Superior alternatives to cedar and asphalt

A real and necessary shift towards synthetic roofing

The roofing industry is rapidly changing alongside new products and technologies. Worth $15 billion annually in material alone and ranking sixth in the list of most popular North American construction projects, the US roofing market is growing rapidly. Amid this growth, the need for alternative roofing products continues to be a driver for composite roofing technology.

Superior alternatives to cedar and asphalt

As you’re deciding what the best roofing material is for your construction needs, also consider what is right for you—not just in terms of aesthetics, but also in terms of other factors, like cost, durability, and maintenance.

Popularity among two conventional roofing materials—cedar and asphalt—is decreasing, and for good reason: cedar has disappointed property owners, as it is unsustainable and costly to maintain, while asphalt’s lifespan continues to decrease, leading to diminished aesthetics and multiple necessary re-roofs over the life of a home.

Composites and synthetics, however, have been around for decades and are continuing to gain traction as the preferred roofing materials of discerning property owners with uncompromising standards.

Composite cedar shakes & shingles are typically installed for the about the same price as cedar (in most locales) but cost significantly less than real cedar over the life of a roof by eliminating the costs of maintenance, treatments, and—most importantly—re-roofing. Their ability achieve the classic cedar aesthetic while offering reduced lifetime costs continues to drive their popularity. The desire for the dignified and elegant appeal of natural cedar has not waned, but with its unsustainability, high installation and maintenance costs, and short lifespan, composites are filling a void in the cedar roofing market.

What’s wrong with cedar and asphalt?

Traditional cedar roofing

Natural cedar shingles are going out of style fast—and for good reason.

Traditional cedar shingles are made from old-growth western cedar. Although it is easy to produce cedar shingles, the harvesting of old-growth cedar is neither simple nor sustainable, and old-growth cedar is no longer commercially available due to cutting restrictions. Old-growth cedar roofing was once a long-lasting roofing solution; however, the cedar being used in roofing today is simply not mature enough to offer the resin development that leads to a 50-year life span. On top of these difficulties are the environmental issues that arise from the unsustainable foresting practices that produce cedar shakes and shingles.

Over the life of a home, a natural cedar roof will inevitably have to be replaced much sooner than alternative materials would, even if proper maintenance and treatments are conducted on a regular basis.

Cedar is naturally combustible; it cannot be used in areas with a high risk of brush or forest fires. To improve their fire resistance, cedar shingles can be pre-treated with chemical agents. In fact, such regular treatments are necessary to reduce rotting, warping, moisture absorption, and moss growth. When purchasing a cedar shake roof, homeowners are also committing to a regular long-term maintenance plan to delay decay, reduce moss growth, and repair the damage caused by the absorption of moisture, such as warping, rotting, and broken shakes. The cost of regular maintenance for cedar shingles can run up to $4,000 annually depending on the size of the roof. While the life expectancy of a natural cedar roof is around 15–20 years, its aesthetic appeal starts to diminish after only 5–10 years as the shakes age and degrade.

Asphalt roofing

Enviroshake in multi-tone

Asphalt became increasingly popular in the ’70s and ’80s across North America when fibreglass-based shingles were introduced to replace asbestos paper-based asphalt. Today, nearly 97% of all asphalt shingles used in North America are fibreglass-based. Asphalt is often chosen due to its low installation cost and ease of installation, and asphalt shingles currently dominate the residential market with 57% of all homes featuring asphalt roofs.

Although inexpensive, asphalt roofs create many challenges. Replacing a cedar roof with asphalt will immediately devalue a property and incur regular re-roofing costs.

Asphalt roofs also lack the aesthetic superiority of natural cedar, which has become a status symbol over the years. Further, asphalt roofs are not as durable as other roofing options. Issues related to granule loss, cracking, curling, and cupping are a constant concern over time and with exposure to UV and other climatic conditions. Additionally, when exposed to high winds, asphalt shingles can be torn right off of a roof. The lifespan of asphalt shingles has significantly reduced since the introduction of fibreglass-based shingles, and most asphalt roofs will need to be replaced after 10–15 years, making them quite costly over the life of a home.

It also bears mentioning that the fibreglass used in asphalt shingles is bonded with urea-formaldehyde resin, a highly adhesive but toxic material that emits formaldehyde into the air, which can cause respiratory irritation and more serious effects on health (especially after prolonged exposures and high air concentrations in excess of 3.0–5.0 ppm).

Are there alternatives?

Enviroshake

Industry professionals continue to seek out new environmentally friendly and sustainable roofing products in order to meet mandates, qualify for government incentives, benefit from green programs such as LEED, be eligible for possible home insurance discounts, and meet the growing consumer demand for environmentally responsible products.

Several types of roofing products have been introduced as alternatives to cedar and asphalt roofs, but few are truly eco-friendly, sustainable, durable, and cost-effective in the end.

