What is the Difference Between Red Cedar Shingles & White Cedar Shingles?

On the outside of our homes there are clearly a wide variety of what exists in terms of siding options.

Over the years, many have opted for vinyl, cement board, masonry, or some other alternative style of sided home.

Traditionally in New England, when a home is sided out of wood, there are two main players.

While occasionally there certainly may be an outlying T-111 or selection of pine-oriented siding, these are exceptions rather than rules.

Typically, when a home is sided in wood, it is sided with some form of either red or white cedar.

With red cedar, one tends to have either shingle, clapboard, or vertical siding.

White cedar (in New England at least) is predominantly present in the form of shingle siding.

There are several differences between red cedar and white cedar shingles.

Cost-wise, white cedar has always been a much less expensive option than red cedar.

This has been true throughout time, up until the recent pandemic.

In New England, our white cedar shingles primarily come from Canada and our red cedar shingles from the Western United States.

Due to extended Canadian challenges relating to the pandemic, the cost of white cedar shingles has skyrocketed from their resulting scarce availability.

Where white cedar shingles regularly are as common as everyday printing paper, there were long stretches during ‘COVID’ times where a single white cedar shingle could not be found in a lumberyard or box store from Maine through (at least) Ohio – I know this because a contractor buddy of mine relayed his exasperating quest, where he contacted over 400 hopeful sources of white cedar shingles throughout this region, with a grand total of zero to show for it.

Taking this time period out of the equation, there are numerous other points of differentiation.

While both are stealthily resistant to rot and being chomped on by bugs and subsequent insect damage, any similarities pretty much stop there.

Red cedar shingles tend to keep their form over time, whereas white cedar shingles shrink, curl, and can even warp (the degree to which would be dictated by the amount of weather they are exposed to).

Even though white cedar may contour with weather exposure, this does not compromise their integrity from a structural standpoint, but surely can make them cosmetically unpleasing to look at.

Red cedar shingles tend to hold paint and stain coatings MUCH better than white cedar shingles.

In fact, due to the way that they are milled (particularly over certain portions of history), white cedar shingles may be susceptible to a phenomenon known as mill glaze, which essentially makes it impossible for any type of coating to penetrate its surface unless some type of aggressive surface preparation (preferably some type of media blasting) is performed.

Due to their distinctive composition, red cedar shingles are more environmentally friendly and energy efficient than white cedar shingles.

As with many building products, when comparing one vs. the other, there are definitive pros and cons to each.

Although traditionally a tad pricier, my preference is always red cedar shingles, the reasoning for this is I enjoy how they hold their form as time passes as well as how receptive they are to paint and stain finishes.

Someone, on the other hand, that is looking for a more cost-effective approach and/or may just like a shingle that they would want to have installed and naturally weather as time progresses (many of our Clients refer to this as the ‘Cape Cod’ look), white cedar would most likely be the choice that wins out.

Regardless of which route one does take regarding either red cedar or white cedar shingles, they can have comfort in knowing that each option provides ample protection against rotted siding and damage by annoying pests as their home gracefully ages.

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