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The Homeowner’s Guide to Rubber Roofing

Written by Joe Roberts

Published on November 9, 2023


The Homeowner’s Guide to Rubber Roofing

Does your home have a flat roof? Consider rubber roofing! Rubber is a versatile and affordable roofing material, perfect for low-slope roofs.

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Rubber is an exceptionally energy-efficient, low-maintenance, and weather-resistant roofing material typically seen on flat roofs. Installing a rubber roof costs between $8,472 and $15,767 on average, so it’s much more affordable than alternatives like wood shakes and metal roofing.

There are various types of rubber roofing. Rubber membranes made from EPDM, PVC, and TPO are among the best options for flat roofs and low-pitch roofs (roofs with pitches lower than 2/12). Meanwhile, rubber shingles require a roof with a greater pitch.

Keep reading, and we’ll break down the benefits and drawbacks of the various options to help you decide if rubber is the right roofing material for your home.

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Different types of rubber roofing

Ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) roofing

EPDM membranes are typically black, so they aren’t as heat resistant as other roofing options. They sometimes also come in white, though. Image source: American Weatherstar

  • + 25-50 year lifespan
  • + Low installation costs
  • + Fire-resistance
  • + Energy efficiency
  • - Unappealing appearance
  • - Susceptible to leaks

Ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) roofing is made from synthetic rubber, and it gets installed as a flat, single-ply membrane on top of a roof deck. EPDM’s affordability, water resistance, and reliability make it one of the most popular and cost-effective roofing materials for flat or low-slope residential and commercial roofs.

Additionally, EPDM can be highly energy-efficient and eco-friendly. The material can be recycled at the end of its life, and it provides good thermal insulation on a roof. If you live in a cold climate, going with black EPDM will help keep your home warmer and lower your heating bill. If you live in a warm region, though, you should get white EPDM instead to reflect sunlight better.

The main drawback of EPDM is its appearance. It just isn’t a very attractive roofing material, so it won’t increase your home’s curb appeal as much as other options like asphalt shingles, clay tiles, or metal roofing.

Shrinkage—or “bridging”— is something you need to be cautious of with EPDM roofs. They become more fragile and shrink over the course of their lifetimes. This can result in leaks that require roof repairs, though you can minimize this effect with routine maintenance.

Thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) roofing

TPO is generally more expensive than EPDM. The quality of a TPO roof can vary depending on who manufactured it. Image source: West Roofing Systems, Inc.

  • + 20-30 year lifespan
  • + Highly durable
  • + More resistant to leaks than EPDM
  • + Low installation costs
  • - Unappealing appearance
  • - Quality variations

Thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) rubber roofing is a relatively new alternative to EPDM, and it offers many of the same benefits while also being a little more leak- and puncture-resistant. Like EPDM, TPO is a flat, lightweight membrane that gets installed across an entire roof, making it another great option for flat roofing systems.

However, because it’s a newer roofing material than EPDM, there’s a lot of variation in formulas used by various manufacturers. This means that a TPO roofing membrane’s quality greatly depends on the company that manufactured it. Additionally, TPO roofs tend to be a little more expensive and a little less long-lasting than EPDM.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) roofing

PVC roofing is highly durable, and it’s resistant to many types of damage. It’s one of the most expensive rubber roofing membrane options, though. Image source: Supreme Roofing

  • + 20-30 year lifespan
  • + Highly durable
  • + Fire-resistance
  • + Exceptional wind- and water-resistance
  • - Unappealing appearance
  • - High installation costs

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) roofing is the most expensive type of rubber roofing membrane. On the plus side, though, it’s also the most puncture-proof, wind-resistant, and watertight. It will generally begin to deteriorate before EPDM roofing, though, so it needs to be replaced more frequently. 

Like the other two rubber roofing types we’ve mentioned so far, PVC roofing is best installed on flat roofs or those with low slopes.

Rubber shingle roofing

Rubber roofing shingles can be crafted to resemble high-end roofing alternatives like slate and wood. Image source: Dayus Roofing

  • + 10-30 year lifespan
  • + Can imitate more expensive roofing materials
  • + Wind-resistance
  • + Fire-resistance
  • - Not as water-resistant as other rubber roofing materials
  • - Not a good option for flat roofs
  • - High installation costs

If you want the benefits of rubber (wind resistance, pest resistance, fire resistance, and insulation) but you don’t have a low-slope roof, you could get rubber roofing shingles instead. The best part is that rubber shingles can be designed to look like more expensive roofing materials like wood shakes and slate tiles, so they can even give your curb appeal an upgrade.

The main downside of rubber shingles is that they aren’t as water-resistant as rubber membranes, so they can’t be used on flat roofs where water may pool. They also tend to be more expensive than rubber membrane roofs. 

How rubber roofing gets installed

Rubber roofing membranes can be installed in three different ways:

  • With glue and sealant. This installation method is typically the most waterproof because it results in the fewest penetrations, but it also takes the longest and tends to be the most expensive. 
  • With mechanical fastenings. This installation method uses screws to fasten the membrane down to your roof deck so it goes much faster, but can result in leaks much quicker. 
  • With heavy stones. With this installation method, stones are laid on top of a loose membrane to hold it in place. Flashing also gets installed around the edges of the membrane to prevent leaks. This method, sometimes called ballasted installation, is typically the cheapest and fastest.

