Flat roofs are one of the numerous options that today’s homeowners are able to choose from for their homes. Flat roofs are known for their low maintenance and being energy efficient. These are normally seen on large apartment buildings or businesses, but some homeowners are turning to flat roofs for their benefits as well. Those who are not looking for the most aesthetically pleasing option but rather, practicality turn to flat roofs as an option.

Of course, just like any roofing system, flat roofs have their advantages and disadvantages. Today, we go in depth about some of these in hopes that it clears any questions you might have about this type of roofing system.

What is a Flat Roof?

When we talk about  flat roofs, we commonly think of the rubber or EPDM type. But its interesting to know that there are actually three main types of flat roof systems. We take a look at these below in more detail.

Rubber Membrane

Rubber membrane forms from synthetic rubber sheet called ethulene propylene diene monomer, or EPDM for short. The mixture of these materials makes a highly durable, synthetic rubber. When it comes to variability, EPDM comes in two different colors, black or white. The white color is technically an additional white layer placed on top of the main EPDM layer, hence, these are more expensive. The components of a standard EPDM roof has 4 layers, these are:

  1. Bottom EPDM layer – The elastromeric layer
  2. AFR fire middle layer
  3. FRM Polyester fiber top layer
  4. The optional white EPDM roofing top layer

In regards to thickness, this type of roofing system comes in 3 common sizes, these are 45 Mil, 60 Mil and 90 Mil. The thicker the material, the more durable it is. Areas with severe storm conditions want the more resistant material. Of course, in the end, it all comes down to the preference of the owner and budget.

Benefits of EPDM Roofing Systems

  1. High Durability: EPDM roofing is more durable than regular roofs installed with asphalt shingles. The average lifespan is 30 years or more, depending on weather conditions. When it comes to hailstorms, these would simply bounce off the rubber, off course, the thicker the material, the more resistant it is. But its good to keep in mind that with proper installation and maintenance, EPDM roofs are sure to outlast almost all other roofing systems.
  2. Installation is Simple: These come in large rolls that are placed on top of each other, as we mentioned earlier. This makes it easier for installation when you hire the knowledgeable installer who have plenty of experience in these sort of roofs.
  3. Are energy efficient: EPDM roofing can help lower heating and cooling costs over the years. Depending on the are you live in, you might be better off with a white EPDM roof, since the white color impedes the heat from being fully absorbed by the rubber. In the winter time, black roofs are essential, since these will absorb the heat and transfer it throughout the building.
  4. Fire, wind and bug resistant: EPDM roofing systems are fire-resistant and unlike shingle roofs  or metal ones, will not have parts of it fly off. Due to their installation, these roofs are extremely secure. No bugs or unwanted pests are also able to get through either.

EPDM roof

Disadvantages of EPDM Roofs

  1. Need to hire expert installers: While there are many DIY projects a homeowner can embark on, this one is not one of them. EPDM roofs can be easy to install, with the right equipment and crew. Plus, its better to have someone who is able to provide a warranty and fix any installation issues if any arise than have to fix it on your own and causing any potential property damage.
  2. Not entirely resistant to damage: No material is 100% resistant, even roofing materials. With the right or rather, unlucky turn, a branch, debris or even hail can puncture the rubber and eventually lead to leaks. This is why proper yearly maintenance inspections are a must.
  3. Appearance: Lastly, EPDM is not the flashiest of systems out there. To put it simply, EPDM is simply a giant sheet of rubber. If you are looking for practicality over style, then this is your type of material.

TPO Roofing

Stands for Thermoplastic Polyolefin. Made of a single layer of synthetic material and scrim that reinforces it, TPO is rapidly becoming one of the preferred flat roof systems. Similarly to EPDM, it is also made of a rubber blend. One of the reasons TPO is becoming so popular is due to their energy efficiency, let’s look at this and other benefits below.

