Rubber Roofing (Read This Before Installing)

Rubber Roofing

Rubber roofing is an affordable and practical option for many buildings, especially those with flat roofs and buildings that want extra protection from the weather. Here’s what you should know to decide whether rubber roofing is the right choice for you.

Types of Rubber Roofing

There are four main types of rubber roofing currently on the market, from standard membranes to advanced rubber shingles. Each of these is suitable for different roof types, so make sure to read their details carefully to see if they match your needs.

Rubber Membrane Roof (EPDM)

Ethylene propylene diene terpolymer, usually known as EPDM, is one of the most popular options for putting on top of flat roofs. That is the oldest style, but the fact that people still install it shows how effective it is when building construction allows it.

EPDM Rubber Roof

EPDM contains more rubber than several other materials and can go on in a single seamless layer. That makes it exceptionally good at resisting water issues. It also holds up nicely under hail and doesn’t easily melt in fires, adding to its longevity.

Costs

EPDM usually costs between $4.50 and $10.50 per square foot, depending on factors like how thick it is and where you’re buying. It’s possible to install this yourself, which can significantly cut down on the cost of insulation. However, improper installation increases the risks of shrinkage, which can cause leaks and other problems.

Lifespan

EPDM has a minimum lifespan of 15 years, but in many cases, it can last as many as 60 years with minimal maintenance. Thicker sheets are a little heavier but tend to last longer and are often worth the investment.

Pros

  • Ideal for colder climates thanks to being good at absorbing heat
  • Outstanding lifespan even compared to non-rubber roofing
  • A time-tested product, so we know how it holds up in different conditions
  • More affordable than most other options

Cons

  • Only available in black, which may not work for aesthetics
  • Absorbs heat enough that it may be too warm for hotter climates
  • Seams can be weak and may need occasional repairs

Built-Up Roof (BUR)

Built-up roofs feature layers of rubber and asphalt sandwiched between ply sheets. The top features either a cap sheet or a mix of asphalt and granules.

Built Up Roof
Source: GAF

BUR roofs can be heavy, but they feature redundant layers of protection that other roofing materials miss. The result is that they can stand up to damage and weathering much better than some other materials and at a lower cost besides.

BUR is most effective for buildings where owners expect potential weather damage and want to ward that off. It works best on buildings with flat or low slopes but isn’t as good for buildings with steeper roofs.

Costs

Built-up roofing is generally affordable, with costs ranging from $2.50 to $8.70 depending on factors like the slope of the roof and the thickness you want. Most people get between two and four inches, but owners occasionally ask for more to try and further increase its lifespan.

Lifespan

Most built-up roofing lasts between 20 and 30 years, assuming reasonable inspection and basic maintenance. That is competitive with many other types of roofing, and its low cost means you can replace BUR more often and still come out ahead.

Pros

  • BUR is a well-established technology, offering more than a century of use
  • More redundant than most other roofing systems, which means leaks are rare until it fails completely
  • Optional reflective layers are available, which can reflect sunlight and lower temperatures
  • BUR usually comes with a solid warranty

Cons

  • Poorly-installed BUR can have areas of water pooling, which can lead to damage
  • Water damage can also cause blisters, which make the top layer more susceptible to damage
  • Replacement requires keeping people out of the building, which can be inconvenient

Modified Bitumen Roof

Modified bitumen roofs are similar to BUR and are also suitable for flat or slightly sloped roofs. The modern framework is a five-layer system that includes insulation, base cheers, modified bitumen membranes, an adhesive layer, and a surfacing level.

Modified Bitumen Roof

The key difference here is the addition of fiberglass alongside polymerized rubber. Fiberglass provides outstanding durability for outdoor use, while the surfacing layer above it offers UV protection and helps resist the effects of weathering.

Costs

Modified bitumen roofs cost between $2.50 and $4.00 to install by themselves, although it can go to about twice that if you need to dispose of an existing roof first. That’s quite common, so realistically you can expect to pay in the $5 to $8 range per square foot.

Lifespan

Properly modified bitumen roofs will last at least 20 years. Notably, they also require less maintenance than some other roofing systems, which helps ensure their lifespan compared to high-maintenance roofing materials.

Pros

  • Modified bitumen roofing holds up well under weathering and foot traffic
  • The multiple layers help ensure that modified bitumen is consistently watertight
  • Some forms of modified bitumen roofing can reflect heat and UV radiation
  • Minimal maintenance required

Cons

  • Somewhat vulnerable to water damage on roofs that don’t drain fast enough
  • Noticeably more expensive than other options on larger roofs
  • Modified bitumen is harder to install well than single-ply materials like EPDM

Rubber Shingles

Rubble shingles are an alternative to traditional asphalt roofing and can install on significantly steeper slants. Depending on the building style, this may make them the only practical choice for a rubber roof.

Rubber Shingles Roof

Rubber shingles offer a consistent look similar to stone and wood, which means they fit into most neighborhood looks without trouble. They’re also available in a range of styles and are comfortably resistant to fire, wind, and impacts.

