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Best Flat Roof Materials: Advantages & Disadvantages, Cost & More

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  • Installing a flat roof over the more traditional sloped roof is likely to raise some eyebrows. But it’s the best decision you can make if it fits with your needs and circumstances. That said, there are many considerations to make before you can work out which roofing material is best for you. This comprehensive guide should give you all the information you need to make an informed decision.

    The Importance of a Healthy Roof

    First, let’s state the obvious: the roof is the most essential part of the home. In fact, you can’t call a home a home if it doesn’t give you a roof over your head. But did you know that the roof is one of the most ignored parts of the house in terms of maintenance? Sad but true.

    Usually, a homeowner or property owner only starts to give it notice as soon as roofing problems emerge. But by then, the issue has already gotten worse, and too often you’d be required to cough up a hefty sum to get it resolved.

    Whether you own a pitched roof or a flat roof, maintaining a healthy roof can’t be emphasized enough. Here are the reasons why.

    blow torch

    Protects against inclement weather

    Every homeowner should always be prepared for inclement weather. A roof, after all, is your first line of defense against harsh weather conditions. If you want to ensure your safety and that of your loved ones and belongings, keeping your roof healthy at all times should be a top priority. A single roof leak can wreak havoc on your property if you don’t pay enough attention.

    Cuts down on energy costs

    Not many homeowners know that setting up proper ventilation and insulation in the roof can promote efficient energy consumption in the home. Roof vents that aren’t working properly tend to trap heat and humidity, requiring your cooler to expend more energy to keep the interior of your home cool enough for comfort.

    By the same measure, a properly insulated roof prevents heat from escaping through any roof vents, helping you save up on heating costs.

    Keeps mold and mildew at bay

    To keep your roof healthy, you need to make sure that mold and mildew are always kept at bay. If left unchecked, mold and mildew can damage paint, destroy wallpaper, or cause water damage — eventually destroying the structural integrity of your home.

    Mold and mildew can also be hazardous to your health, putting you at a risk for certain respiratory issues.

    It’s cost-effective

    Hiring a roofing contractor to do routine inspections on your roof costs money, but that’s money well spent considering how these inspections prolong the lifespan of your roof. A roof replacement, after all, costs thousands of dollars. In the long run, you’ll spend less by consistently maintaining the health of your roof.

    Increases curb appeal

    A roof isn’t only there to protect you from external elements, it can also spruce up the overall look of your home. The roof is one of the first things people see when they pay your home a visit. With the right design, the roof can blend beautifully with your home’s landscape, increasing your property’s curb appeal. This, of course, adds more value to your home, which should bode well for your investment.

    Advantages and Disadvantages of a Flat Roof

    How would you know if a flat roof is ideal for you? The best way to find out is to know the advantages and disadvantages of having one.

    Advantages

    It’s cheaper

    Flat roofing is significantly cheaper than pitched roofing. While installing a traditional roof can cost you between $5,000 and $10,000 on average, installing a flat roof can cost you between $3,000 to $8.000. To top it off, costs for maintenance and upkeep are significantly reduced as well.

    It gives you additional space

    Having a flat roof simply gives you additional space right on top of your property. Do you want to cultivate a garden but don’t have enough space on the ground for it? Install a flat roof and use the space to set up a roof garden! Using a flat roofing system is also ideal for solar energy users who need the extra space to set up their solar panels. Whatever your inclinations are as a property owner, the additional space a flat roof provides should be able to serve your needs.

    Maximizes interior space

    A pitched roof can limit your property’s interior space because of the sloped walls that naturally go with it. By using a flat roof, you can get a fully furnished room or attic out of your property’s top floor.

    Quick installation

    If you’re in a hurry to move into your property, choosing a flat roof is the way to go. This is because they’re far easier and quicker to install. Similarly, you don’t have to wait too long if the flat roof needs to be repaired or re-installed. In fact, the majority of flat roof jobs can take less than a day.

    Disadvantages

    Drainage issues

    Setting up a drainage system on a flat roof can be a challenge since they tend to collect standing water, causing the roofing material to wear off over time. To ensure proper drainage, flat roofs require added mechanisms, which can be time-consuming and costly.

