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The Pros and Cons of Different Flat Roofing Systems: Which One is Right for You?

Choosing the right roofing system for your home or business is a crucial decision that can greatly impact its overall functionality and longevity. When it comes to flat roofs, there are several options available, each with its own set of pros and cons. In this article, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of different flat roofing systems, helping you make an informed choice that suits your specific needs. From traditional built-up roofs to modern single-ply membranes and innovative green roofing solutions, we will delve into the unique features, durability, maintenance requirements, and cost considerations of each option. Whether you are looking for a cost-effective solution, superior waterproofing capabilities, or eco-friendly roofing materials, understanding the pros and cons of different flat roofing systems will empower you to make an informed decision that ensures a secure and long-lasting roof for your property. So, let’s dive in and discover which flat roofing system is right for you!

Pros and Cons of Built-Up Roofing (BUR)

Built-up roofing (BUR) is one of the oldest and most traditional flat roofing systems. It consists of multiple layers of bitumen and reinforcing materials, such as fiberglass or organic felts. Here are the pros and cons of BUR:

Pros of BUR

  1. Proven Durability: BUR has a long track record of durability and can withstand harsh weather conditions, including strong winds and heavy rain.
  2. Fire Resistance: The multiple layers of bitumen in BUR provide excellent fire resistance, making it a safe choice for commercial buildings and residential properties.
  3. Cost-Effective: BUR is known for its cost-effectiveness, especially for large-scale projects or buildings with extensive roof areas. It provides good value for the long term.

Cons of BUR

  1. Installation Complexity: BUR requires skilled professionals for installation, as it involves hot-mopping bitumen and layering materials. Improper installation can lead to leaks and other issues.
  2. Heavy Weight: BUR is a heavy roofing system, so it may require additional structural support to bear the weight. This can add to the overall cost of the project.
  3. Maintenance Challenges: BUR requires regular maintenance, including inspections and repairs. It can be challenging to locate and fix leaks due to the multiple layers.

In summary, BUR offers durability, fire resistance, and cost-effectiveness. However, it requires professional installation, may require additional structural support, and demands regular maintenance.

Pros and Cons of Modified Bitumen Roofing

Modified bitumen roofing is a popular choice for flat roofs, especially in commercial buildings. It is a modern version of BUR that incorporates polymer modifiers for enhanced performance. Let’s explore the pros and cons of modified bitumen roofing:

Pros of Modified Bitumen Roofing

  1. Flexibility: Modified bitumen roofing is known for its flexibility, making it suitable for buildings with structural movement. It can accommodate temperature fluctuations without cracking or splitting.
  2. Easy Installation: Modified bitumen roofing comes in rolls, making it relatively easy to install. It can be hot-applied, cold-applied, or self-adhering, depending on the specific product.
  3. Long Lifespan: With proper installation and maintenance, modified bitumen roofing can last 20 years or more. It offers good resistance against UV rays and weathering.

Cons of Modified Bitumen Roofing

  1. Limited Color Options: Modified bitumen roofing is typically available in black or dark colors, which can absorb heat and increase cooling costs in warmer climates.
  2. Vulnerable Seams: The seams in modified bitumen roofing can be vulnerable to leaks if not properly sealed or maintained.
  3. Maintenance: While modified bitumen roofing requires less maintenance than BUR, regular inspections and repairs are still necessary to ensure its longevity.

Modified bitumen roofing offers flexibility, easy installation, and a long lifespan. However, it has limited color options, vulnerable seams, and requires regular maintenance.

Pros and Cons of EPDM (Rubber) Roofing

EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) roofing, commonly known as rubber roofing, is a synthetic rubber membrane used for flat roofs. Let’s examine the pros and cons of EPDM roofing:

Pros of EPDM Roofing

  1. Easy Installation: EPDM roofing is available in large sheets, which can be easily installed using adhesive or mechanically fastened. It is a popular choice for DIY enthusiasts.
  2. Affordability: EPDM roofing is relatively affordable compared to other flat roofing options. It offers good value for the cost.
  3. UV and Weather Resistance: EPDM roofing has excellent resistance against UV rays, ozone, and extreme weather conditions. It can withstand high winds, hail, and temperature fluctuations.

Cons of EPDM Roofing

  1. Puncture Vulnerability: EPDM roofing can be vulnerable to punctures from sharp objects, such as branches or foot traffic. Regular inspections and prompt repairs are necessary to prevent leaks.
  2. Limited Aesthetics: EPDM roofing is typically available in black, which may not be visually appealing for some property owners. However, white-colored EPDM is available as an option for increased reflectivity and energy efficiency.
  3. Longevity Concerns: While EPDM roofing can last up to 30 years with proper installation and maintenance, its lifespan can be affected by factors such as UV exposure and ponding water.

EPDM roofing offers easy installation, affordability, and UV/weather resistance. However, it can be puncture vulnerable, has limited aesthetics, and its longevity can be influenced by external factors.

Pros and Cons of TPO Roofing

TPO (Thermoplastic Olefin) roofing is a single-ply membrane roofing system that has gained popularity in recent years. It is known for its energy efficiency and ease of installation. Let’s explore the pros and cons of TPO roofing:

Pros of TPO Roofing

  1. Energy Efficiency: TPO roofing is available in white or light colors, offering high reflectivity and thermal emissivity. This helps reduce cooling costs and lowers the overall energy consumption of the building.
  2. Installation Ease: TPO roofing can be mechanically attached, fully adhered, or ballasted, providing flexibility during installation. It is relatively lightweight, making it easier to handle and transport.
  3. Durability: TPO roofing is resistant to UV radiation, ozone, and chemical exposure. It offers good weathering characteristics and can withstand extreme temperatures.

