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flat roof coatings being sprayed by roofing contractor
flat roof coatings being sprayed by roofing contractor

7 Best Flat Roof Materials to Consider in 2023

If you aren’t a roofing expert (and let’s be honest, most people you pass on the street aren’t), then you might be surprised to know just how many roofing materials are available. “Flat roofing” is a type of roofing material, but it doesn’t stop there. There are many types of flat roof materials that all have unique benefits and drawbacks. It’s like when you show up at an ice cream shop and are shocked at just how many flavors they can make of one thing!🍦

You’ll most commonly see flat roofs (which are actually low-slope roofs) on commercial and multi-family properties, but they also exist on certain styles of residential homes. Today, we’re going to be taking a closer look at 7 of the best flat roof materials for commercial and residential properties alike. Let’s start with the ever-popular EPDM!

1) EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Terpolymer)

If you want to practice a tongue twister, you can start with “ethylene propylene diene terpolymer.” 😳

EPDM is a good nickname instead! This popular flat roofing material is a synthetic rubber membrane. It’s usually black in color and is most commonly used on larger commercial properties. Due to its rubber nature, EPDM is incredibly durable, and it doesn’t show stains very often.

  • ✅ Pro: Lifespan of 25-30 years
  • ❌ Con: Black material absorbs heat

2) PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

closeup of pvc flat roof materials installed on flat rooftop

You may have heard of PVC in the plumbing world with PVC pipes. The material that makes up these pipes, polyvinyl chloride, is used in a wide variety of applications, including window frames and, you guessed it, flat roofing!

Just like in other applications, PVC roofing is white in color, which makes it ideal for commercial spaces like factories and schools that want to keep their buildings cooler. PVC roofs are easy to install, as they come in large rolls that require a lot of effort to hold down. These roofs can last 30-40 years and stand up well to wind, hail, and even fires.

  • Pro: Light-colored, reflective coating helps keep buildings cool.
  • ❌ Con: More prone to punctures in colder climates.

3) TPO (Thermoplastic Polyolefin)

As a single-ply membrane (we’ll get more into single-ply roofing later), TPO roofing is cost-effective and easy to install. This is another material that does a great job of reflecting heat away from the building, which ensures the air conditioning system doesn’t have to work overtime.

TPO is starting to get more and more popular and garner just as much (if not more) attention than traditional EPDM and PVC materials. This affordable material can last 20-30 years with proper maintenance. Since it’s a newer phenomenon, make sure to find a roofing contractor that has the proper experience installing and repairing TPO materials.

  • Pro: Lightweight and more affordable than other materials.
  • ❌ Con: White material shows dirt quickly.

4) Built-Up Roofing (BUR)

Built-up roofing, commonly shortened to BUR, is an old-school roofing material. In fact, it’s the oldest type of flat roofing to exist! BUR is created by… building up different layers of materials. First, a layer of asphalt gets applied, and then the asphalt is covered with gravel and sealed with more asphalt.

Built-up roofs resemble gravel surfaces more than smooth, slick surfaces achieved with other materials. This can be an aesthetic downfall but a safety advantage if you’re working on your roof a lot.

BUR roofs aren’t seen as much today because the multiple layers of materials create a heavier weight. Buildings need to be structurally strong enough to hold the weight of a BUR roof; otherwise, there will be lots of problems to deal with.

  • Pro: Lifespan of 20-30 years.
  • ❌ Con: Intensive labor, which can drive prices up.

5) Modified Bitumen

roofing contractors install modified bitumen flat roof materials

If BUR is an old-school material, then modified bitumen is the new-school counterpart. As a more modern version of BUR, modified bitumen contains layers of fiberglass, rubber, asphalt, and plastic. The multi-layer design helps the roof stand up to inclement weather.

Modified bitumen is a rolled membrane system with a self-adhesive bottom, so installation is simple. This material is very flexible and adapts well to expanding and contracting with temperature fluctuations.

  • Pro: Comes in multiple colors beyond black and white.
  • ❌ Con: Has an average shorter lifespan of only 15 years.

6) Single-Ply Roofing

Single-ply roofing is a larger category that encompasses some of the materials we’ve already touched on, including EPDM and PVC. Other varieties include neoprene or chlorinated polyethylene. If you’re getting technical, single-ply roofing is named elastomeric or plastomeric roof membrane.

Since single-ply roofs are made of synthetic rubber or polymer, they’re very flexible. This helps them navigate temperature changes and weather impacts. Their common name comes from being installed as thin sheets in one single layer. Most varieties are resistant to punctures and tears, so they require minimal maintenance.

  • Pro: Certain varieties can last up to 40 years.
  • ❌ Con: Seams can lose adhesion over time which can lead to leaks.

7) Roof Coatings

Last but not least, we’ve got roof coatings. While coatings aren’t technically a roofing system, they are a popular resource to help preserve flat roofs. Coatings are ideal if you want to get a few more years out of your flat roof before needing a full roof replacement.

These silicone coatings are sprayed onto flat roofing systems (like the ones listed above) to rehydrate the materials. Roof coatings are incredibly versatile and can also be applied to metal and asphalt shingle roofs.

contractor installs flat roof materials using torch

Since coatings are much more affordable than full roof replacements, many business owners opt for this service to save money in the long run. Roof coatings also help protect against UV rays, so they ultimately help cool down the buildings they’re applied to.

  • Pro: Affordable way to extend the life of your existing roof.
  • ❌ Con: Coatings can attract and hold onto dirt.

Florida’s Go-To Flat Roof Specialist

We hope this article helped you learn something new today! Since there are so many flat roof materials to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start or which material is the right fit for your property. That’s where Distinctive Roofing comes in! We’ve been serving South Florida for more than 25 years, and we know every flat roofing material like the back of our hands.

We specialize in serving high-rise properties, including condominiums, apartments, and tech corporations. If your commercial property needs a new flat roof or requires repairs, give us a call! We’ll educate you on your best options so that you can make an informed decision.

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