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Cedar Shake Roofs in the Chicagoland Climate

Cedar shakes are some of the more durable and visually appealing roof coverings. At least that was the case before architectural shingles and synthetic cedar shakes were introduced, with an expected lifespan the same, or in many cases longer than cedar shake. The main reason behind this is the Chicagoland climate, and the various weather extremes and high humidity.

As with any wood when it gets wet, it needs ample time and air quality to dry out, otherwise it can start rotting. While cedar is very resistant to moisture, cedar shake roofing still tends to stay wet longer than preferred, which leads to premature failure of cedar shake roofs. We have seen this happen time and time again. Even with proper installation, which includes using the correct stainless steel fasteners to prevent rust issues, proper felt and cedar breather underlayments to promote the drying process, and correct spacing for the cedar shakes themselves, many cedar roofs will only last about 20-30 years. With no manufacturer warranty due to being a natural product, this falls short of the recent roof life expectancy standard. The amount of rain, snow, and humidity are the main culprits. Since many of our Chicago summer days can stay above 80% humidity, when combined with a few rainy days, cedar shakes can stay wet for weeks on end. While the top of the cedar shake may appear dry, the core and underside of the cedar shake is often wet. Take into account the cloud coverage, and some days where we get no sunlight at all, and you have everything to need to make you cedar shake roof rot.

This takes us to the next point, the cost of cedar shake roofing as compared to longer lasting, or less expensive alternatives. The biggest competitor with cedar shake roofs are good old asphalt shingles, but with a new profile. While the old 3-tab shingles did not expect to look as nice or last as long as cedar shake roofs, new architectural shingles definitely will do both. With a thicker shingle, an expected lifespan of 30 years, and a manufacturer warranty, shingles are a great option. No matter the amount of rain, snow, sun, or humidity, asphalt shingles will never rot or decay due to being wet. Asphalt does not absorb moisture, and the fiberglass mat that compromises new architectural shingles adds an extra layer of durability. With an additional layer, these architectural shingles have more definition to match the depth of cedar shake, and many homeowners are finding that they are great substitutes for their old cedar shake roofs that need to be replaced. With a cost that is much lower, a new shingle roof is a very good alternative when looking at a cedar shake roof replacement.

The other option when replacing an aging cedar roof, and one that is gaining a lot of popularity, are synthetic cedar shakes. From very popular manufacturers such as Brava and DaVinci, these products are top of the line. With a variety of color choices, you can be sure that your new synthetic roof will look just like the real cedar shake, at different points of the aging color cycle. Textures that match real cedar shake, and variable synthetic cedar shake sizes also ensure that your new roof will look exactly like cedar shake, while lasting much much longer. When people hear synthetic, they assume these products are cheap plastic that will fall apart due to the heat or cold. That could not be further from the truth. Synthetic cedar shakes are most often made from composite roofing materials that will last upwards of 50 years, and the manufacturers of these products provide a 50-year warranty to back up their claim. Since composite materials do not absorb water or moisture, there is no worry of these roofing shakes rotting. Having the colors blended into the composite material also guarantees that your new synthetic roof will look just as good in the first year, as it will on year 50. With a price point very similar to many real cedar shakes, synthetic cedar shake roofs are taking over, and rightfully so.

As with any house changing decision, we encourage all homeowners to do their own research, and find what works best for them and their home. If you would like us to inspect your roof, provide an estimate, or have any questions regarding cedar shake roofs, shingle roofs, or synthetic roofs, feel free to contact the roofing experts at Smart Roofing Inc. at (847) 797-0404 or email us at


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