Did you know? These tree species also go by geographical names based on where they grow. Red cedar is also commonly called Western red cedar. You’ll see white cedar referred to as Eastern or Northern cedar.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHITE AND RED CEDAR?
Red and white cedar are popular choices for a variety of outdoor projects. Although they are similar types of wood, there are a few differences that highlight their relative strengths and how each is best used.
- Size – Red cedar trees are much larger than white cedars. Red cedars grow up to 200 feet tall and have a diameter of up to ten feet. White cedar trees max out around 50 feet tall and have a diameter of less than 4 feet. This difference in size allows the red cedar trees to have a wider range of board sizes available for projects, including, of course, taller and wider flooring and fence planks.
- Color – As you would guess, red cedar has strong hues of red in the otherwise light wood (it’s not red throughout like redwood), and white cedar is lighter in color, but some has light red tints in the grains. White cedar, if left untreated, eventually weathers to a light grey/silver color. Red cedar will keep it’s natural color longer without fading.
- Painting – Red cedar cannot effectively be painted due to the natural oils in the wood that resist paint. You can paint or treat white cedar to any color you desire. So, if you are looking to match the cedar to any color schemes at your home, white cedar is your only choice.
- Heartwood and Sapwood – Cedar trees have two growth areas. The sapwood is the outer rings of the tree – new growth. It is not recommended for building projects because it is softer and more easily damaged. It can be used in flooring for low-traffic areas and for indoor wall paneling. Heartwood is the strongest part of the cedar tree.This is the section of the tree that you would want to use for any cedar house siding projects. Almost one hundred percent of white cedar is heartwood. Red cedar, although very large in size, only has about 10 percent heartwood.
- Strength – Both red cedar and white cedar are strong and resilient for their weight and are easy to work with. Red cedar is slightly stronger than white cedar, and it is also less prone to contain knots. Knots in boards negatively affect the overall strength of a board.
- Durability – Red cedar holds up to the elements better than white cedar. Both types of wood are quite durable and can withstand what the weather throws at them for up to 15 years if left untreated. You can seal both types of cedar if you use an oil-based product. But again, you shouldn’t try to paint red cedar due to the oils that are present in the wood. When either wood is well-maintained, fencing and roofing shingles last 25-40 years while house siding lasts up to 50+ years.
WHAT IS CEDAR WOOD PRIMARILY USED FOR?
Cedar, both white or red, is used in a variety of ways. Since it is naturally resistant to moisture and rotting, cedar is used for house siding, fencing, roofing shingles and decking. Its natural oils repel insects and shed water.
Although we are focusing on outdoor uses for cedar wood, it has indoor uses too. Cedar is a top choice for saunas due to the amazing aroma from the wood and the resistance to water and heat. Cedar is a great choice for indoor ceilings, paneling and trim. Many musical instruments are constructed with various cedar woods. Wardrobes and other types of furniture are built with cedar due to how well it keeps insects away and since it smells so appealing. Cedar is also very easy to work with since it is easy to cut and is lightweight.
WHICH TYPE OF CEDAR, RED OR WHITE, IS BEST FOR YOUR PROJECT?
Siding projects generally call for white cedar over red cedar because white cedar can be painted.
Red cedar is the preferred type of cedar for shingles since it sheds water really well, is slightly stronger and less prone to have knots. Red cedar shingles also keep the natural color and white cedar will turn a silver/grey color over time. But it should be said that white cedar is also an acceptable roofing material.
Red cedar is better for fencing unless you want to paint it. It is more durable than white cedar and also is less prone to rotting. While the woods are moisture-resistance, pros often use metal or pressure treated fence poles and keep the cedar boards above the ground to minimize contact with moisture and the potential for damage from long-term exposure.
COST FOR VARIOUS CEDAR PROJECTS
Here are installed costs for the various projects.
Shingles – To use cedar shingles for your roofing project, you can expect to pay between $7 and $12 per square foot, with red cedar shingles being the more expensive option. White cedar is $7 – $10 installed; red cedar shingles cost is $8.50 – $12 installed.
Siding – Siding your home with cedar can be done by using shingles, shakes or plank siding. The installed price for shingles will be between $6 and $12 per square foot, including installation. Shake siding runs between $6 and $10 per square foot. Plank cedar siding costs $8 to $12 installed, primarily because of the higher material costs.
Fencing – A cedar fence will cost around $4 to $10 per linear foot installed based on the height of the fence and the type. A picket fence, for example, uses far less material than a shadowbox or privacy fence, so is much more affordable. Red cedar again will be the higher-cost material.
Where do you live? White cedar is more available east of the Mississippi, so less expensive there. Red cedar is found mostly in the west. As a result, local supplies and shipping costs might affect your price when you shop for cedar in your area.
Which type of cedar is best? Although white cedar is also durable and easy to work with, red cedar is just a little bit better in most of the categories. The only real downside to red cedar is that it cannot be painted, but white cedar can. Overall, red cedar is the best option where cost isn’t a factor, since the difference is small. If you want to save a little bit of money, then white cedar should be considered.
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