Western Red Cedar is one of those woods that, in some circumstances, is almost perfect. As well as looking spectacular, and on this point the pictures speak for themselves, here is a brief outline of the characteristics that enable it to achieve that prized status.
Project: De Grey Court for York St John University
Architects: Rivington Street Studio.
Photographer: Sarah Blee.
The ultimate green building material Western Red Cedar from Canada could just be your perfect environmental choice. It is responsibly and sustainably harvested in the publicly managed forests of British Columbia and available as certified legal and sustainable timber, increasingly with full third-party chain of custody. The Province of British Columbia has exceeded UN guidelines by setting aside more than 12 per cent of its land base as parkland. Less than one per cent of BC’s cedar growing stock volume is harvested each year. For each tree harvested three seedlings are replanted to ensure forest will exist in perpetuity. The young forests are excellent carbon sinks; they consume and convert carbon dioxide into wood and oxygen and today there are more forests in Canada than there were 100 years ago.
All producers are in the process of becoming or have already achieved certification under one or more of the independent third party certification systems (CSA, SFI or FSC).
When compared to other mainstream construction materials, timber, and Western Red Cedar specifically, has the least impact on the environment throughout its life cycle. It requires significantly less energy to produce than other materials and, unlike man-made alternatives, Western Red Cedar is wholly biodegradable, eventually!
Western Red Cedar is a contemporary yet classic cladding material offering beauty, versatility, and durability. Western Red Cedar has long been a preferred timber for cladding and all
applications where attractive appearance, superior performance and resistance to weather are important. No man-made cladding material can match Cedar’s beauty combined with centuries of proven performance. The natural properties that set Cedar apart from the rest include:
Like all woods, Western Red Cedar is hygroscopic and will absorb or discharge moisture to attain equilibrium with the surrounding atmosphere. However, it has a very low shrinkage factor and is superior to all other coniferous woods in its resistance to warping, twisting and checking.
Wood is an excellent thermal insulator. This is an increasingly important characteristic with the constantly changing requirements for improved thermal performance of buildings in order to reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling.
The conduction of heat in wood is directly related to its density. Woods with low density have the highest thermal insulating value owing to the high proportion of cell cavities which, in dry wood are filled with air, one of the best known natural thermal insulators.
With its low density, Western Red Cedar is the best thermal insulator amongst the commonly available softwood species and is far superior to brick, concrete and steel.
Historically, native peoples of the Pacific coast prized Western Red Cedar for its long-lasting qualities and used wood and bark from cedar trees for most of their building needs. Evidence of cedar’s durability are the many outdoor cedar artefacts still in good condition today. Properly finished and appropriately maintained, cedar will deliver many decades of trouble-free service. See ‘Finishing’ below for more information.
A most versatile building material, Western Red Cedar is ideal both for indoor and outdoor uses.
Western Red Cedar exterior cladding comes in a multitude of patterns including bevel siding, tongue and groove, board-andbatten and channel. Availability: in ranges of widths and thicknesses affording still further variability in design and when used in combination with clear or knotty grades and smooth surfaced, combed or rough sawn finishes; kiln dried or unseasoned (green); flat grain and vertical grain.
And don’t be misled by its low density as it is perfectly capable as a structural timber and is available in larger cross-section sizes. With the appropriate adjustments to length of fixings and cross-section dimensions Western Red Cedar is perfectly suited to joinery and loadbearing structural frameworks in exterior and interior situations. It glues readily making it suitable also for glulam.
No matter what style of building envisioned, Western Red Cedar as cladding, decking, interior panelling or exposed structural elements will add both performance and prestige.
Being naturally durable, in an increasingly environmentally conscious construction sector, cedar is highly valued and chosen for its ability to cope with the elements without the need to resort to preservative treatment or surface coating. In this natural state the soluble extractives (cedar’s natural preservatives) are readily mobilised by rainwater – particular care should be taken when using natural cedar for joinery and always seal end grain.
To obviate the risk of irregular staining of external cladding and also appropriate when natural cedar is installed above a lightcoloured render, application of a clear water-repellent surface
coating is suggested. Similarly, use of an applied finish or protective coating will greatly increase cedar’s service life. Western Red Cedar is also a non-resinous wood which together with its high degree of dimensional stability makes it the best of the softwoods for accepting paints, stains, oils and other coatings. More information about proper finishing is available through the WRCEA’s Guide to Finishing Western Red Cedar.
The Western Red Cedar Export Association (WRCEA) is a not-forprofit organization that aims to generate greater awareness of western red cedar products on behalf of leading timber companies in British Columbia, through education, technical expertise and promotion. Collectively the organization represents over 70 per cent of all offshore shipments of western red cedar, and has expanded its membership to embrace approved importers and merchants in offshore markets through development of an Associate Member program. For more information about Western Red Cedar and the WRCEA, visit www.wrcea.org.
In the UK, the Western Red Cedar Export Association is represented by Canada Wood UK. Ask us for information, advice, RIBA approved CPD presentations and contacts. Contact Patrick Cooper at or via email patrick.cooper@ canadawooduk.org