    Less space for insulation

    Flat roofs don’t offer much room for insulation materials compared to pitched roofs. To properly insulate a flat roof, you need to do some retrofitting — a task that can be as difficult as it is messy. This is why most flat roof owners don’t even bother with insulation, making the property vulnerable to extreme temperatures.

    Shorter lifespan

    Flat roofs usually have a shorter lifespan than pitched roofs. Because flat roofing doesn’t drain water as effectively, their surface receives more abuse on a more frequent basis, making their lifespan more limited. Flat roofs tend to last between 10 and 15 years. To compensate for this disadvantage, you can use stronger materials such as PVC to extend the lifespan of your flat roof, although this involves additional expense as well.

    Factors to Consider When Choosing a Roofing Material

    Choosing a material for your flat roof can be a daunting task. That’s not in the least surprising considering the complexity of the roofing process and the number of expenses that go with it. As a property owner, it’s in your best interests to protect and maximize your investment, and much of it will depend on the roofing material of your choice.

    If you’re at a loss of which roofing material to choose for your property, reading up on the following factors should help you decide.

    Durability

    If you want to make the most out of your investment, you must install a flat roof that stands the test of time. No roof will last forever, but you can extend its lifespan by choosing a material that can withstand the elements, be it extreme heat or cold, strong wind, hail, or heavy rain.

    Maintenance

    Maintenance is essential to prolonging the lifespan of your flat roof. However, routine checks and repairs aren’t only tedious, they also cost time and money. Flat roofs have a reputation for being prone to leaks, so it bears considering how much maintenance you need to do to keep your roof in good condition over a long period of time.

    Energy Efficiency

    Flat roofs are more energy efficient than pitched roofs thanks to the numerous insulation methods available to them. Flat surfaces allow the easy installation of so-called “cool roofs,” which are made of reflective or light-colored material capable of directing heat away from the property’s interior. Roofing material like EPDM is also capable of reducing surface temperatures up to 40%.

    Aesthetic Value

    With the right material, a flat roof can boost the curb appeal of your home. Modified bitumen roofing systems, for example, have a granular top surface that gives them a more polished look.

    Functionality

    While your flat roof’s ultimate purpose is to protect you from external elements, it can also have many other functions. As discussed in the previous section, a flat roof can also provide you an added space. You can use it for a rooftop garden, a place for vegetable gardening, summer break rooms, or a place to put your solar panels — just to name a few.

    Cost

    Flat roofs may be relatively cheaper than pitched roofs, but your options in terms of material will also depend on your budget. You want a flat roof that has a long shelf-life? Then you can’t go wrong with PVC roofs. However, you need to determine first if the price will fit within your budget. EPDM might be more affordable, but it probably won’t last long and will require more maintenance.

    Flat Roof Material Options

    flat roof

    Unlike pitched roofs, flat roofs offer limited options in terms of material. For one thing, you can’t use materials usually used for pitched roofs in building flat roofing systems. Well, technically you can, but they’re not recommended. This is the way flat roofs are built make them prone to leaks. A flat roof made of asphalt shingles, for instance, isn’t likely to last long even for a couple of years.

    Because flat roofs don’t have enough slope to properly drain water, their surface tends to collect standing water, causing the substrate to rot and deteriorate. This eventually leads to leaks, which if left unchecked can develop into more serious problems.

    Simply put, a flat roof requires modified material in order to last long. As a bare minimum, a flat roof needs to be adequately sealed to ensure that no water seeps through the roofing membrane.

    While all industry-standard roofing materials are adequately reinforced to give your flat roofing system the characteristics needed to withstand external elements, there are many other variables at play in choosing the best roofing material.

    Built-Up Roofing

    Built-up roofing or BUR is installed by using multiple layers of ply sheets that are bonded together with hot asphalt using a hot mop. Done in overlapping layers, BUR is usually two to fours plies thick.

    To increase its resistance to UV light and weather, roofing manufacturers apply crushed stone granules on the BUR’s top layer.

    Advantages

    BUR’s ability to withstand abuse over a long period of time made it popular among homeowners for over a century. The nature of the material itself, along with its thickness, makes it extremely resilient to heavy foot traffic and inclement weather. By a conservative estimate, built-up roofing can last up to 15 years. BUR requires little maintenance, saving you a significant amount of money over a long period of time.

    Disadvantages

    The installation process can be a drag, so much so that many property owners who initially prefer BUR end up switching to a different material. BUR membrane is also heavy, making installation difficult for roofing contractors. To make matters worse, most BUR projects run the risk of exposing those who are nearby to toxic fumes.

