Better Alternatives to Cedar and Asphalt

The Shift Towards Synthetic Roofing Shingles is Real and Needed

Roofing, a growing industry in the United States is quickly changing with new products and technologies being available. Roofing currently ranks sixth in the list of most popular construction projects in North America, surpassed only by interior remodeling, repainting, flooring, windows, doors, and landscaping.  Worth $15 billion annually in material cost alone, the US roofing market is growing: the demand in US is expected to rise 3.5% annually to 268 million squares in 2017. The need for alternative roofing products continues to be a driver for composite roofing materials

Better Alternatives to Cedar & Asphalt

As you think about the best roofing material to choose for your construction needs, take a little time to think about what is right for you, not just in terms of aesthetics, but also in terms of cost, durability, and maintenance, among other parameters.

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

Composites and synthetics, albeit new in terms of traditional roofing materials like cedar and slate, have been around for decades and are continuing to gain traction quickly as the preferred roofing materials of choice.

Composite cedar shakes & shingles are typically installed for the about the same price as cedar (in most geographies), but cost significantly less than real cedar over the life of your roof by eliminating the need for maintenance, treatments, and most importantly re-roofing. Due to the fact that you can achieve the same cedar aesthetic, with reduced lifetime costs, continues to drive the popularity of polymer roofing products. The desire for the dignified aesthetic of natural cedar has not waned, but with cedar becoming unsustainable, expensive to maintain and to install, and the lifespan being reduced to 20-25 years, composites are filling a void in the roofing market.

What’s wrong with Cedar or Asphalt?

Traditional Cedar Roofing:

Natural cedar shingles are going out of style, fast and there’s good reason for that.

Traditional cedar shingles are made from old-growth western cedar. Although, it is very easy to produce cedar shingles, harvesting of old-growth cedar is neither simple, nor sustainable in the long run. Cedar is very expensive to replace, and old-growth cedar is no longer commercially available due to cutting restrictions. Traditionally, cedar roofing was a long lasting roofing solution; however, with restrictions in place on the harvesting of quality old growth cedar, the cedar being used for roofing today is simply not mature enough to have the resin development needed for a 50-year life span. Not to mention the issues regarding unsustainable foresting practices to produce cedar shakes & shingles.

Over the life of a home, a cedar roof will have to be replaced much quicker than alternatives, 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 its fire resistance, cedar shingles are pre-treated with chemical agents. In fact, regular treatments are necessary to reduce rotting, warping, moisture absorption and moss growth. Essentially, when purchasing a cedar shake roof, you are also committing to a regular long term maintenance plan needed to slow down the roofs decay, reduce moss growth, and fix 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 per year depending on the size of the roof. While life expectancy of a natural cedar roof is around 15-20 years, the aesthetic appeal starts waning after only 5 to 10 years as the shakes age and degrade.

Enviroshake in Multi-tone

Asphalt Roofing:

Asphalt became increasingly popular in the 70’s and 80’s across North America, when fibreglass-based shingles were introduced instead of existing asbestos paper based asphalt. Today, nearly 97% of all asphalt shingles used in North America are fiber-glass based. Asphalt has been replacing cedar in many areas due to its low installation cost and ease of installation and asphalt shingles currently dominate the residential market at 57%.

Although cost effective in nature, asphalt roofs have many issues associated with them. You cannot forget the fact that replacing your cedar roof with asphalt will automatically devalue your home and you will be incurring re-roofing costs every 10-20 years, depending on the asphalt material you have purchased.

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

It is also worth mentioning that fiberglass 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?

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, as well as to 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.

Plastic and Synthetics:

Plastic (synthetic polymer) is a polymer that has no fibre reinforcement. There are many plastic roofing products on the market designed to look like cedar and slate. Use of plastic roofing has been on the rise, most likely due to lower product costs than traditional cedar and slate and the offer of maintenance free lifetime products. Plastic roofing shingles are lightweight, and easier to install than traditional cedar and slate. However, most plastic shingles do not look authentic, and can have a shiny finish to them. Plastic shingles are relatively thin, and with average widths of 6”-8”, they do not come close to replicating the look or the size of real cedar shake.

