Homes have been built with wood roofs for centuries, but wood roofs less common now than asphalt roofs. That makes choosing a wood roof for your custom home or as an option on a newly built home a distinctive look that can be timeless and offer an elegant or rustic aesthetic.
Wood roofs are typically made of wood shingles or shakes. While both shingles and shakes are made of wood, wood shingles are cut smoothly for a more modern style. Shakes are made of split wood for a more textured appearance.
After they’re split or cut, the wood shakes and shingles receive kiln and pressure treatments that remove moisture from the wood; reduce susceptibility to insects, fungus, mold and rot; and help the roof last longer. A properly maintained wood roof can last 30 to 50 years.
Wood shakes and shingles can be made from western red cedar, Atlantic white cedar, pine, spruce, cypress or redwood trees. Typically, shingles and shakes start in a light color but age into dark brown or silver-gray tones.
Cedar shake roofs are the most popular choice for wood roofs because this wood is naturally durable, weather resistant, energy-efficient and yet natural looking. Cedar is easy to seal, resistant to insects and provides more insulation than some other wood options.
Non-cedar wood shakes vary more in quality and appearance and can appear more rustic, depending on the wood choice.
Composite shake roofs are created from man-made material that resembles wood. Composite shake roofs offer the advantage of even more durability and greater resistance to rot, mildew and mold than real wood. This material also requires less maintenance than a wood roof.
Costs of Wood Roofs
Prices for roofing materials are calculated per square rather than by square foot. A square equals 100 square feet. The average price per square for a cedar roof is $400, while shingles from other types of wood costs an average of $350 per square. Composite roofs cost an average of $325 per square. All prices are for materials only, not including installation.
HomeAdvisor found that the average price to install a 3,000-square foot shake roof is between $18,000 and $20,000.
Advantages of Wood Roofs
While you may be tempted to choose a wood shingle or shake roof to complement the exterior appeal of your home, this material has other advantages beyond appearance, including:
- Longevity. As long as the homeowners maintain their roof, a wood roof can last 30 to 50 years. However, wood shingles made of pine may only last 20 years.
- Weather resistance. Wood roofs are typically rated to withstand winds of 173 to 245 miles per hour.
- Impact resistance. Similarly, wood shingles and shakes can be rated class four, the highest rating for impact resistance to hail and ice. However, the level of resistance depends in part on the thickness of the wood shingles. Thicker shingles offer higher levels of durability.
- Ease of installation. Installing wood shingles and shakes is similar to installing asphalt shingles. However, wood shingles are sometimes smaller than asphalt shingles, which could increase the installation time.
- Ease of repairs. If your wood roof is damaged, it can be relatively simple to replace the affected shingles and shakes. But keep in mind that a new shingle or shake in the same wood may not match immediately because the color of the wood changes over time.
- Energy efficiency. Wood offers a natural layer of insulation that keeps your home cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
- UV resistance. While exposure to sun and rain will change the color of your wood roof over time, generally wood protects your home against UV rays.
- Sustainability. Manufacturers of wood shingles and shakes typically plant trees to replace the ones they cut to make roofing materials. In addition, when your roof is removed, organic wood can be recycled and is biodegradable.
- Resilient and lightweight. While this may be more important to your roof installer than to you, wood is more flexible than slate or tile and weighs less than asphalt, which can make it easier to install.
Disadvantages of Wood Roofs
Despite all those advantages, wood roofs are not as popular among homebuyers and builders as asphalt roofs. Some jurisdictions prohibit the installation of a wood roof due to fire hazards. In addition, there are some disadvantages to wood roofs, such as:
- Higher cost. Wood shingle and shake roofs typically cost more than an asphalt roof, which is the most popular roof style. Asphalt shingles cost $150 to $500 per square, while wood shingles and shakes range from $325 to $400 per square.
- Less fire-resistant. Wood roofs are more prone to catch on fire than other roofing materials, which is why they are banned in some areas with a high level of fire hazards. However, wood roofs can be treated with fire retardants and pressure treatments that help make the wood more fire-resistant.
- Potentially higher home insurance rates. Because of wood roofs’ susceptibility to fire, some insurance companies charge higher premiums for them.
- Maintenance requirements. A wood roof typically requires a new treatment with fire retardant chemicals every two to five years. In addition, you may need to clean it to prevent the growth of mold, mildew and fungus.
- Vulnerable to insects. You’ll need to have your roof checked for insects such as termites, wood borers and wasp nests because wood attracts these pests.
- Susceptible to rot, moss, mildew and mold. Moisture can seep into wood that’s not properly maintained, leading to the development of algae, moss or mold. In addition to treating the wood, you can ask your roof installer to add material underneath the wood shingles that helps them dry more quickly. If the wood is left untreated, these issues can create gaps in your wood shingles that lead to leaks and interior water damage.
- Color fades over time. When choosing the wood for your roof, you need to be aware of the future appearance of the wood. While an older roof can age into an attractive appearance, be sure you’re happy with what it will look like as it fades.
The longevity and durability of wood roofs can be affected by your climate. The primary consideration for a wood roof is whether you live in an area that is prone to fires. If so, a wood roof may not be allowed according to the local building code. Even if it is allowed, you’ll want to be careful to maintain fire-retardant treatments.
Wood roofs can be a good option in climates with heavy wind or frequent storms because the shingles and shakes are resistant to wind and the impact from hail and ice. Maintaining your roof with treatments and cleaning can keep moisture and insects from reducing its longevity or damaging the interior of your home.
Home Styles and Colors
Wood shakes and shingles can complement nearly any residential architectural style with a pitched roof. You can choose the length, thickness, type of wood, grain and color to match your preferences.
Cedar shingles are commonly seen on traditional Georgian-style homes, while cedar shakes are more rustic in appearance.
No two wood roofs are ever exactly the same because of the variations in grains and patterns in wood. While your roof may have a similar style to another roof, wood shingles and shakes are not uniform.
When you’re looking for a unique appearance for your new home, a wood roof may be exactly what you need.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.