What is a Rubber Roof?

rubber roof

When you think of uses for rubber, rubber bands and tires probably come to mind. You probably don’t think of rubber as a type of roofing material. But rubber roofs are popular because they are affordable, durable, and energy-efficient. But what is a rubber roof? 

What is a Rubber Roof?

Rubber roofs are specially manufactured roofs made of either rubber or PVC plastic. They fit low-sloped or flat roofs and are used to reduce leaking and produce a stronger seal on your existing roof.

Types of Rubber Roofing

rubber roof
Photo Credit: Robert Taylor / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Though rubber roofs are made of rubber (as you would expect), that’s not the entire story. There are many types of rubber roofs, each with its pros and cons.

Rubber Shingles

Asphalt shingles aren’t a good option for flat or low-sloped roofs, as water can seep through the shingles and cause leaks. Rubber shingles are the exception, as they are not only waterproof but much more resistant to extreme weather, so you don’t have to worry about cracking or curling.

Rubber shingles can be installed on steeply pitched roofs or over an existing roof. Add a layer of acrylic paint for the roof to mimic other roofing materials and increase curb appeal.

EPDM

EPDM (ethylene propylene diene terpolymer or ethylene propylene diene monomer) is a type of roofing material used for flat roofing systems and buildings with low slopes. EPDM roofs are lightweight, flexible, and highly resistant to wind, hail, extreme temperatures, and UV radiation. They also have long lifespans, lasting anywhere from 25 to 60 years.

However, EPDM’s black color absorbs heat, meaning buildings with an EPDM roof will only get hotter during the summer. Additionally, EPDM roofs can shrink due to improper installation or manufacturing, exposing the layers under the roofing membrane and causing water to seep in. 

TPO

TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) is more economical and energy-efficient than EPDM. It’s highly durable and flexible, letting it withstand impacts easily, and hot air welded, making the seams strong and highly water resistant. For comparison, EPDM is sealed using adhesives, making their seams much weaker.

TPO is also environmentally friendly, being UV resistant and 100% recyclable. Depending on your desired aesthetic, it also comes in white, gray, and black. White TPO roof systems can improve energy efficiency in hot climates.

However, TPO is a newer technology introduced in the 1990s, so manufacturers are still trying to find ways to improve the quality of the product. Additionally, because heat welding takes a lot of skill and time, TPO roof installations come with higher labor costs than EPDM roof installations.

If you want a TPO roof, choose a roofer who installs a high-quality TPO product.

PVC

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is, like TPO, made of thermoplastic materials, giving it similar flexibility, water resistance, and hot air-weldable seams. It’s also fire-resistant, recyclable, and comes in energy-efficient white.

However, PVC breaks down faster than TPO or EPDM. It’s also less environmentally friendly than the other two, as it contains chlorine. Additionally, PVC tends to shrink over time, making it more fragile and at risk for leaks.

When to Apply Rubber Roofing

Flat and Low-Sloped Roofs

Shingle roofing is suitable for steep-pitched roofs but not for low-sloped or flat roofs because shingles don’t create the type of seal needed to protect a low-pitched or flat roof from water. Rubber roofing, on the other hand, repels moisture and keeps water from getting into the structure.

On Top of Shingled Roofs

Rubber roofs can also be used on pitched roofs to extend their lifespan. Because rubber is much more durable than asphalt shingles, it can provide enhanced protection against extreme weather due to its resistance to the elements.

Since rubber roofs last longer than other types of roof replacements, this can save you money over time, as you won’t have to make as many maintenance calls. Additionally, rubber roofs are more energy efficient, as they reflect UV rays, maintaining your house’s indoor temperature.

Repairing Metal Roofing

Metal roofs can last many years but can rust, causing leaks and damage. When that happens, you’ll need to replace them, which can be expensive and hard to do.

Instead of replacing the metal roof, you can add a rubber roof on top, increasing curb appeal and reducing energy costs, like with a shingled roof.

Pros and Cons of Rubber Roofing

rubber roof
Photo Credit: Crownbuild / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Pros

What makes a rubber roof so attractive to homeowners are the benefits it provides.

