The natural answer to that question would be an unmaintained roof under maple trees. Ha!
But if we’re talking about the lowest carbon footprint and least damaging to our environment, the answer is a cedar shake roof.
Right on our coast range are some of the most beautiful, healthy, big, cedar trees. If you continue up to Washington and into British Columbia, it just multiplies. There are mountains and mountains of them.
It’s material that grows naturally. While growing, it takes carbon dioxide out of the air and releases oxygen. They mature to about four hundred years of age, and then from the very center, they start to decay internally. By six hundred years of age, the windstorms that are on the coast blow them over.
When the loggers are up there getting spruce, fir, and hemlock to build homes, they find these dead falls of huge cedar trees. So they cut them into smaller sections so that they can bring them down.
Each load they bring down makes a ton of shake roofs. They get them to the mill and I would say that it takes 30 seconds, at the most, of electricity and manpower to make a roofing material.
Once the roof is on your home, it provides natural insulation. Shake lets a lot of air escape your attic, which is good, because it controls the moisture that causes the mold and mildew. It allows you to have airflow in that dead space between your living area and your attic to keep it fresh and healthy.
If you compare a shake roof’s carbon footprint to other roofing materials such as asphalt, metal, or tile, you’ll see that everywhere cedar is a plus, the alternatives are a negative.
Creating asphalt shingles takes a ton of electricity and manpower. If you want a stone-coated metal roof, you’re looking at a lot of pollution, because of all the adhesives applied. For cement tile, you have to dig in to the earth to get cement and use a ton of energy to mix, die cast, and bake it.
That’s why cedar has that title of the “greenest roof” ever offered. They are energy efficient and natural. And in my opinion, a well-maintained, high-quality cedar shake roof is the most beautiful you can get.