Cons of TPO Roofing

  1. Quality Variations: The quality of TPO roofing can vary among manufacturers, so it is important to choose a reputable brand and ensure proper installation for optimal performance.
  2. Puncture Susceptibility: TPO roofing can be susceptible to punctures from sharp objects. Regular inspections and preventive measures are necessary to maintain its integrity.
  3. Limited Track Record: Compared to other flat roofing systems, TPO roofing is relatively new, so its long-term performance and durability are still being evaluated.

TPO roofing offers energy efficiency, installation ease, and durability. However, it can vary in quality, has a puncture susceptibility, and its long-term performance is still being studied.

Pros and Cons of PVC Roofing

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) roofing is another single-ply membrane option for flat roofs. It is known for its chemical resistance and long lifespan. Let’s examine the pros and cons of PVC roofing:

Pros of PVC Roofing

  1. Chemical Resistance: PVC roofing is highly resistant to chemicals, making it suitable for buildings with chemical exposure, such as industrial facilities or restaurants.
  2. Fire Resistance: PVC roofing has excellent fire resistance properties, making it a safe choice for commercial buildings and high-risk areas.
  3. Longevity: PVC roofing has a long lifespan, often exceeding 30 years with proper installation and maintenance. It is resistant to UV radiation and weathering.

Cons of PVC Roofing

  1. Higher Cost: PVC roofing is generally more expensive than other flat roofing options. However, its long lifespan and durability can offset the initial investment over time.
  2. Environmental Concerns: PVC roofing is made from synthetic materials and is not considered environmentally friendly. However, some manufacturers offer PVC roofing with recycled content or eco-friendly additives.
  3. Flexibility: PVC roofing can become brittle in cold temperatures, which can lead to cracking or shrinking. Proper installation and regular inspections are important to prevent issues.

PVC roofing offers chemical resistance, fire resistance, and longevity. However, it has a higher cost, environmental concerns, and can be less flexible in cold temperatures.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Flat Roofing System

When selecting a flat roofing system, several factors should be taken into consideration to ensure the best fit for your specific needs. These factors include:

  1. Climate: Consider the climate in your location. Some roofing systems perform better in certain climates than others. For example, TPO and PVC roofing offer good resistance against UV radiation, making them suitable for sunny regions.
  2. Building Use: The intended use of the building should also be considered. Commercial buildings may have different roofing requirements compared to residential properties or industrial facilities.
  3. Installation Complexity: Evaluate the complexity of the installation process and determine whether you have access to skilled professionals for proper installation.
  4. Maintenance Requirements: Consider the maintenance requirements of each roofing system. Some systems may require regular inspections, repairs, or coatings to maintain their performance.
  5. Cost: Determine your budget and consider the initial cost as well as long-term maintenance and replacement expenses.

By considering these factors, you can make an informed decision and choose the most suitable flat roofing system for your property.

Comparing the Cost of Different Flat Roofing Systems

The cost of flat roofing systems can vary depending on several factors, including the type of roofing material, installation complexity, and size of the roof area. Here is a general comparison of the cost range for different flat roofing systems:

  1. Built-Up Roofing (BUR): BUR is generally considered a cost-effective option, with an average cost range of $3 to $7 per square foot.
  2. Modified Bitumen Roofing: The cost of modified bitumen roofing typically falls within the range of $4 to $8 per square foot, making it a competitive choice.
  3. EPDM Roofing: EPDM roofing is known for its affordability, with an average cost range of $3 to $6 per square foot.
  4. TPO Roofing: TPO roofing is priced slightly higher than EPDM, with an average cost range of $4 to $7 per square foot.
  5. PVC Roofing: PVC roofing is generally the most expensive option, with an average cost range of $6 to $10 per square foot.

It is important to note that these cost ranges are approximate and can vary depending on various factors, such as location, project size, and specific product requirements. It is recommended to obtain multiple quotes from reputable contractors to get an accurate estimate for your specific project.

Maintenance and Lifespan of Different Flat Roofing Systems

Regular maintenance is essential to ensure the longevity and performance of any flat roofing system. Here’s a brief overview of the maintenance requirements and average lifespan of each flat roofing system:

  1. Built-Up Roofing (BUR): BUR requires regular inspections to identify and address any potential issues, such as leaks or membrane degradation. With proper maintenance, BUR can last 20 to 30 years or more.
  2. Modified Bitumen Roofing: Modified bitumen roofing requires periodic inspections and maintenance to prevent leaks and ensure its integrity. Its average lifespan ranges from 15 to 25 years.
  3. EPDM Roofing: EPDM roofing requires regular inspections and maintenance to identify and repair any punctures or membrane damage. With proper care, EPDM roofing can last up to 30 years or more.
  4. TPO Roofing: TPO roofing requires regular inspections, especially for seam integrity and potential punctures. With proper maintenance, TPO roofing can last 20 to 30 years.
  5. PVC Roofing: PVC roofing requires regular inspections and maintenance to prevent punctures and ensure its longevity. With proper care, PVC roofing can last 30 years or more.

It is important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance and consult with roofing professionals to ensure proper care and maximize the lifespan of your chosen flat roofing system.


Choosing the right flat roofing system for your property requires careful consideration of various factors, including durability, cost, maintenance requirements, and specific needs. Understanding the pros and cons of different flat roofing systems, such as built-up roofing (BUR), modified bitumen roofing, EPDM roofing, TPO roofing, and PVC roofing, will empower you to make an informed decision that suits your requirements. Whether you prioritize cost-effectiveness, superior waterproofing capabilities, energy efficiency, or environmental sustainability, there is a flat roofing system available to meet your needs. By evaluating factors such as climate, building use, installation complexity, and cost, you can choose a flat roofing system that ensures a secure and long-lasting roof for your home or business. So, take your time, gather information, and consult with roofing professionals to make the best choice for your property.