    PVC Membrane

    PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) Membrane is a roofing system well known for its durability and efficient pricing, making it one of the most used roofing materials in North America. PVC roofing is made by bonding together two layers of PVC roofing material with polyester.

    For added flexibility and to build resistance to UV light and dust, the surface of the PVC membrane is coated with acrylic. For better uplift, roofing manufacturers may fasten the edges of the PVC membrane.

    Advantages

    As already mentioned, PVC is a strong material, so much so that you need to apply 350 pounds of pressure per inch to break the roofing membrane. The hot-air welded seams are impregnable that it’s nearly impossible for water to get through. Obviously, PVC membrane is a great material if you’re prioritizing longevity. PVC roofing is eco-friendly as well since you can recycle it even after many years of use.

    Disadvantages

    PVC roofing can be expensive. Thankfully, this material’s numerous advantages more than make up for it.

    EPDM Rubber

    EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) is a dark rubber material well known for its resistance to oxidants, ozone, and unfriendly weather conditions. No wonder it’s a popular material for flat roofing systems.

    EPDM roofing is typically installed by gluing the rubber layers together, but you can also fasten or ballast them together for a more seamless and reliable construction. The installation has to be precise to ensure that no air bubbles will form over time.

    Advantages

    EPDM rubber is a material that reflects heat, allowing you to cut cooling costs during the warmer months. It’s also an excellent insulator for the winter months as well. Since rubber is waterproof, EPDM is highly resistant to water leaks. EPDM rubber is not only resistant to extreme weather, but it can tolerate exposure to ozone and UV light.

    Disadvantages

    Installing an EPDM roof is complex and difficult. In fact, not many roofing contractors have the technical knowledge to pull it off. And those who do are likely to charge higher fees. EPDM rubber also doesn’t hold up well to heavy foot traffic or physical impact (such as a falling branch).

    TPO

    TPO (Thermoplastic Polyolefin) is another roofing material popular for its reliability, flexibility, and affordability. Manufacturers create TPO roofing using a UV resistant thermoplastic polyolefin membrane reinforced by polyester fabric. You can bond the layers through mechanical fastening, adhesive coating, or point-affixed applications.

    Advantages

    TPO Roofing is preferred by many property owners for its low cost, making it the roofing material of choice for many residential and commercial construction projects. The white TPO membrane can reflect more than 90% of the sun’s rays, cutting your cooling costs by a significant amount. TPO roofing membranes are also easy to maintain on account of its high resistance to tears, punctures, and mold growth.

    Disadvantages

    TPO is relatively new to the roofing industry, so its average shelf-life is not determined at this point. It is for this reason why customers who choose TPO are advised to select reputed roofing manufacturers. The surface of TPO roofs is laminated, making them prone to cracks.

    SPF

    SPF or Sprayed Polyurethane Foam is a roofing system composed of two chemical components: isocyanate and polyol. For added protection against the elements, an added barrier is applied to the foam. SPF is self-adhering and liquid-based so there are no fasteners required. Depending on drainage requirements, SPF roofing systems can be customized. SPF usually requires a modified drainage system due to their sensitivity to water.

    Advantages

    SPF has high R-value, allowing it to maintain a steady temperature in any climate. It’s incredibly strong, even comparable to roof systems with multiple layers. SPF is seamless, waterproof, and is resistant to hail or other foreign objects.

    SPF roofing is also easy to install since it’s easily applied around protrusions and hard-to-reach corners on the flat roof.

    Disadvantages

    Spray foam roofing is difficult to pull off even for experienced roofing contractors. The SPF system is so complex that it’s too easy to make mistakes. SPF installation requires a high level of skill, making the installation project initially costly.

    Modified Bitumen

    Modified bitumen roofing is quite similar to built-up roofing, but with some added layers reinforced by polymer fibers. The polymer material is what makes each layer more elastic and flexible even in low temperatures. There are many different reinforcement methods that give modified bitumen its strength. Some involve cold adhesives or hot asphalt tar but the most common is by heating up the seal with a torch.

    Advantages

    Modified bitumen is popular for its ability to handle extremely cold weather. Its flexible material is known for its ability to withstand below freezing temperature. The material also comes in rolls, allowing for easy installation and minimizing labor costs.

