With so many modern roofing material choices, why would you choose to install cedar roof shingles on your house? Two reasons stand out:

1. Wood shingles form a natural, beautiful roof.
2. Cedar smells great, is non-toxic, lightweight, and easy to work with – perfect for DIY roofers.

17th century colonists arrived in America with limited tools and resources. Since the New World offered an unlimited supply of trees, wood shingles were the ideal choice for colonial roofs. It was one of our first “green” building materials, and remains popular 400 years later.

Here Is An Additional Video On How To Install Cedar Shingles


Although colonial roofers utilized whatever wood species was handy, today’s wooden roof shingles are cut from cedar heartwood. Natural oils there protect against decay and insects, and additives are available for resistance to fire and fungus. Western red and Atlantic white cedar are both commonly available. “Squared and re-butted” shingles are the easiest to apply, and “fancy cuts” offer familiar shapes like fish-scale and v-cut on the exposed end.

You’ll use galvanized or stainless steel nails, and any valleys will require metal flashing. You can also include drip-edge and rake trims for all edges.


Cedar roof shingles require air circulation for proper drying. This is best achieved by nailing each course to spaced 1 by 6 “breather” boards, rather than to plywood sheathing. Roofing felt is used for wood shake installation, but not recommended for shingles.

If you already have plywood sheathing, various methods are available to ensure ventilation beneath your new shingles. Consult your local building department for guidelines. The Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau (CSSB) offers general information.


  • Measuring tape
  • Hammer
  • Utility knife
  • Framing square or straight edge
  • Chalk-line, spacing board, or gauge
  • Ladder(s) and, if desired, staging system
  • Optional: table saw


Begin with a stable work set-up. This can be as simple as a step-ladder or as complicated as a double-plank system, depending on your situation. Always follow safe working practices for the method you choose.

Cedar shingles are applied from the bottom, up. Install edge trim first, then add a breather-type underlayment, if needed. Sort out blemished shingles for the first course – they won’t show. The thicker, butt end of each shingle faces down and overhangs the roof edge by about one inch. Space shingles 1/4″ apart; mix various widths as you go along. Shingles wider than 8″ should be split. Install nails an inch above your chosen exposure – typically either 5 1/2″ or 7 1/2″ – and no closer than one inch from side edges.

Add a second shingle course over your first layer. Offset overlying joints by at least 1 1/2″. This “double course” starts your roof and is not used in later courses. You don’t have to install each entire course of shingles before you begin next row. Instead, you can install shingles in stepped batches. Cut the final shingle to width using a utility knife or table saw. Be sure to carry shingles about an inch past each rake edge for water run-off.

Going up:

Use one of these methods to space each subsequent course:

  • Chalk-line to mark each next course. This requires you to complete one course at a time
  • Measuring gauge (some shingling hammers have one): Best for shorter runs, and allows you to do multiple courses at once.
  • Spacer-board cut to the exposure width. This approach works great, but can be more cumbersome than the first two techniques.

Continue adding shingle rows. Stagger joints, and mix shingle sizes. Shingles with minor defects can be re-cut for row ends. Be careful working on top of your new shingles. For steeper roof slopes, use staging methods approved for wood shingles, and follow product directions.

Hips, valleys, ridges and flashing:

Roof intersections require special attention. Use metal flashing in valleys and on hips. Valleys can be open or closed, depending upon the look you prefer. Where your roof meets a wall (dormers, for instance), you’ll need step-flashing. This is placed beneath individual shingles. Allow about 1/2″ between cedar edges and vertical flashing.

Hips and ridge-lines can be finished using exposed metal trim. Various profiles are available, depending on your budget and taste. Proper application of this final step makes all the difference for looks and wind-resistance.


Your new cedar roof will weather naturally to a grayish hue, or you can apply a stain. Other products can control mold and fungus. Keep your roof clean, and ensure that vents are unobstructed. The CSSB provides additional recommendations.

Installing cedar shingles can be a great DIY project. When you choose a high-quality cedar roof shingle and install it properly, your roof will last a lifetime with minimal maintenance. Your house will display a beautiful, classic look. All your neighbors will be jealous.