Design & DIY

4 reasons to use cedar shingles on exterior walls

Man installing shingles

This article originally appeared in the Early Summer 2015 issue of Cottage Life magazine 

Nothing affects the look of your cottage buildings as much as what covers the exterior walls. Beauty is one reason I love cedar wall shingles. Long, maintenance-free life is the other—unfinished cedar shingles can easily last 50 years. You’ll get even longer life with the right installation techniques.

The rain is drained

When shingles are installed correctly, any one spot on the wall will be three layers thick. Even so, moisture and condensation can get behind the shingles. Installing them on a drainage mat, such as Benjamin Obdyke’s Slicker, or a dimpled plastic sheet, such as Cosella-Dörken’s Delta-Dry, greatly prolongs their life—both materials hold shingles away from wall sheathing so water can drain out.

Household staples

Moisture can also affect the fasteners, which is why you should use stainless steel 7/16″-wide crown staples or shingle nails. Stainless steel won’t corrode and let go, as electroplated steel fasteners sometimes do. Although some builders use 1/4″-wide staples, they’re really too narrow to hold securely.

Weave got it good

There are two ways to cover outside corners; the woven method keeps water out best. That’s because the shingles come right to the corners, where the joints alternate on each side and are sealed with construction adhesive. This is more weatherproof than the corner board method, which creates continuous vertical joints between the shingles and the boards. 

West or East?

It’s worth paying for shingles with a thick butt end—there’s simply more wood to resist wind, rain, and sun. And while knots are okay if they get hidden by another shingle, you shouldn’t see any knots on the finished wall. Western red cedar shingles from B.C. are widely available, even in Eastern Canada; eastern white cedar is available from specialty suppliers. Both species last a long time, but western red is softer and weathers to a darker colour than the silvery grey of eastern white.