  1. Green. Rubber roofs are eco-friendly, requiring far less energy to make than other roofing materials while being 100% recyclable.
  2. Resistance. Rubber roofs are fire-resistant, waterproof, and durable against high winds and intense sunlight.
  3. Low Repair Costs. All rubber roofs need is a seal applied to the entire roof to extend its lifespan and prevent damage. You can buy a rubber sealant kit at home improvement or hardware stores.
  4. Less Maintenance. Though most roofs require some maintenance, rubber roofs require very little. You can either DIY or get an annual cleaning and inspection to ensure your roof stays in good shape.

Cons

Rubber roofs have their pros, but they also have their fair share of cons.

  1. Cost. Although rubber roofs last longer than other materials and have significant benefits, installing them is expensive.
  2. Installation. Installing rubber roofs is more labor-intensive than other roofs, and not all roofers are proficient in rubber roofing. Look for an experienced roofing contractor who will ensure proper installation.

Cost of a Rubber Roof

Rubber roof installation costs depend on the labor, installation process, and rubber membrane type. Rubber’s thickness levels range from 40 to 90 mils, which affects how long your roof lasts or how well it can withstand intense weather. The thicker the rubber, the more expensive it will be to install.

Other factors that affect cost include the size, slope, and pitch of the roof, as they affect how much rubber is needed. For example, flat roofs require more elaborate installation processes, adhesives, and more sophisticated installation methods.

The installation process is also essential, as the methods used will affect the overall price. Glue installations are more expensive than screws, while screws are more expensive than ballasting with layers of stone. You’ll have to pay more if you need to tear off existing materials and add decking or installation.

Rubber MaterialAverage price per square foot
EPDM$4.50 – $12
PVC$5.25 – $13
TPO$5.50 – $14
Rubber Shingles$3 – $9

How Do I Know if a Rubber Roof Is Right for Me?

The main reason to go with a rubber roof is if shingles aren’t suitable for your home.

Rubber roofing works as an alternative to shingles, but with some advantages. Rubber roofs are more resistant to fire, wind, hail, bending, and water than their tile counterparts. The water resistance, in particular, ensures no rotting or mildew.

FAQs About Rubber Roofs

How long do rubber roofs last?

Your rubber roof can last up to 60 years, assuming proper installation and good weather conditions. However, your roof’s longevity depends on the material used. For example, as we mentioned above, EPDM rubber roofing can last anywhere from 25 to 60 years. Meanwhile, TPO roofs can last 22 to 30 years, while PVC roofs can last 15 to 30 years.

How should I maintain my rubber roof?

Like with all roofs, rubber roofs need occasional maintenance to work optimally. The following tips will help you keep your rubber roof in good condition:

1. Inspections. A rubber roof requires a good examination regularly. Inspect your sloped roof from the ground, checking for debris and any damaged or crumbling areas. Inspect the entire roof, including the seams, flashing, and roof fixtures.
2. Cleaning. Clean your rubber roof several times a year to remove debris. Remove leaves with a broom and mop the surface with some water and mild detergent.
3. Gutters. Regardless of the roof (not just rubber), you want to clean your gutters yearly. Clean debris out of the gutters and check for damage. Call a professional if your gutters are cracked, sagging, or leaking.

When should I replace my rubber roof?

Sometimes, your roof needs to be replaced rather than repaired. Here are times when you should replace your roof:

1. Age. If your roof is close to the end of its lifespan, repairs will only last a few years at most. When this happens, it’s time to replace it.
2. High Energy Bills. Rubber roofs are great insulators, and their ability to save energy is one of their most attractive features. If you notice a higher-than-normal electric or gas bill, your roof might be the reason.
3. Leaks. If water comes in through your ceiling, your rubber roof is damaged. Rubber roofs might be water resistant, but they are not invincible, and they, like all roofs, can have leaks. Call a professional immediately if this happens.

When the Rubber Meets the Roof

Rubber is a practical choice if you want a durable alternative to shingles or want another layer over your roof. If you’re ready to get a rubber roof, contact an experienced roofer who can answer your questions and discuss the best roofing options for you.   

Main Image Credit: Crownbuild / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Stuart Kushner

Stuart Kushner

Stuart Kushner is a writer and aspiring product designer based in New York City. When he isn’t doing either, Stuart enjoys heavy metal music, exercise, and trying new food and drinks.