    Modified bitumen can expand and contract with the movement of the property, making it less brittle and therefore less prone to cracks.

    Disadvantages

    One major drawback with using modified bitumen as the material for a flat roof is it can be difficult to find the source of leaks. It’s not also built for longevity. Modified bitumen, the hot-applied type to be exact, also give off a foul smell, which might not sit well with your neighbors.

    Average Cost of Each Option

    While flat roofing systems are cheaper than sloped roofing systems. On average, the cost of installing or replacing a flat roof is between $5 to $10 per square foot. However, it bears noting that much of the overall costs will depend on the type of material used.

    To help you make a more accurate estimate of the costs involved in installing or replacing your flat roof, here are each of the material options and their average cost per square foot.

    • Built Up Roofing – $5.00 to $7.00
    • PVC – $7.00 to $10.00
    • EPDM Rubber – $4.00 to $7.00
    • Modified Bitumen – $3.00 to $6.00
    • TPO – $5.00 to $8.00
    • SPF – $3.00 to $6.00

    How long will each material last?

    The question of how long your flat roof will last relative to the type of material used is not an easy question to answer. For one thing, the answer depends on a wide range of factors, including the weather conditions in your area, the frequency of maintenance, amount of foot traffic, and many others.

    But if there’s one thing that makes a most significant impact on your flat roof’s longevity, it’s the type of material used to build it. Here are each of the different roofing materials and their corresponding average lifespan:

    • Built Up Roofing – 15 to 20 years
    • PVC – 15 to 30 years.
    • EPDM Rubber – 10 to 15 years
    • Bitumen – 10 to 20 years.
    • TPO – 10 to 20 years
    • SPF – up to 20 years.

    The Importance of Hiring Professional Roofing Contractors

    Fixing or installing your flat roof can be tempting if you’re one for the DIY approach. But while doing it yourself may save you a little bit of money, it’s not worth the hassle in the end, at least most of the time.

    Much has already been said about how important a roof is to our daily living. As such, a bad repair or installation job is something you have to avoid at all costs. Considering how complex roofing is, you’re much better off leaving the job to professionals.

    Here are the reasons why hiring a professional roofing contractor is always a better decision than going the DIY route.

    Professional roofers do quality work

    This part shouldn’t come as a surprise. Professional roofing contractors, after all, acquired their skills and technical know-how through years of study and work experience. They have learned the ropes by working with other contractors and getting their hands dirty.

    Moreover, professional roofers have made numerous rookie mistakes and learned from them,  making it far less likely that they’ll commit them again. The countless hours spent doing roofing work also gave them the ample opportunity to perfect their skills, providing you the guarantee that they can provide work that is polished and error-free.

    It’s safer

    Roofing jobs can be potentially dangerous, even more so if you have no idea what you’re doing.

    There are countless tutorials and guides on the web that can show you all the required steps. But then again, trying to get things right the first time may cause you to forget about your surroundings.

    In addition, professional contractors have the tools and equipment needed to ensure safety during the course of the project. You don’t have that luxury.

    If you insist on installing the flat roof yourself, make sure that you have someone to look after you during the course of the project.

    It’s cheaper in the long run

    If you think doing it yourself will cost you less than hiring a contractor, think again. As established, roofing is not a simple job. If you’re not experienced and don’t have the skills needed to do it properly, chances are you’ll make a botched job of it, causing you to call a professional for repairs — if not sooner, then later. In the end, calling a professional the first time around will save you more time and money.

    Get Free Quotes from Competing Competitors By Using Form on Our Site

    Have you decided on a material to use for your flat roof? Great! But now you’re left with the task of choosing a roofing contractor who will do the job for you. This, admittedly, is where it gets tricky. After all, a major roofing job involves time and money. There’s always the risk of hiring a contractor who is not cut out for the job.

    At this juncture, your next step is to look for a roofing contractor who can perform the job well at a fair price. To make the right choice, you need points of comparison. In other words, you need a short list of candidates.

    Hunting for candidates, however, can be time-consuming. It will also cost you since most contractors charge for quotes.

    So, as a gesture of our appreciation to you for taking the time to read this article, we’re now offering you the opportunity to get quotes from competing competitors! Just fill out the form on our site and you’ll get those quotes FREE of charge!

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