As if that wasn’t good enough, rubber shingles in general offer more resistance to freezing, hail, and bending than ceramic tiles.

Costs

Rubber shingles usually cost between $3 and $9 to install, making them competitive with wood and some types of metal. It’s still a little more expensive than asphalt shingles but much cheaper than stone or copper.

Lifespan

Rubber shingles usually last between 30 and 50 years, which is noticeably longer than asphalt. Despite having a higher installation cost, the longer lifespan means you could end up paying much less over time by installing rubber.

Pros

  • Many rubber shingles are made with recycled materials, making them environmentally sustainable
  • Rubber shingles are impressively durable and hold up well in different environments
  • Rubber shingles don’t rot or develop mildew

Cons

  • Rubber shingles may have a slight smell after installation, though this usually goes away
  • Some varieties of rubber shingles are significantly more expensive than most other materials

Read More: Roof Sheathing (AKA Decking) – What You Need To Know

Common Reasons To Install a Rubber Roof

Here are some of the most common reasons people have for installing a rubber roof.

Flat and Low-Sloped Roofs

Many traditional roofing materials don’t work well on flat or low-slope roofs. Asphalt shingles, slate tiles, and wood all tend to be poor choices, while metal doesn’t have as many options for reflecting heat.

In contrast, rubber can work well on flat surfaces, making it the first choice for many structures that don’t have slopes. It’s also light enough to work on flat roofs, which is an important consideration for larger structures.

Over an Old Shingled Roof

Rubber shingles, in particular, are easy to install over existing shingle roofs. That can remove the need to spend a lot of money tearing off the old roof, bringing a roof replacement into a more affordable range for a tight budget.

Rubber roofing can also serve as an additional layer over an existing roof that’s still in good condition. More layers usually mean better resistance to issues like water damage, and the reasonably low cost of rubber means this is a practical pick for many buildings.

Fixing Metal Roofs

Rubber can be used for repairing damaged metal roofs. Rubber is quite affordable and bonds well to metal, offering a much easier fix than tearing out an entire metal section. Some types of rubber roofing are pourable, and this can keep costs far below other choices without sacrificing much durability.

Maintaining a Rubber Roof

All roofs require some level of maintenance, but rubber roofing is easier to maintain than some other options.

Routine Cleaning

Routine cleaning for rubber roofs is simple. Start by using a soft-bristled broom and sweeping off most debris. Rubber roofs tend to be flat enough to walk on safely and durable enough to hold up to your shoes. Just make sure you don’t have metal studs or anything else that could damage the roof.

After sweeping the roof, you can use a wet mop with mild detergent to clean any remaining trouble spots. That should be enough to take care of most issues. 

Don’t use any products with citrus or petroleum solvents because these can damage rubber roofs. Despite what you may expect, rubber holds up quite well under both heat and cold. The specific forms of rubber used in roofing are much more durable than the types that crack in the cold.

Perform Regular Inspections

Regular visual checks also help protect rubber roofs. Three or four times a year, or after a bad storm, look at your roof to see if you can spot any debris or pools of water. If you do, try to get out and clean up when it’s safe to do so.

On rare occasions, you may see blisters on a roof. That occurs when trapped moisture turns to steam and expands, pushing out on the rubber. You may need to call a professional to fix blisters. They’re more common in warmer climates and relatively rare in cooler areas.

Proper Gutter Care

Gutter care can help protect your roof by keeping debris away from it. Make sure to clean out your gutters at least once a year and check for damage while you’re at it. If you have buildup, that could cause water to pool up on the underside of your roof, ultimately damaging it.

Get Professional Maintenance

Most people can maintain a rubber roof by themselves, but more severe issues like pooling water, cracks, or blistering may require professional maintenance. In these cases, the best option is to contact a professional company with experience working on your type of roof.

That follows essentially the same procedure as trying to find an installer (below), and many installers also do maintenance and repair work on request.

If your roof requires professional maintenance, the installer may cut out a damaged portion or use a patch to seal up cracks and stop future problems. All roofs wear out eventually, but proper maintenance can significantly extend the lifespan of your roof.

Finding a Rubber Roof Installer Near You

Here are the best ways to find a rubber roof installer in your area.

Ask for Recommendations

One of the best ways of finding a rubber roof installer is by asking for recommendations. You can talk to friends or family members in the area if they have rubber roofs. Alternatively, if you see a business with a rubber roof, you can ask them whether they’re happy with the service they got.

Try to get several recommendations if you can. If multiple people you trust cite a single installer as a reputable choice, that’s a great place to start looking.

Many roofing companies rely on word-of-mouth advertising for their sales because they know you’re more inclined to trust the opinions of your friends. Some companies will also offer discounts if a previous customer refers you, which can be a nice bonus.

Whether or not you get recommendations, try searching online for rubber roof installers in your area. That can give you additional options and let you look at reviews to see how the companies work overall.

