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What are High-Quality Flat Roof Materials?

Most people look at a building and only see what’s inside. As attentive as some people are, they rarely notice the details of a building like its roof. 

In any city, towering office buildings, hospitals, schools, and industrial complexes use buildings with flat roofs. Some apartment complexes and condos sport flat roofs. People see a single-family home with a flat roof every now and then. What should readers know about flat roofs?

Why Do Buildings Have Flat Roofs?

High quality flat roofing materials

It doesn’t matter if you’re building a commercial structure, an apartment complex, or a single-family home. The driving instinct is to save money wherever possible. So, the less surface there is with which to work, the less expensive to roof a building.

Slopes and valleys on shingle roofs cost more in materials and labor. A flat roof uses less space, fewer materials, and less labor and maintenance. They last longer when using high-quality flat roof materials. What are these materials?

Flat Roof Materials

Builders have many choices in flat roof materials for their clients’ consideration. All provide leak protection. Some provide protection from solar damage. Only one or two require strengthening the joists beneath the substrate.

There are three commonly used flat roof materials, although a couple of others have good qualities that make them suitable for flat roofs. All have their pros and cons, although generally, the pros outweigh the cons.

Single Layer Membrane

A single membrane is one large sheet of something adhering to the roof substrate. It’s the newest technology in roofing materials. It comes in five varieties: neoprene, EPDM or rubber, PVC, Chlorinated polyethylene and chlorosulfontated polyethylene sheeting, and polymer-modified bitumen.

Of these, EDPM rubber sheeting is the most commonly used on both residential and commercial structures. They’re flexible and take on any temperature changes with little to no damage. The membrane is attached using glue, fasteners, or ballasted using stones.

Built-Up Roofs

This is the traditional flat roofing material composed of layers of roofing felt soaked in asphalt and then subjected to bitumen (a black, viscous substance obtained from distilling petroleum) with a hot mop. All this blends into an impenetrable membrane, which is then topped off with crushed stone. It’s usually layered three to four membranes deep.

A built-up roof has several advantages. One is that the slope problem no longer exists. Another is that crushed stone or gravel does an excellent job as a fire retardant. It even looks nice from windows overlooking a built-up roof deck.

Modified Bitumen

A roof-on-a-roll single-ply sheet that has been impregnated with the best technology of built-up roofing and modern polymers, this selection of high-quality flat roof materials provides a rubber-like elasticity to roofs. It can be applied with the torch method or applied cold. It also comes in peel-off sheets.

Spray Polyurethane Foam

Most homeowners consider spray polyurethane foam for insulating walls and floors. What they don’t know is the makeup of the foam makes it ideal for roofing. Yes, the entire roof will consist of foam. Here’s how it works.

Two chemicals, isocyanate, and polyol, come out of the sprayer head together. They harden into a closed-cell foam with a good R-value. It can be built up into layers with tapering edges to facilitate drainage. It’s then covered with an elastomeric substance to prevent solar damage and damage from the elements. Sand or mineral granules are then added to increase the durability of the roof.

The foam can be applied to an existing roof as long as it’s clean and stable. SPF isn’t suitable for topping off certain roofing materials like shingle.


Outdoor rooms are trending now as a method of increasing a home’s square footage. Even homes with flat roofs can enjoy outdoor living when they tile their flat roof deck. However, there are considerations for using tile on flat roofs. One is the weight of the protective sheeting, tile, and grout on the substrate. Some homes with flat roofs have to have reinforcement of the substrate before they can lay a tile roof.

Adequate sloping for drainage is a very important consideration. Since no one wants water damage inside the home, tile roofing will require a waterproof membrane beneath the tile and some kind of slope for drainage. If no slope exists, the builder can plan for it as he designs the tiled flat roof. 


These are the most common high-quality flat roof materials in use today. However, because the roof is flat, homeowners and business owners will need an evaluation of their roof before choosing one of the roofing materials. How do they know it’s in good shape? What can they do to make sure it’s in good shape?

How To Know The Roof Is In Good Shape

Leaks are usually the last stage in a faulty roof. By the time homeowners see leaks, they have more damage than just the roof to fix. Homeowners or business owners with flat roofs see leaks immediately and can forestall damages to the structure.

At least leaks in a flat roof are easier to locate than those on a sloped roof. Alternatively, a leak can spread along the waterproof membrane until it runs up against flashing, a skylight, or another item into which it can seep. The damages indoors could possibly be far from the actual source of the leak.

How can homeowners or business owners tell their roof is in good shape? The first sign is granules coming off the roofing material in great amounts. These protect the roofing material from UV rays. If the material beneath the granules shows signs of wear or thinning, it’s not in good shape.

Buckling roof material indicates the roofing applied over an older roof is wearing out. Look at any spots where the seams overlap. If it was done right, you’ll see a solid black line the length of the seams. No line, not good.

Finding leaks on many flat roofing materials calls for a professional. Leaks are usually detected around drains or seams. Detecting a leak through gravel isn’t easy and also requires a professional eye.

How To Make Sure It’s In Good Shape

A little maintenance is all it takes to make sure your flat roof is in good shape. You can use all the high-quality flat roof materials in town, but if, for example, you allow tree branches to remain on the roof, it could cause punctures in the roof material. Climb up to remove them the minute you notice their presence on your roof.

A major aspect of a roof in good shape is drainage. Water pooling on a flat roof is bad news. Make sure your gutters are clear so water can drain from the roof. This should be done twice a year in the spring and fall.

Putting off repairs on a flat roof just makes matters worse. The repairs may seem minor, but they can and will rapidly turn into major ones if you wait too long. Have a professional make the repairs in order to keep the roof in good shape for years to come.

Evaluation is a vital step in keeping a flat roof viable. Professional eyes pick up on materials problems that a homeowner or business owner wouldn’t recognize. Evaluation gets and keeps a flat roof in good shape, which saves homeowners and business owners money they could use elsewhere.