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 Tg of only 0 Celcius, and is highly prone to cracking and breakage during the winter. Tg, or Glass Transition Temperature, describes mechanical behavior of polymer as it changes from rigid and brittle to tough and leathery. This lack of resistance to cold makes the product unsuitable in continental climate regions.


Of the available roofing choices, clay is one of the few options that are both natural and renewable. Individual tiles and shingles are manufactured from clay and water, and are 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 makes them an illogical choice for geographies where cold weather conditions are prevalent. Additionally, most clay tile manufacturers do not recommend walking on them as damage to the tiles can occur. The benefit to clay tiles, is that if properly maintained, they can last a lifetime.

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


Rubber roofing shingles 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.

Used shingles can be melted and recycled into a new product. In other words, while definitely not “natural”, rubber is nevertheless one of the more sustainable roofing options available today.

While rubber shingles are generally resistant to rotting, cracking, mold, discoloration and moisture absorption, they do have one major disadvantage: most new rubber roofs have a rather strong odour, which can take a long time to disappear. A minor nuisance to most, this can be quite problematic for people with certain conditions, sensitivities or allergies.

Additionally, rubber requires substantial UV additives, as they naturally break down easily with exposure with UV. 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. Made in a mold, rubber retains a black flow of materials on the shingle surface, which multiplies and remains visible across the entire rubber roof.

Composite Polymer (Enviroshake®)

Designed to emulate natural cedar in their thickness, profile sizes, colour and textures, composite polymer roofing products are the best alternative for natural wood shingle & shake roofs. In fact, from the ground, some are so natural looking it is hard to decipher whether they are real cedar or not. In addition to providing an authentic cedar look, composites offer superior performance, longevity and durability due to their unique formulation. Synthetic cedar shake roof shingles are also environmental friendly. Many are made from recycled materials, easily replicate authentic natural wood texture and can resist moisture, wind, thermal shock, hail damage and are not prone to crack, peel, blister or rot.

A composite is a polymer reinforced with fibre and resins to significantly heighten resistance to cracking and thermal shock. A composite shingle is made from 95% recycled and reclaimed materials, including cellulosic fibres (natural wood fibres) that allow to replicate authentic wood texture and appearance. Moreover, 3D images of real cedar shakes are used during the manufacturing process to ensure that the resulting composite shingle almost exactly replicates the look of authentic #1 grade cedar.

Composite cedar shingles are highly resistant to thermal shock, wind, and moisture, and are not likely to rot, blister, peel or crack. They are also resistant to mold, mildew and insects. Use of UV inhibitor technology allow composite shingles to block up to 99% of UV radiation, which prevents composite roof from discoloration over time.

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

Due to Enviroshake®’s rigidity, all products have 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 has a level 4 (UL 2218) impact test rating, meaning it can withstand hail storms, walking, and flying debris.

Enviroshake® has a class C fire rating.


Of all the available roofing products, composite polymer is the more environmentally responsible, durable, and reasonably priced alternative to cedar and asphalt. Cheaper to install than real old-growth cedar, composite shake has all the benefits of authentic wood – including the look and feel – without the limitations. Due to a transferable 50 year warranty, high wind resistance (passed Miami Dade to withstand winds over 180mph) and virtually non-existent maintenance costs, composite shingles can actually increase the value of a home. State Farm and several other companies even offer home insurance discounts for homes with certain types of composite shingles.

Enviroshake’s original Enviroshingle™ composite roof shingle replicates the look of authentic old-growth cedar. Made from 95% post-industrial recycled materials, Enviroshingle™ is a sustainable choice and a perfect solution for those who want the look the look of cedar without the hassle and the cost associated with maintaining it. Learn more about Enviroshake and Enviroshingle or download a product brochure.

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