There has been a lot of discussion on our rubber roofing page (created a while ago), with many roofing contractors defending the EPDM rubber roof as a “good and proven” system, that is widely installed. While I agree that it is widely installed, I contest the notion that it is good and proven, for many reasons, which I will outline below, with examples as proof. But first, I will outline the basic premise on which I will base my statements.
Basic Premise of this “Horrible Rubber Roofing” article
Rubber roof (EPDM) is widely installed because of its relatively low cost. It is NOT as good as many roofing contractors say it is, and the reason why I call it “horrible” is a complex, but there are two major parts to it:
1) Rubber is an inferior flat roofing material, compared to other single ply membranes, such as PVC flat roofing membrane, because ALL seams and flashing on a rubber roof are glued together (chemical bond), and glue WILL deteriorate and seams / flashing will come apart, creating roof leaks.
PVC roof seams and flashings are all hot-air welded, which creates a “permanent” physical bond, and seams / flashing DO NOT come apart.
2) It is very easy for ANY roofing contractor, or any contractor for that matter to buy EPDM Rubber Roofing materials, and now even homeowners can buy them at the Home Depot stores. EPDM Manufacturers DO NOT require contractors to be licensed / certified installers / applicators, before they can buy the materials. This creates a situation where any roofer can buy a roll of rubber, some glue, uncured flashing materials, a few brushes and other small tools (all totaling less then $100), become a “flat roofing specialist” and install the rubber roof.
To properly install a rubber roof, it is VERY important that all steps are taken to seal the seams correctly, and there is a lot of room for error, especially if you are not trained in flat roof installation. Without proper installation training and experience, these “specialists” install “master-piece roofs” (which we will show you below) that start leaking as early as 6 months after installation and continue to leak. Some of these roofs require immediate replacement, while some can be repaired. However, the total cost of roof ownership (including roof repair)comes to the same price or more, as the more expensive PVC flat roof, only with a lot more headache.
The combination of inferior quality of rubber material, and scores of “hack roofing contractors” makes installing a rubber roof a big financial risk. This is especially true for homeowners, because the trained / experienced rubber roofing contractors are usually commercial / union roofing companies, that install commercial roofs and do not work with homeowners. However, as we show you in the videos below, even commercial roof owners are not immune to serious problems with rubber roofs.
Note: I am not saying that if you get a rubber roof installed, it is guaranteed to leak 100%. Depending on your roof design, you can get the rubber roof to never leak and require very little maintenance. For example, if your roof has a slope, or if you can cover the entire roof with one sheet of membrane, and there are no seams / and very few penetrations and flashing detail, positive slope and adequate drainage, etc. However, most flat roofs are NOT like that, are are therefore highly likely to leak. Also, regardless of roof design, you will need a professional flat roofing contractor to install the roof. With a rubber roof there is a lot of risk of hiring a hack roofer, and really no way to know if your roof will come out good or not.
Horrible Rubber Roofs
Lets look at examples of commercial rubber roofs with major problems (all these roofs were inspected during Aug./Sept. of 2011):
Roof 1 – condos / apartment building in Brockton, MA – 6 years old roof.
Apartment building roof in Revere, MA – approximately 15 years old.
Country Club Roof in Maynard, MA – Age unknown – possibly 25 years old.
Not shown in this video – the rubber membrane has contracted along roof edge, and is no longer wrapped over the edge. This creates constant roof leaks along the front of the building, as well as leaks into the country club president’s office.
The videos above demonstrate both aspects of the main premise of this article – material failure and bad installation. All these roofs are commercial installations, except for the Revere roof, which is a 6 unit home – semi-commercial building. Draw your conclusions from this, and we want to know what you think – please leave your comments below.