as heavy rain or excessive heat will take their toll faster.)   

Cedar roofs will turn a light grey about one year after installation, and over time, the shakes will take on a washboard appearance.   Therefore, it makes sense that the atmosphere your cedar shake roof is exposed to will also dictate the roof’s longevity. Unfortunately, you can’t do much about it except keep your eye on its maintenance. 

The expected lifespan of your cedar roof 

The average cedar shake roof should have an expected life of between 20 and 30 years. If professionally and adequately maintained, however, some roofs last for over 50 years.

Roof maintenance may seem relatively simple but hiring a certified and insured individual may be a more practical option for the man on the street. 

Call Bruce today and get a quote to clean your cedar shake roof and bring it back to looking how it should – and so it can last for many more years to come.   

A cedar shake roof gives your home a historic appearance and a texture that modern products just can’t provide. So, why not make the most of your investment?  


Bruce Sullivan: Sullivan Roof Cleaning, Inc.: www.cedarroofclean.com515-971-1430 Call/Text

Also, watch a cedar shake roof being cleaned:

Cedar Shake Roof Cleaning in Des Moines Iowa
Cedar Shake Roof before & after cleaning

Meet Bruce

50 Years of Experience &
Over 2,000 Shake Roofs Cleaned

Bruce Sullivan has over 50 years of experience in maintaining, cleaning, and restoring cedar shake roofs. Making him one of the top authorities on cedar shake roofs in the US.

Watch the Cedar Shakes Cleaning Process in Action in this video

Play Video about Roof Cleaning How to Remove Moss, Lichen, Fungi from a Cedar Roof Sullivan Roof


What can I say? Bruce and Keith provided an exceptional service, and they are really nice guys too. Found out at the last minute they were in Minneapolis, and they fit me in for a cedar shake roof cleaning the next evening after their regular job was done. Even cleaned up my gutters, small fence, and small deck at no charge. The place looks outstanding! Highly recommended.

Mike Richards

I highly recommend this business. Due to the work performed we are going to get another 10-14 years out of our cedar shake roof. We were told by some roofing companies that the roof should be replaced in 2 years. I lucked out and found Sullivan Roof Cleaning while researching companies that perform this service, and was pleased to learn that the company does work outside of Iowa. If you need your cedar shakes cleaned, go with Sullivan Roof Cleaning.

Eric Oelrich, 
St Cloud, MN

Bruce did a great job cleaning the whole exterior of my house. The roof has new life! It looks practically brand new. All the mold and moss on the roof, on the gutters, under the eaves, completely gone. He exceeded all our expectations. When he tells you what he can do for your house, you can believe and trust him. Great guy, great service.

Stuart Malone
Kansas City, MO


Cedar shakes are organic. Though a resilient material. Being organic they need to be maintained. Over time, like any organic material that are subjected to weather elements, they reach a stage of deterioration. Like UV exposure, moisture and seasonal changes. Which results in moss, mold, mildew, lichen and brown rot fungi. These infestations need to be removed to further preserve the integrity of the cedar shake.
The proper way to clean a cedar shake roof is from a ladder. By spraying a special formulated solution onto the shakes and then rinsed with a garden hose pressure. Best done by a professional cedar shake roof cleaner. Not DIY recommended.
No. Pressure washer will require walking on the shakes, which will harm them, and even at its lowest setting will also damage the shakes.
On average, cedar shakes should be cleaned every 10 ten years. Subjective to the grade of the shakes and the amount of surrounding tree cover.
Avoiding walking on a cedar shake roof, other than for repairs.
Never seal a cedar shake roof. Cedar shakes need to breathe. They expand and contract in rain conditions. Seal will shorten the lifespan, to the point of premature replacement.
Staining has no real preserve value and can also harm the integrity of shakes, as stated, they need to be able to breathe. Also, if the shakes are not properly cleaned staining can seal the deteriorating infestation within the shakes.
Depending on the grade of the shakes and installation, and if maintained properly, 40 to 60 years.


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