Comparing Roofs: Cedar Shakes, Composite, Concrete Tile

If you started reading this article because you’re trying to decide what kind of roof to install on your new or existing home, let me first ask you this simple question: When you see a beautiful home, do you even notice the roof?

If the answer is no, then save yourself a little angst and a lot of time – install a composite roof. They are relatively inexpensive, easily maintained, and the industry standard, even on more expensive homes.

If you answered yes, you notice the beauty and distinction that a roof provides to a house, then read on as we try to break down three roofing choices that are common here in the Pacific Northwest: composite shingle, cedar shake, and concrete tile roofs.

Composite Cedar Shakes Concrete Tile
Appearance Authentic tile, slate, or wood shake appearance; comes in a variety of colors Natural, rustic appearance weathering to a soft gray Several available attractive styles & colors
Cost (Including Installation)* $1.60 – $2 per sq. ft. of roof (25-year) $4.30 – $5.30 per sq. ft. of roof $5 – $6.50 per sq. ft. of roof
Longevity 15-30 years 30 years 50+ years
Maintenance Easy to repair, but scars easily when hot; tends to mildew & subject to moss; high winds can damage them. In the Pacific Northwest, you can spend a lot on maintenance; tends to mold, rot & split; easy to repair or replace; poor fire rating unless treated. Very durable, but be careful when walking on them; will need to be cleaned and treated for moss every few years
* If you want to compare costs, you might find this roof cost estimator handy; but remember it should only be a guideline.


composite roofComposite roofing products come in a huge selection of brands, types and colors. Composite roofs are known for their versatility, and they adapt easily to various applications. In addition, composite roofs are relatively easy to install and may even be installed on top of an existing roof.

New recycled synthetics are an eco-friendly and attractive alternative to traditional asphalt shingles, which make up around 80% of roof replacements. Recycled synthetic shingles provide benefits beyond sustainability such as affordability, durability and attractiveness. They compare favorably to standard asphalt shingles.

Composite shingles are made from recycled materials, and many products are easily recycled. The majority of composite roofing materials are a combination of plastics, fiberglass, sawdust and rubber. In fact, some composite roofing products are made primarily from recycled hoses or tires. Some companies manufacture composite roofing materials with recycled wood and plastic.

Composite roofing materials are the ideal choice if you are in the market for something that looks clean and is easily affordable. This type of roofing material requires little maintenance, and it can be walked on without causing damage.

The biggest drawback to composite roofing is durability. In addition, composite roofs have a tendency to blow off if the wind gets too high. It is also important to note that composite roofing materials will scar if they become too hot and they do not offer the dimensional look that you get with cedar shakes or concrete tile.

Cedar Shakes

cedar shake roofIn the Pacific Northwest before the 1950s, you had two choices when it came to roofing. If you did not have much money, you bought a composite roof. If you had money and were in the market for “a good roof,” you went with cedar.

These days, when builders and owners choose cedar they are often going for the visual effect over any other considerations.

A cedar shake roof is composed of 24-inch pieces of cedar that have been split from the log. They are beautiful and rustic and will last around 30 years if you use high quality products.

Cedar is quite expensive as a roofing material and can even be more expensive to install. The installation is tedious and requires a certain level of craftsmanship and expertise so pieces can be fitted without the possibility of leaks.

Cedar shakes treated with preservatives combine the qualities of natural products with a chemical treatment that resists growths, such as algae, moss, and lichen, that may reduce the life of a wood roof. Shakes also can be treated to reduce their flammability.

Cedar shakes provide performance with traditional appeal, making them a common selection for historic houses (the cedar shake roof can trace its use back to Native Americans who used it on structures for its natural pest and weather resistance.) One more thing in its favor is that cedar roofs do come from a renewable resource.

Concrete Tile

concrete tile roofConcrete roofing tiles have been used all around the world for hundreds of years, becoming quite popular in the Pacific Northwest over the last few decades.

Concrete shingles, concrete panels, lighter-weight tiles and simulated wood shakes are manufactured from an assortment of fiber-reinforced cement roofing products. Some concrete tiles are coated with thin metals, enamels or plastics, while others are made with recycled material.

Concrete roofing tiles generally are more expensive than other types of roofing material. And installation is expensive as well. When we were building a showpiece home for the “Parade of Homes” here in the Portland area, we had a roofing supply company donate the material for a new concrete tile roof. Little did we know that the installation costs would easily eclipse the cost to purchase and install a composite roof. The look, however, was just the right touch for this high-end home.

Concrete tiles are available in traditional barrel and flat, interlocking shingle/shake styles. However, concrete tiles are one of the heaviest roofing materials so extra support is often needed in the roof structure prior to installation. For this reason they are not ideal if you plan to replace a composite roof with a concrete tile one.

The benefits of concrete roofing tiles vary from one product to the next, however, normally they all require low maintenance, have an extremely long lifespan (50+ years), offer quality fire protection and are resistant to insects and deterioration. A number of concrete tiles mimic wood shakes, but have improved durability and fire protection that you just cannot get with real wood. Concrete tiles can impersonate slate or clay, while alleviating structural problems caused by those even heavier authentic materials.

In the past, the earlier types of concrete roofing materials had problems with curling, breaking and color change. However, improvements in technology have helped to overcome such dilemmas. Choices for color and style are expanding. In addition, by mixing cement with certain additives, cement roofing products are becoming lighter and lighter.

Which One to Buy

As I said at the beginning of this article, if you don’t really notice roofs on homes, then go with composite. If you really want something rustic, then cedar is a nice choice. If you are going for maximum durability, then concrete tile is your choice. I’ve used all three in my professional life, and each homeowner who made an informed decision has been happy with their choice.

As always, if you are looking into upgrading your current home or are looking to build a custom home, we invite you to contact Fazzolari Custom Homes and Renovations for a free consultation.

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