Shingles, Siding and Roofs


What’s that siding?  Are those red or white cedar shingles?  And how many inches of clapboard should be exposed to the weather?  Today, straight answers to some of our most-asked questions about exterior materials.

Which shingles do you use on an exterior?

On shingle-style homes, we call for white cedar shingles on exterior walls, typically with a kick out or splay as the shingle hits the stone foundation.  Shingles can be multifaceted, offering not only texture but also variation where desired.  At times, we specify wavy shingles to imply a nautical theme, or introduce diamond shingles in a peak or within a portion of the elevation to break up the uniformity.  Occasionally our shingle-style homes will include shingled columns in the style of architectural giants McKim, Mead and White who operated at the turn of the 20th century.

Atlantic Drive 2 demonstrates white cedar shake siding with shingled columns and a red cedar shake roof.

On a home where we want something different than the smooth, consistent lines of a traditional white cedar shingle, our go-to is the Canadian-made swirl siding for its significant variegation.  The period-correct bark-look edge was a Royal Barry Wills staple from the 1930s.  With a totally different texture than uniform straight-edged shingles, the swirl siding has a chamfered edge with variation in width.  They represent a different approach to a timeless home, one that we consider depending on location and context of the neighborhood.

English Country House is cladded in white painted swirl siding with a red cedar shake roof.

How can I get that coastal New England grey color on exterior shingles?

Oftentimes we’re asked about what we use to stain the shingles on our homes.  Our secret weapon here is the New England sea air.  In coastal communities where we specify white cedar shingles, we call for them to simply weather to their beautiful natural grey.  However, the salt content of the air is required in order for that to happen.  If a home is not on the water—even in New England—the cedar shingles will not become the classic grey that so many homeowners desire.  In that case, we attempt a semi-transparent stain in order to get close to the coastal grey coloration.  The grey color will not be the same as it would have been if the shingle was exposed to our sea air, but oftentimes it satisfies a homeowner’s want for the classic grey look.  Another option if a shingled home is not on the water is to paint the shingles for an appealing visual composition.

Located on the water in Osterville, Oyster Habors, has weathered to a classic coastal New England grey.
Meanwhile, in the suburbs of Wellesley, MA, Valley Road is cladded with grey painted shingles.

What about clapboard?  How many inches should I expose to the weather?

Many of our Federal revival projects and homes with a more cottage feel are done with cedar clapboard siding.  Cedar clapboard gives the patina of age even if it a property might be new construction or an addition onto an existing structure.  While the standard is to typically expose 4.5” of clapboard to the weather, we often call for exposing only 3”.  As a result, more horizontal lines are seen on the exterior of a home.  Conversely, on a larger home, we might call for 5” to be exposed so that from a distance the house might appear smaller than it actually is.  In this way, clapboard can be thought of as an excellent architectural scaling device.

Here, 3" of white painted clapboard is exposed, giving a patina of age.

How about a roof?  Do I need to be concerned about wood rot if I use cedar shingles up there?

When stylistically appropriate, especially on shingle style homes, we will specify a cedar shake roof composed of red cedar.  The cedar shingles are durable and typically last for 50 years or more.  Specifically related to rot, building technologies have advanced so significantly, to the point where rot is really not a concern for new roofs any longer.  Underneath our cedar roofs, we typically call for Cedar Breather which acts as a barrier so the shingles never sit right on top of the plywood and are less prone to rot than they were long ago.

A red cedar shake roof and white cedar siding is a Timeless combination.

If thoughts of building materials make you consider building a new home of your own, contact us to learn how we can help architect the house you’ve been thinking about.  In the meantime, we invite you to find meaningful inspiration in our portfolio.