Composite polymer (Enviroshake®)

A composite is a polymer reinforced with fibre and resins to significantly heighten resistance to cracking and thermal shock. Engineered to emulate natural cedar in thickness, profile, colour and texture, composite polymer roofing products are the most superior alternative for natural wood shingles and shakes on today’s market. In fact, from the ground, some composites are so natural-looking it is difficult to distinguish them from natural cedar. In addition to providing an authentic cedar look, composites offer superior performance, longevity, and durability due to their unique formulation. Enviroshake composite cedar shakes are also environmentally friendly, being made from recycled materials, and matchlessly replicate authentic natural wood texture, resist moisture, wind, thermal shock, and hail damage, and are not prone to crack, peel, blister, or rot.

A composite shingle is made from 95% recycled and reclaimed materials, including cellulosic fibres (natural wood fibres), allowing it to authentically replicate the texture and appearance of wood. Moreover, 3D images of real cedar shakes are used during Enviroshake’s manufacturing process to ensure that the resulting composite shingle closely emulates the aesthetic of authentic #1 grade cedar.

Enviroshake® is also resistant to mold, mildew, and insect damage. Further, UV inhibitor technology allows composite shingles to block up to 99% of UV radiation, which prevents discoloration over time.

Unlike cedar, where water runoff is not safe for drinking, the runoff from an Enviroshake roof is completely non-toxic, potable, and safe to drink.

Due to Enviroshake’s rigidity, all products offer a category 5 wind rating, meaning they can withstand wind speeds up to 180 mph (290 km/h).

Unlike clay tiles, cedar, and asphalt, Enviroshake also boasts a level 4 (UL 2218) impact test rating and can withstand hailstorms and flying debris.

Enviroshake products now offer the highest available Class A fire rating, making them the first choice in regions with high fire risk.

Plastic and synthetic

Plastics are synthetic polymers without any fibre reinforcement. In contrast, Enviroshake products, as composites, do include fibre reinforcement. Many plastic roofing products are designed to resemble cedar and slate. The popularity of plastic roofing has been on the rise due to lower product costs than traditional cedar and slate and the maintenance-free nature of these products. Additionally, plastic roofing shingles are lightweight and easier to install than are traditional cedar and slate. However, most plastic shingles do not look authentic and can also have a shiny finish that does not go away and tiles can look 'manufactured'. 

The durability of plastic and synthetic polymer roofs and roofing shingles varies greatly. Polypropylene, a highly fragile material found in many types of plastic shingles, has a glass transition temperature (Tg) of only 0° Celsius and is highly prone to cracking and breakage during the winter or during cold temperature installations. This lack of resistance to cold makes these products unsuitable in continental climates.

Clay

Clay tiles are one of the few roofing options that are both natural and renewable, being manufactured from clay and water and fired at high temperatures. Clay shingles are fairly durable: they will not curl, fade, flake, or produce white salt deposits.

Although top-of-the-line clay shingles have minimal water absorption and high resistance to thermal shock and cracking, their inability to withstand freeze–thaw cycles makes them an illogical choice for regions where cold weather conditions are prevalent. Additionally, most clay tile manufacturers do not recommend walking on the shingles, as damage to the tiles can occur.

Precision during the firing process is essential for maintaining product performance—improperly fired clay will absorb moisture, which will destroy the shingles beyond any possibility of repair.

Rubber

Rubber shingles may consist of up to 95% recycled materials, the primary ingredient being rubber from recycled tires. Steel, nylon, aramid fiber, rayon, fibreglass, and polyester, as well any number of reinforcing chemicals, adhesives, curatives, oils, and anti-degrading agents, are also found in rubber shingles.

However, most new rubber roofs have a rather strong odour, which can take a long time to dissipate. While a minor nuisance to most, the pungent smell can be quite problematic for those with certain conditions, sensitivities, or allergies.

Additionally, rubber requires substantial UV additives, as it will naturally and easily break down with exposure with UV light. Due to its lack of rigidity, rubber roofing also has a very low wind uplift rating.

In terms of aesthetics, rubber shingles can hardly compare to cedar or clay. Manufactured in molds, rubber products retain an unsightly black residue on the shingle surface, which can expand over time and remains visible across the entire rubber roof.

Conclusion

Despite the many options on the market, engineered composite polymer products remain the most environmentally responsible, durable, and reasonably priced alternative to cedar and asphalt. Cheaper to install than old-growth cedar, composite shake offers all the benefits of authentic wood—including the look and feel—without its limitations. Due to a transferable limited lifetime warranty, high wind resistance, and virtually non-existent maintenance costs, Enviroshake can actually increase the value of a home. Many insurance companies even offer home insurance discounts for homes with certain types of composite shingles.

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