- Q.How do eastern white cedar
and western red cedar shingles compare for durability?
I’ve heard that red cedar is more durable, but
I wonder if the difference is enough to affect the
service life of roofing or siding.
Paul Fisette responds: The heartwood (but not
the sapwood) of both red and white cedar is
naturally decay resistant. Although the two species
are listed in most handbooks as having heartwood
with comparable rot resistance, the experience of
many carpenters suggests that red cedar is a little
more rot resistant.
Several factors may account for this. When
grading white cedar, it is quite difficult to
distinguish between heartwood and sapwood, so it is
likely that at least some sapwood slips into the
Another possible factor affecting shingle
durability is grain orientation. The best grade of
red cedar shingles (#1) is all heartwood, clear,
and vertical grained. The best grade of white cedar
shingles (extra clear) is all heartwood, clear, and
typically flat sawn — although, like all
flat-sawn lumber, some of the material is vertical
grained. Since wood shrinks and swells twice as
much tangent to the growth rings as it does
perpendicular to them, vertical-grain shingles lie
flatter on a roof or wall after experiencing
repeated wetting and drying cycles. That’s
why flat-grained white cedar shingles are more
prone to cupping, splitting, and failure and why I
don’t recommend using white cedar shingles
on a roof.
I expect 30 years of service from a high-quality
red cedar roof and much less from a white cedar
roof. As siding, either red or white cedar
shingles, if properly installed and maintained,
should last a human lifetime.