The reason you should look online after getting recommendations is that having a list of suggestions from people gives you specific companies to search for. You can branch out from there, but having a few starting points makes the search easier.

Try to look for reviews across several sites. If the results are consistent, they’re usually reliable. Make sure to read both the positive and the negative reviews (if any). Doing so will ensure you get a well-balanced look at the company and its overall operations.

Few companies are perfect, and it’s rare to see a company with many reviews where every customer is delighted. It’s impossible to guarantee a flawless job, but companies with good reputations tend to be better overall.

Online Referral Companies

Online referral companies can be a quick way to get bids and offers from roofing installers. Companies that respond quickly tend to be more reliable than those that never get back to you.

Angi (better known by its old name Angie’s List) is a robust and well-established platform. Notably, Angi offers free cost guides for projects, with pricing keyed to zip codes so you can find a realistic price range for your area. That’s a major benefit and one of the reasons to check them before you accept a bit.

HomeAdvisor is a solid alternative for Angi and offers connections to local pros across the country. They also have robust guides, online payment systems, and even fixed-price services to help avoid hidden fees from disreputable repair companies. HomeAdvisor is a comfortably well-established company and usually offers access to multiple contractors.

HomeGuide is similar to Angi, HomeAdvisor, and most other services of its type. Although not quite as well-known, it’s often worth seeing who they recommend so you can compare companies across different platforms. Having several points of reference makes it easier to hire with confidence.

Houzz is a slightly more upscale service than some other referral companies. Beyond contracting and general home services, they also keep tabs on builders, design firms, architects, and similar things. Beyond that, they help sell furniture and other equipment.

Porch is a robust company that offers a wide range of home services, from moving and internet installation to help with roofing, windows, and more. They’re not quite as focused on roofs as others, but they’re particularly good for handyman services.

Thumbtack is another reliable pick, and like Angi, they have a robust set of cost guides. In their case, they monitor bids from contractors on their site to provide the information and claim a database of millions of bids to inform their estimates. Thumbtack has home repair options but also estimates for non-home services. You may prefer a home-specialized referrer.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is rubber roofing a good idea?

    Rubber roofing is a durable and reliable pick in many areas. Although somewhat more expensive than asphalt shingles, its longer lifespan helps even out the cost. It’s also one of the best choices for flat roofs, especially in colder climates where attracting heat is a positive quality in a roof.
  • What are the disadvantages of rubber roofing?

    The main disadvantages of rubber roofing are its appearance and the need to install it in the right weather. It can also be hard to find installers who have experience working with rubber in some colder climates, which can make it harder to get a good deal.

  • Is rubber roofing cheaper than shingles?

    In most cases, rubber roofing is more expensive than asphalt shingles, competitive with wood, and noticeably cheaper than stone shingles. It’s roughly in the lower-middle range for roof material pricing, but it can get more expensive if you need to cover a particularly large roof with thick rubber roofing.

  • Can you walk on a rubber roof?

    You can walk on most rubber roofs, assuming there’s adequate support under the rubber to hold your weight. Most rubber holds up fine under light traction for cleaning, but make sure you don’t wear anything sharp that could cut or puncture your roof.

  • How many layers of rubber roof can you have?

    Theoretically, you can have as many layers of rubber roofing as your structure can support. Realistically, most people only have one or two layers of something like EPDM, or up to six layers for modified bitumen.

    There’s a point where adding more layers significantly increases cost without making a meaningful difference in protection or lifespan, so you don’t need to overdo the layers.

  • Do rubber roofs leak?

    Rubber roofs don’t leak as long as you maintain them properly. They don’t require much maintenance, but completely ignoring them can lead to problems. Most leaks are easily fixable with a patch or a repair, both of which are cheaper for rubber than for most other roofing materials

  • Can you put a rubber roof over an existing roof?

    That depends on the existing roof material. In most cases, you can install EPDM over existing materials if you put down a layer of plywood first. Rubber shingles can also go over existing materials if you have a proper layer under them.

    Whether you should install over an existing roof or tear out the old roof depends on the material and condition of your existing roof. Don’t hesitate to ask your installer for their recommendation

  • What do you put under a rubber roof?

    Rubber roofing often requires underlayment, a waterproof barrier that goes between your roof deck (usually plywood) and your primary roofing material. Rubber roofs may also need a sturdy material, like a sterling board, to hold things up.

  • Final Thoughts

    Rubber roofing is an excellent pick for buildings in most climates. It has a respectable lifespan, a reasonable cost, and is durable enough to hold up to heat, cold, and heavier winds. Rubber is also one of the only good options for flat roofs, making it common for larger buildings like warehouses where traditional roofing would be prohibitively expensive.

    Whether you’re looking for home or commercial roofing, rubber is worth considering, even if it’s not a common material in your area. If you’re still not sure, though, talk to some local installers and ask them about their experience with different materials. There’s no substitute for advice from professionals.

    Cost-wise, you can expect a higher price for thicker or larger roofs. Thicker EPDM is a common choice, and its added protection is often worth the cost.