Most flat roofs are found on commercial buildings and were probably installed by professional commercial roofers with flat roofing experience; however, you will find some residences with this type of installation. Unfortunately, most of these installs were done by contractors with little or no experience dealing with this type of roofing and end up requiring repair long before reaching the minimum life expectancy of the materials.
Most of the leaks requiring repairs are those installed with a single ply rubber membrane called EPDM (ethylene propylene diene terpolymer). This type of roofing material has replaced the earlier style of flat roofing which was made up of a base sheet and multiple layers of felt paper and hot asphalt or coal tar. Usually this was covered with gravel to give it increased life. This type of flat roofing is called BUR (built up roofing). In most cases this type of roofing although using less high tech materials out lasts the EPDM roofing in residential applications due to the inconsistency in installation procedures.
Finding a Contractor
If you decide that repairing your flat roof is not worth the cost and you want to have the roof replaced, be sure to find a roofing contractor with experience installing flat roofs. Get referrals and check them out before you sign a contract. You may find it difficult to locate a competent roofer that will install flat roofing on a residence. You can be an expert asphalt shingle roofer and not know how to put on a flat rubber roof. Most of the pros limit their projects to commercial installations, but if you take your time and keep looking, you can find them.
Which System is Best?
Today’s new flat roof installations offer a variety of materials. There are those that still claim EPDM single ply membranes – the most common system in the US and the material of choice for the low-slope commercial roofing industry for over 40 years – is still the best system to use. Others claim the newer materials like TPO (thermoplastic polyefin, SBS (self adhering membrane systems) or a PVC membrane using hot air welded seams would be a much better solution. You will find roofing contractors that vigorously defend their preferred system. Your best bet is to find a roofing contractor in your area with a long history of service and check out his referrals. Some of these systems work best in extreme heat or cold, so your location might make a difference.
Do It Yourself Flat Roof Repair
If you have an EPDM membrane and it looks like it can be repaired you are still faced with a number of choices. There is a black rubber glue or a Peel-and-stick flashing material with a rubber primer that covers the seams of the membrane which is where most leaks occur.
Each of these methods provides a limited life extension to your roof. Keep in mind that these repair materials don’t usually come in small quantities, so unless you can find a roofing contractor that will sell you just the amount you need, you may end up spending quite a lot money on materials.
Let the Pros Check it Out first
You should always have an experienced roofing contractor examine your roof before you try to do the repairs yourself. Often an experienced contractor can see damage that the homeowner cannot see. Depending on your situation, they might be able to do the repair for what you would pay in material costs by doing it yourself.