One of my architect friends, Tim Cuppett, owns a very old house in the historic Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin, Texas. Built in 1850, it's one of the oldest houses in Austin, and had been owned by Abner Cook, who was the architect for the Texas Governor's Mansion.
This beautiful old bungalow just doesn't look right with a modern comp shingle roof, and for years, Tim has wanted to convert the house back to a wood shingle roof, like it had when it was first built. When Tim called me to help him, I jumped at the chance.
Before I get into the details, let's talk about why wood roofs have gone out of favor and how to install the wood roof the right way.
#1 There is a perception that wood roofs won't last. I believe this misconception has been born of many years of poor installs leading to premature failures. Wood roofs need to dry to both the top and the bottom when they get wet. If the wood shingles are installed directly on tar paper, they can only dry to the top. This can result in cupping and splitting, and ultimately shorten their life by 50+%. The solution is to vent under the wood shingles, and the easy way to do that is with a 3-D venting mesh, like Benjamin Obdyke's Cedar Breather. This mesh rolls onto the roof and when the shingles are nailed on top, it creates roughly a 1/4-inch air gap underneath. Then when the shingles get wet, they can dry to both the top and bottom. For more information visit the Cedar Breather product page here.
#2 There is a perceived fire danger from a wood roof, and insurance companies have really dampened sales by requiring fire resistance. Modern wood shingles can come with a chemical treatment that resists burning and you can get either a Class A-, B-, or C-rated shingle today. We used a Class B-rated shingle on this project.
#3 Black streaks. We've all seen cedar privacy fences with ugly black streaks at every nail head, right? Now think if that were your roof! But those black streaks won't form if you use stainless fasteners in your fence. You need to get the details right when installing a wood roof and one of those details is the fasteners. You must use a stainless nail, and it must be the correct grade of stainless steel, to ensure compatibility with the fire retardant and to ensure that your shingles won't get black streaks from nail corrosion.
I hope this blog post has given you a renewed confidence in wood roofs. Get the details right, talk to a roofer who's done a wood roof before, and don't be afraid to verify the install details before and during the project. I think this wood roof will see 30+ beautiful years of service on this very pretty historic house.
Risinger Homes is a custom builder and whole house remodeling contractor that specializes in Architect driven and fine craftsmanship work. We utilize an in-house carpentry staff and the latest building science research to build dramatically more efficient, healthy and durable homes.