Flat roofs are a lot more common than people would give them credit. When we think of roofs, we imagine the cliché slanted and vaulted roofs so common to most traditional houses, but that’s actually a much more modern convention, the first villages, and cities of Mesopotamia and Egypt being flat roofs.
In fact, in the ancient world, people often slept on these flat roofs, as it was much cooler up there than in their actual houses. In modern times, flat roofs are usually a matter of practicality, with large commercial and institutional structures opting for flat roofs out of simple common sense.
Creating pitched, voluminous roofs over structures this big can result in tremendous expense, tremendous architectural challenges, and of course, costly endless maintenance. It’s also less effective to keep such places climate controlled, so yeah, you see a lot of flat roofs.
They do exist on modern houses too, though less commonly, due in part to them being often considered more of a hassle in areas with lots of precipitation, and lacking some of that charm that a well-built and well-tended pitched roof can produce.
Nonetheless, they have their advantages, even in rainy areas, chief among them being that maintenance is considerably less, due to the variety of materials that can be taken advantage of with flat roofs. These tend to lack a lot of the maintenance and damage problems that shingles and tiles can bring, and of course, a flat roof is less terrifying to walk on and to work on.
It’s often cheaper, too, as we’ll see as we take some time to look at some of the best materials for flat roofs and the advantages they can bring.
Single Layer Membrane
Single layer membrane roofs are one of the most common these days, but it’s also one of the most advanced and modern. This can come in a few forms, including PVC (polyvinyl chloride), EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer), neoprene, chlorinated polyethylene, and polymer-modified bitumens.
These are all consistent sheets of synthetic materials which are resistant to weather, strong against various fluctuations in temperature, severe wind/weather, and have very long lives.
The material itself is often not what one would call cheap, but when you factor in the expense of maintenance and the difficulty/time put into them, it’s a much more affordable solution in the long run, making this a very desirable approach to flat roofs overall.
This is the other common modern approach, not nearly as new as single layer membrane. Modified bitumen is very similar to asphalt, and is a replacement for BUR (built-up roof) approaches. It’s applied in rolls with some seal to fill in the seams. It’s very easy for most roofers to apply this, making it another pretty quick and pretty affordable approach.
This material can easily be cut to fit around vents and skylights, and easily cut to fit your roof’s exact outline and shape, fitting like a glove. There are four basic approaches – hot applied, torch applied, cold applied and self-adhered, the latter of which is the most modern and often most sought-after approach in most cases.
This is nearly a century and a half old at this point, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is done by applying layers of hot asphalt and tar with bitumen-soaked felt to create a solid, singular thick coating which form-fits around protrusions and to the shape of a roof. This is a similar material to thick shingles, but handles the low pitch or lack of pitch that shingles just can’t really stand up to, being so dependent on gravity.
This is an old practice, but a refined one that’s very affordable, tried and true, and that makes it something worth considering. Just because something is old, and newer approaches exist, does not mean they should be ruled out. There’s a reason this practice is still performed, after all.
Metal roofing is one of those things that gets a bad rap, because people imagine beat-up, thin tin roofing used on barns, sheds and third-world shacks. However, modern metal roofs are considerably different, being versatile and long-lived. They’re great for deflecting sunlight, withstanding the pummeling of nature, and require very minimal maintenance.
Modern metal roof material isn’t “cheap”, but the installation is very affordable and the low maintenance means that ongoing expenses are minimal to say the least.
The problem is that metal roofs are only super effective with a pitch of at least two inches, where something like BUR or Membrane can handle far less pitch (nearly none in some cases). However, when it comes to longevity and holding up against temperature fluctuation, metal’s pretty hard to beat.
TPO is another modern approach, and is sometimes lumped in with single-layer membrane roofing, though it’s really a category all its own. TPO is a single-ply polyprophylene rubber, mechanically adhered to the roof, which permits the white membrane to remain exposed for the entirety of the roof’s lifespan.
TPO is excellent at deflecting sunlight and keeping the roof cooler, and the restitution of the rubber material is great at withstanding high winds, hail storms and much more.Not unlike modified bitumen or single-layer membrane (which again this is sometimes lumped in with), it’s very affordable to install due to being less involved than BUR or something like shingles, tiles or metal sheets. It has a long lifespan, some of it rated for upwards of forty to fifty years, which is quite impressive.
These are just a handful of the various materials that can be used for a flat roof, with other variations of asphalt, more modern approaches to BUR, and various gravel and chip approaches being other popular ones to consider. It all comes down to your climate, your budget, and the materials available in your area at the end of the day.
To learn more about flat roofs and the myriad of different materials and practices available, fill out our contact form today, we’re happy to share our decades of experience with you.