Rubber roofing shingles, on the other hand, get installed in overlapping rows, just like tiles and asphalt shingles. 

How rubber roofing compares to other roofing materials

Rubber roofing is great for insulation, water resistance, and affordability. Unfortunately, though, it can’t really be used on anything other than a flat or low-slope (pitch below 2/12) roof, so it isn’t an option for every home.

Rubber is also one of the least attractive roofing materials you can buy, so it won’t do your home’s curb appeal any favors. If you have a flat roof and want to increase your home’s resale value, you should consider a standing seam metal roof instead.

Additionally, rubber roofing doesn’t usually last as long as more deluxe materials like clay or slate tiles, both of which can last up to 100 years or more if properly cared for. This means you’ll have to replace and repair a rubber roof more often than these high-end materials.

Lastly, rubber is one of the most affordable roofing materials, but it isn’t the single most affordable. Asphalt shingles can cost a bit less on average, though local market conditions can make either more affordable than the other. Be aware, though, that asphalt shingles can’t be installed on low-slope roofs because standing water can seep between them.

How to maintain your rubber roof

Because they’re so resistant to water, pests, wind, and UV radiation, rubber roofs are fairly low-maintenance, which is one of their major selling points. However, there are a few roof maintenance tasks you should routinely perform to ensure your rubber roof lasts as long as possible. 

  • Get the roof inspected every year to ensure you notice leaks before they can cause significant water damage. If your inspection does turn up any damage, get it repaired as soon as possible to keep it from worsening. Fortunately, repairing a rubber roof tends to cost less than repairing other roof types.
  • You should regularly get the roof cleaned by a professional cleaning company. Because they have such low slopes, rubber roofs don’t shed dirt and debris, as well as other roofs, so annual cleanings are necessary to prevent buildup.
  • Get your gutters cleaned at the end of every fall to prevent excess water from pooling on your roof. While flat roofs are very water-resistant, too much water pooling on top of them can cause them to sag over time, so it’s essential to keep your gutters in good shape.
  • Some EPDM rubber roofs need to be painted to keep them in ideal shape. In most cases, this will only be a concern every decade or so. 

As long as you keep up with all of this routine upkeep, your rubber roof should last several decades at least.  

Rubber roofing: is it right for you?

Your roof is one of the most important parts of your home’s weather defense, but it can be hard to properly outfit a flat roof. Now that you know everything there is to know about rubber roofing, though, you’re ready to get a quote from a local installer.

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Is rubber roofing a good idea?

Rubber roofing can be a good option if you have a flat or low-pitch roof. Generally, rubber roofing only works for roofs with pitches below 2/12.

However, if you live in a climate with drastic heat fluctuations, it may still be a bad option for your low-pitch roof. Rubber expands in high temperatures and contracts in cold weather, so it can break down and lose its structural integrity over time. This can result in leaks. 

Additionally, most homeowners consider rubber roofing to be a fairly unattractive roofing material, so a rubber roof won’t do much for your home’s curb appeal. 

Can you install rubber roofing yourself?

Rubber roof installation is not a good DIY project. Installation procedures vary, but they’re always fairly complicated, so while it will result in additional labor costs, this job should always be left to professionals. 

What does it cost to put on a rubber roof?

While costs can vary depending on the size of your roof and what type of rubber is used, it typically costs between $8,472 and $15,767 to install a rubber roof. If you have to replace existing roof materials or your roof is especially large, your price can go up. If you need help paying for your new roof, check out our list of financing options

Is rubber roofing cheaper than shingles?

On average, asphalt shingles are more affordable than just about any type of rubber roofing. The typical price to cover a 1,700-square-foot roof with asphalt shingles ranges between $7,467 and $13,897. To cover a similarly-sized roof with rubber costs between $8,472 and $15,767 on average. 

How long is the life expectancy of a rubber roof?

Depending on the quality of your roofing product, a rubber roof can last anywhere between 10 and 50 years. Options like EPDM roofing membranes tend to last the longest, while rubber shingles, TPO roofing, and PVC roofing usually last a maximum of 30 years. 

Can I walk on my rubber roof?

While walking on any roof comes with considerable risk, it’s usually safe to walk on a rubber membrane roof. Any roof pitch below 6/12 is generally safe to walk on, and rubber membrane roofs almost always have pitches below 2/12. If you have a rubber shingle roof instead of a membrane, though, your roof may be steeper than this, so you should avoid walking on it for your safety. 

Do rubber roofs leak?

While EPDM, TPO, and PVC are generally great options for waterproofing a roof, they can begin to leak over time if they’re improperly maintained. Fortunately, though, rubber roofing is fairly low-maintenance, so you don’t need to do much to keep it from leaking and causing water damage to your roof decking.

Written by

Joe Roberts Content Specialist

Joe is a home improvement expert and content specialist for Fixr.com. He’s been writing home services content for over eight years, leveraging his research and composition skills to produce consumer-minded articles that demystify everything from moving to remodeling. His work has been sourced by various news sources and business journals, including Nasdaq.com and USA Today. When he isn’t writing about home improvement or climate issues, Joe can be found in bookstores and record shops.