Rubber roofing (EPDM single ply membranes) is the most common flat roofing system in New England (MA, CT, NH, RI, etc.) and the rest of US flat roofing marker. Most people refer to a flat roof as a “rubber roof”. The main reason for such popularity of rubber roofs is the lower initial price tag. However, rubber roofs have many inherent problems, which cannot be solved by technology, because of their design, as well as issues with unprofessional contractors claiming to be “rubber roofing pros“.
What You Need to Know About Rubber Roofing
Homeowners with flat roof homes often find themselves in a situation where their roof starts to leak rather unexpectedly – i.e. only after a few years since it was installed. This for the most part happens to homes that have a rubber roof on them. While most flat roofs will only last 10-15 years, older systems such as Tar & Gravel, BUR (built-up) and in some cases Modified bitumen roofs are usually installed by roofing contractors that are somewhat specialized in their field of work – these are “the old-timers”, or former union guys that decided to try their luck working for themselves, and they actually went through special training and have years of experience.
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Incorrectly installed EPDM roof in Quincy, MA – rubber glued right over shingles:
The problem is that roofing systems they install do not last long for many reasons outside the scope of this article. By contrast, most rubber roofs are installed and repaired by roofers that have no special knowledge or training, they take on EPDM roofing jobs, because they are seemingly easy, inexpensive to install and require no special expensive equipment.
If you have a leaking rubber roof in Massachusetts, Connecticut or Rhode Island we can give you a roofing price quote to replace your roof with our flat roofing material of choice – a new, lifetime PVC Flat roof manufactured by IB Roof Systems. We can also repair your rubber roof at a relatively low cost, using only the best materials that rubber systems have, and extend the life of your roof by a few years. One example of such materials are peel-and-stick flashing and seam tapes. We do not use black rubber glue as it is outdated, and leaks much faster.
BAD Rubber Roofing Video – this is why you don’t want to have a flat rubber roof:
Why Are Rubber Roofs So Popular?
Rubber roofs (EPDM) are the most used flat roofing products in the US / Canadian commercial roofing market. They we first put in service over 40 years ago, and since gained popularity among roofing contractors and their customers. The reason for such success lies in the condition of the flat roofing market at that time and the available alternatives.
Back in 1960’s oil was still very cheap, it was more than a decade before the oil crisis of the 70’s and there wasn’t that much demand for oil. The oil refining process was far from being efficient and the industry was looking to get rid of many by-products of the oil refining process.
At the same time, the flat roofing industry was the same as at the turn of the 19th century, and the most common product to use on a flat roof was either a BUR (built-up roofing, using multiple layers of tar paper, saturated in hot tar or hot asphalt) or Tar & Gravel roofing, which was essentially a BUR roof with gravel added for additional protection. Flat roofing technology has not changed for 100 years and contractors needed a new, easier to install and cleaner product, hence, EPDM rubber roofing system was born.
EPDM consists mainly of oil based by-products with some modifiers and stabilizers added to extend its service life. Rubber roofing was cheap to produce, easier to install than conventional (BUR) roofs, did not require any special equipment to put it down and the membrane could potentially last for decades, as it was UV stable and did not break down when exposed to the weather.
Because rubber roofing was cheap, quick to install, and offered a potentially long service life, and with lack of any opposition from better roofing products, it quickly became the king of flat roofing and the pioneer of the single-ply flat roofing market.
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DIY epdm rubber roof repair – Our original article on how to fix a rubber roof with EPDM rubber adhesive (no peel-n-stick tapes)
Rubber roof repair guide – A part 2 of our Do-it-yourself guide teaching you how to fix EPDM rubber roofing systems with primer and seam tape.
PART 2: Avoid using “roofing pros” who do not specialize in flat roofs:
Below we will explain that one of the major problems with rubber roofs is the poor workmanship of roofing contractors who install and repair them. We will demonstrate how many roofers are “trained” in installation of EPDM single ply roofing systems, as well as results of their work (our Horrible Rubber Roofs series).
The Truth About Residential Flat Roofing Market and Contractors
Rubber Roof Contractors: It is unfortunate, but most residential flat roofs are installed by roofing contractors that specialize in asphalt shingles. Since they can easily purchase rubber roofing materials from their roofing supply warehouse, and are not required to be certified installers, nor do they need any special training or equipment, they will often undertake such projects to keep their crews busy.
Horrible Rubber Roofs Videos:
Horrible rubber roof part 1.
Location: Brockton, MA
Date taken: Summer, 2011
Horrible rubber roof part 2.
Location: Revere, MA
Date taken: Fall 2011
Horrible rubber roof part 3.
Location: Country Club in Central MA
Date taken: Summer / Fall 2011
These are just some roof inspections that we did in the summer / fall of 2011. Look – even commercial roofs are not immune to hack roofers and faulty materials (like rubber roofing), but in residential, this is much more common.
Contractors’ Lack of Knowledge and Lack of Training
To get a quality rubber roof installed, it usually has to be done by a commercial roofing company that specializes in flat roofing. However, it is often the policy of such companies not to work with residential customers, for which there are many reasons. These contractors work with large commercial and institutional customers, employ union workers who are trained roof mechanics, specializing in their particular niche. For example, a commercial roofing contractor will have separate crews doing metal roofing or slate – these guys are “roofers”, and yet another crew doing flat roofing ONLY – these are “roof mechanics”.
A residential roofing contractor usually employs just roofers, who are good at what they do all day long – install asphalt shingle roofs, and often do not have a clue about how flat roofs work. When they get a potential client with a flat roof, they go to their supplier, ask what supplier has for flat roof, and the salesman at the supply warehouse TEACHES the roofer how to install EPDM rubber. This is not creative fiction or a product of my imagination – I see this happening nearly every time, when I come in to the supply store to get something.
“Trained rubber roofing installers”: If you are lucky, you may get a roofer that has received some sort of training about rubber roof installation. For example, one of my suppliers, provides installation training programs for their roofing contractors who install only asphalt shingles. The idea behind such training seminars is to increase awareness and solicit sales of more roofing products. A manufacturer technician provides a sample installation on a 8×8 feet demo stand.
Below is an example of such “hands-on rubber roofing training”.
As you can see, the roofers just sit around the demo stand while the MFG Installation technician shows them what to do. The whole demonstration took about an hour and a half, and covered thing like installing flat roofing insulation (ISO), adhering rubber to the ISO board, flashing a sky-light / chimney penetration with un-cured flashing material, installing the membrane up the vertical wall, cleaning & priming seams and installing seam tape, installing drip edge and a tape to seal the drip edge fasteners, and installing termination bar. In the same 1.5 hours we’ve also “learned” how to correctly apply yellow glue – membrane adhesive, seam primer – seam & flashing glue and how to install these systems in the winter, while violating manufacturer’s installation specs.
Out of 25 or so roofing contractors present, there were about 15 or so questions particular to the installation details. 7 of them were asked by me! Bear in mind that I already knew how to install a rubber roof and attended the event to talk to my salesman, representatives of the metal roofing manufacturer and for free refreshments 🙂
In any case, each one of those 25 or so roofing contractors, willing to learn a new, and very complicated roofing system, asked an average of 0.3 questions about this system.
Rubber Roofs for Residential Customers: It was clear that my supplier and the roofing representatives were selling to Residential Roofing Contractors. Not once did they mention roof-top HVAC units, roof hatches, elevator shafts, gas/electrical pipes, roof drains, etc. They did however insist that the rubber is a good choice for a low slope shed dormer (without mentioning the poor low slope roof ventilation and ice dam prevention associated with shed dormers). They also mentioned that rubber is a good choice for a flat roof decks and patios.