What Is a Shake Roof?

Homeowner Learning

Author: Amy Freeman | November 10, 2023

It wasn't that long ago that if you wanted a roof on your house, one of your only options was to chop down a tree and make one out of wood. Wood roofs typically consist of shakes or shingles, installed over wood decking or sheathing, according to the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA).

maintaining a shake roof
If you have a shake roof, here's what you need to know about maintaining it.

Although you have many other roofing options today, you might prefer the classic look of a wooden shake roof if you have a roof with a slope of at least 18 degrees. Take a moment to learn more about shake roofs, including how to care for them and how to know when it's time to repair or replace yours.

Shake vs. Shingles

What's the difference between a shingle and a shake? It all comes down to how the wood is cut. Shingles are sawn, while wooden shakes are split, sawn or a combination of sawn and split, usually by hand. This method means that wooden shakes are thicker on one end than on the other. According to the NRCA, shakes usually have a textured effect on one end.

Traditionally, wood shakes are made from cedar, which naturally resists rot and decay. Sometimes, shakes are made from pressure-treated pine, which is less expensive than cedar but also less durable. It's also possible to find shakes made from a synthetic material that looks like imitation wood.

Shake Roof Cost and Lifespan

Compared to other roofing options such as asphalt shingles, wooden shakes cost more to purchase and install. The OSUES points out that although the cost of shake roofs can be high, a properly maintained shake roof often has a longer life span than other roofing options. Estimates vary, but a roof with wood shakes can last up to 60 years.

Shake Roof Care

Caring for a roof made of wood involves keeping the surface clear of debris such as leaves and pine needles. When debris collects on the roof, it encourages fungal growth, which damages the wood. Debris also prevents water from running off the roof, according to OSUES.

Another part of caring for a shake roof involves trimming away any overhanging tree branches. When branches hang over the roof, there's a chance they will scrape the shakes, creating grooves in the surface or knocking the shakes loose. Branches can also shade the roof too much and prevent water from evaporating from the surface.

When Is It Time to Replace a Shake Roof?

In some cases, hiring a roofing contractor to clean a shake roof and remove dirt, moss and any lingering moisture will be enough to give your roof a new lease on life. But in other cases, your best option might be to replace your roof.

If a significant area of the roof is worn out or a leak springs inside your home, it's usually a sign that a replacement is necessary. You might be able to replace a few shakes with new ones, but because cedar tends to weather and turn from red to gray over time, you might not appreciate the uneven look created by a few new shakes.

If you're experiencing issues with your roof, your best bet is to get in touch with a local roofing contractor. They will assess your roof and let you know whether cleaning, repair or replacement is your best option. They can also give you an estimate for each option so that you understand what your roofing project will cost.

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