Benefits of TPO Roofing

  1. Cost: The material cost of TPO roofing is regularly lower than its counterparts, EPDM or other rolled rubbers. The cost of installation is also slightly lower, depending on your area. An advantage of TPO is that it usually comes in white color on top, therefore, the sun light can reflect naturally and help lower costs during the summer months.
  2. Resistant material: As we mentioned above, flat roof consists of some of the most durable roofing materials out there. TPO is no exception. This rubber material is able to withstand ultraviolet rays, strong wind and hail storms and even some chemical exposure. The normal lifespan is around 15-20 years, depending on weather exposure and maintenance. Lastly, TPO roofing systems are considered more durable than EPDM when it comes to punctures. In fact, these are three times more resistant.
  3. Installation process: TPO roofing systems have three different methods of installation. Attaching them mechanically, ballasting or welding. This adds to their durability. While it can be a little costly to install this type of roofing system, its necessary to retrieve the most benefits from it.

Disadvantages of TPO Roofing

  1. Repairs can be costly: In the instance that there is need for repairs, your roofing contractor will most likely use welding materials to fix any issues. These can be costly as not all contractors are equipped or know how to work with flat roofs. Since these are more tricky, the cost is higher.
  2. Newer material: TPO has not been around that long, its only around 30 years old or so. And it has been met with quite a few controversies. Since the number of brands is limiting in manufacturers, the industry is still undergoing changes and improvements. The drawback is that while manufacturers are still trying to perfect the material, only time will tell. This is why the installation is crucial to help the longevity of this material.


flat roof on a building tpo roofing installation

Built-Up Roof

Built up roofing or BUR for short, has always been a popular choice for low slope and flat roofs. As one of the oldest systems of roofs(having been used for the past 100 years), these are made of multiple layers of asphalt and ply sheets. Flood coat, asphalt and granules go on top of these layers as the first line of defense. Extremely durable and heavy, let’s see their benefits and disadvantages.

Benefits of Built-up roofs

  1. Highly durable: Let’s say one of the surface layers receives some damage and requires fixing, well the additional layers below are still doing their job and protect the building. Just don’t let the damage exposed for too long or it’ll spread. But rest assured that the investment into BUR roofs is worth it.
  2. Can be energy efficient: As we discussed above, white materials are able to reflect the sun’s rays. This is a great option for those that want to take advantage of it. Reflective cap sheets are available for BUR roofs as well.
  3. Technologically advanced: As one of the oldest type of roof systems, BUR materials are superior to newer materials. After decades of testing, manufacturers have come to the conclusion that these are one of the leading materials for flat roofs. Its hard to argue with this fact.

Disadvantages of Built-up roofs

  1. Water pooling: Due to their flatness, rain can pile up after a storm. If left alone, it can cause damage in the form of cracks and eventual leaks. This is why yearly inspections are a great preventative measure. Another weather related drawback is possible blisters. On a hot day, the water that remains after a storm can turn to steam and cause damage. Eventually blistering the material below.
  2. Top layers can be a nuisance: Since the top layer is normally formed from rocks and gravel, high winds can cause these to eventually blow off the roof. Leaving parts of the next layer exposed. Additionally, when looking for leaks, it can be hard to determine the source of the damage. Due to this, roofers will need to remove some layers in order to inspect them. This process makes the inspection and eventual repair more costly than other roofing systems.
  3. The material components are heavy: While you can choose the number of layers, in order for this roof to function properly and securely, you will need the necessary amount. This in turn, can turn into your roof being heavier than you expected. For example, ballast roofs or roofs with gravel on top, weigh 10-25 pounds per square foot. Therefore, its essential that the structure of the building is able to support the weight.

Flat Roofs and You

While not the most stylish option out there, flat roofs are popular because they are the best option for commercial buildings. Their functionality, cost and low maintenance are extremely attractive qualities for businesses. As with any roofing system, flat roofs have their pros and cons. When discussing with your roofing contractor, its essential to bring these up and see what benefits you the most.

flat roofs on home

Additionally, you need to work with an installer who has the expertise and knowledge for these type of installations. Don’t just let anyone install flat roofs, you need the right people for this job. Otherwise, you are exposing yourself to potential damages, not only to your property but your budget as well.

Oscar Roofing has been in this industry for over 20 years. We work with commercial buildings and provide flat roof services year round. If you are not sure which material option is best for you, give us a call. We’d be happy to help you weigh your options and choose the best material for your project. Give us a call or fill out our contact form below.