Guide: Repairing the cottage roof
Weather conditions can do a number on the cottage roof. Here's how to make it watertight
Western red cedar shingles cost about $200 a square. And it’s a labour-intensive installation. There may be 1,000 shingles in a square. Each shingle has to be hand-fitted to stagger the joints, and many have to be trimmed at angles in order to fit hips and valleys. Expect labour to add at least another $100–$150 a square, depending on the complexity of the roof. Like any shingle, cedar is ineffective on low slopes (less than 3/12). Even on steeper slopes, shingles may need a good underlay to stop leaks from ice dams and wind-driven rain. Ask the installer to quote on the best full-roof coverage of ice-and-water shield. At about 10 per cent of the total cost it’s probably good insurance on such a big investment.
Traditionally, installers nailed the shingles directly to the sheathing, or to horizontal strapping nailed across the roof at intervals equal to the exposed length of the shingle, giving each row its own nailing strip. The strapping allowed air to circulate under the shingles so that any water infiltration would dry naturally rather than sit there rotting the roof. Unfortunately, the traditional nailing space also made a terrific bat nest. The modern approach is mesh at the openings and latticed airways through the strapping, leading from eaves and gables to a continuous ridge vent.
Or, skip the strapping and use an open mat of synthetic fibre. Installers nail the shingle through the mat, through the ice-and-water shield, and into the deck.
Cedar shingles are also prone to holding moisture and rot faster if they’re tucked under a shady tree or – worse – a spongy patch of moss or pine needles. Zinc strips keep the moss at bay, but leaves and needles should be swept off regularly. Roof maintenance means keeping it clean, which keeps it dry.
Properly maintained, a natural red cedar roof can last 35 years.
Eastern white cedar is about 20–25 per cent cheaper for the material but has about half the lifespan. The biggest attraction of red cedar is the rich natural look. It ages well, fits a cottage landscape, and will never offend the neighours. Shakes, thicker than shingles and usually split rather than sawn, show an even rougher, more rustic texture.
One part of the cedar tradition that has happily fallen by the wayside is the extra cost of insuring a flammable roof. According to Perth insurance broker Richard Schooley, the industry no longer applies the old rating surcharge on shakes and shingles. He attributes the break to a general shift away from solid fuel and falling sparks.
This article was originally published on November 4, 2003