Redwood vs Cedar
Redwood. Cedar. A battle argued for as long as man has cut them down, which is better as decking and weatherboards. In New Zealand Redwood is still somewhat a secret held close to the chest of builders and architects in the know. Interestingly these trees are first cousins. Both are Conifers, and among the conifer species there are three productive members of the Cupressaceae family which is why their characteristics are so similar.
So which timber has what it takes to come out on top? To help decide, we went to the source.
For cedar, specifically western red cedar, we turned to the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association (realcedar.com) to find out all there is to know about cedar. Our source for information on redwood was Humbolt Redwood (getredwood.com), the largest Californian Redwood supplier in America.
So, what’s the difference between Redwood and Cedar? Full details below.
The research is clear: both redwood and cedar suppliers believe their product is the best. No surprise there. So which is really better, redwood or cedar? As we dug a little deeper into each product we discovered some important factors worth mentioning. In our redwood vs. cedar research, we focused on four main categories: appearance, environmental-impact, longevity, and value.
Whether you’re building a deck, pergola, or cladding your home here are 8 factors that can help you decide between cedar or redwood.
Appearance -redwood v cedar
It’s tough to determine a winner in this category, but there is definitely a difference in appearance. Western red cedar, unless stained a different color, will naturally have a yellowish tone, while redwood has a noticeably true reddish-brown hue (there’s a reason it’s called “redwood”). Both are beautiful in their own right, but if you’re planning to use a tinted stain on your timber you might want to go with redwood because it costs less and has takes on stains exceptionally well. Regardless of which wood you choose, both will eventually turn a silver-gray if not periodically maintained.
Who Wins? For taking on stain it Redwood. But it comes down to your personal preference.
Your project or budget may determine the type of grain or number of knots you want in your wood. The good news is there are only 2 grades of redwood and 3 of cedar suitable for decking and cladding.
Redwood has Premium Heart Clear to Cedars PC1 both are graded to be an all heart wood clear of all imperfections and knots. This is considered the highest grade for both timbers and is stunning.
Cedar then has a PC2 grade which is close in grade to the PC1 but carries up to 30% lower grade boards which will include knots.
Redwood then provides Tight Knot Heart grade to Cedars PC3. Both Grades are all heart wood with green sound knots this grade meets the New Zealand standard for cladding and weather tightness. This is a rustic look and gives character to a home.
Because redwood is harvested primarily from large old plantation trees, there are typically fewer knots overall than its cedar counterpart. When it comes to overall smoothness, redwood has a slight edge over cedar. Again, it’s hard to choose a winner of this category since every project requires a different look, but based on grade availability redwood wins by a narrow margin.
Who Wins? Too close to call, Redwood for smoothness, but your project will ultimately decide.
Environmental-Impact -redwood v cedar
The major point of difference is the Redwood is locally sourced which means its not being shipped across the world burning expensive diesel mile to get to New Zealand. These species are very similar when it comes to other aspects pf being eco-friendly. Both have product certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), both are 100% natural products, and both have no toxic chemicals injected into the timber like pine. Because redwood is harvested in New Zealand and western red cedar comes from Canada, Redwood is definitely kinder to the environment.
Who Wins? Redwood by a clear nautical mile.
Can they grow new trees as fast as they harvest old ones? Sustainable growth is obviously important if either industry plans to stay in business, and both have done an excellent job at harvesting responsibly. Since it takes 50+ years for cedar or redwood seedlings to be harvestable, the growth process isn’t an exact science. According to a cedar growth study, second growth western red cedar is just beginning to be harvested and is producing a high quality product. However, like Humbolt in the US, the New Zealand Redwood Company takes it a step further saying they harvest less than the annual growth rate, meaning they are growing more redwood than they are harvesting.
Who Wins? Redwood is the one saying they grow more than they harvest. But neither product is going away anytime soon.
Longevity - redwood v cedar
Finally, a difference that we can actually measure! To determine the hardness of redwood and cedar, we are using the janka hardness test. Redwood – with a janka rating of 450lbs – is about 23% stronger than cedar (janka rating of 350lbs). Whether or not the extra strength is necessary for your project is up to you, but clearly redwood is more durable and stable than cedar in general.
Who Wins? Redwood, but that doesn’t mean cedar can’t handle your project.
Both cedar and redwood give almost identical tips for cleaning, color restoration, and finishing. With either product, soap and water is going to clean most dirt and stains. Mildew can be taken care of with a little bleach and water. For restoring color (due to extractive bleeding or iron stains) use an oxalic acid-based product. Redwood and cedar naturally contain tannin (a chemical that gives the products their color), which keeps the wood insect resistant. Since Californian redwood has a higher level of tannin, it could be more rot resistant than cedar.
Who Wins? It’s a tie.
Value - redwood v cedar
7. Cost Comparison
We can’t speak for every region, but in the US redwood products are 15% higher in cost on average than the same cedar products. Unsurprisingly in New Zealand Redwood is 25-35% less than Western Red Cedar primarily due. For instance, a ex200x25 board of Heart Clear redwood dressed to a weather board is about $13.00, while that same board in cedar is $22.00.
Who Wins? Home Grown Redwood
At the end of the day, it all comes down to supply and demand. The availability factor will depend on your region, but overall western red cedar is in much greater supply than Californian redwood. Producing almost hundreds of thousands of meters a year, cedar is easily accessible anywhere in the country. Redwood is definitely the popular choice for architects and builders in the know, but it is produced as a significantly lower volume in the high tens of thousands. You will not get Redwood off the shelf as its cut to order with 8 to 10 week lead times, meaning better planning is required when ordering.
Who Wins? Western Red Cedar
And the winner is…
Redwood. Its close and often boils down to subjective personal preferences, but Redwood does have some clear advantages in durability, cost, and being the environmentally kind option.
The bottom line is you need to choose the best option for your specific project. Thinking about the look you want, your budget, and product availability will help you decide if redwood or cedar is better for you. Regardless of which you choose, you’re getting an excellent product!