If you’re in the process of repairing or replacing your flat roof, you need to be sure that you understand the choice of materials that you’re faced with. There are quite a few options available on the market. There’s a flat roof material for all budgets, plus a list of pros and cons for each. You also need to bear in mind the property itself. Some materials lend themselves to certain projects better than others. Membrane roofing is suitable for some and BUR for others.

There are five leading flat roof materials. What follows is an outline of each material that includes some background information and the typical lifespan. Plus, we’ll share some of the benefits and challenges that each material presents.

Our Pick of Five Flat Roof Materials

Modified Bitumen

Modified bitumen is one of the most economical options on our list. It’s certainly budget-friendly but does come with some consequences. This cheaper material tends to last only 10-15 years. It suffers from cracking and blistering after longer periods of exposure to harsh weather conditions. Yes, the lifespan is short when compared to other options on this list, but for those without larger pots of money to invest in a new roof, it might be a great option.

Built-Up Flat Roof (BUR)

You’ll hear built-up flat roofs, usually referred to as BURs. BURs are typically used on both industrial and commercial properties. Some residential properties may feature a BUR style, but it’s far less common. Why is it so popular with these sectors? Their lifespan is one of the most reliable, lasting between 15-30 years. Plus, they require minimal maintenance.

BURs are created by sandwiching layers of bitumen (asphalt) and reinforced fabrics (in the form of ply sheets). The layers are then covered with a hard outer layer made from aggregate. The aggregate is usually made up of gravel, slag, or mineral granules.

Added benefits are durability, a high level of waterproofing, and good fire resistance, thanks to the aggregate layer. They do require specialist installation and are therefore more expensive than some other options on this list.

PVC Membrane

PVC roofing is another popular commercial choice, but it also is a regular choice in the domestic sector. PVC roofing is supplied as a white, single-ply membrane that is perfect for roofs with a low angle of slope or completely flat roofs. Installed properly and regularly maintained, you can expect a PVC roof to last for up to 25 years.

PVC and the next item on our list, TPO, share many of the same characteristics. They’re installed the same way. They’re both durable. PVC, however, is more flexible than its TPO counterpart. It’s also very lightweight (especially compared to options like BURs) and won’t cause unnecessary strain on the structure below.

To achieve a high degree of waterproofing, PVC is sealed using hot air welding along seams and edges. Combine this with the material’s impressive vapor permeability credentials. Your property is protected.

Installation is straightforward, meaning costs range from between $7-11 per square foot.


TPO is similar in many ways to PVC, but the lifespan of TPO roofing is considerably shorter, with most lasting between 10-20 years. They are incredibly energy efficient thanks to the heat-welded seams and edges. This process keeps the temperature stable in the building below. Many people choose TPO when they’re looking for an upgrade from modified bitumen but aren’t able to invest in PVC membrane.

EPDM Membrane

EPDM is also known as rubber roofing. It’s made from a synthetic rubber material. Many flat roof owners choose EPDM, but it is even more popular on roofs that have a slight slope to them. This versatile option tends to come in either black, white, grey, or tan colors.

If you choose to install EPDM, you can expect it to last around 30 years or more. This makes it an attractive option when compared to other cheaper but less durable options. It’s also one of the easiest flat roof materials to maintain, but it can shrink and get punctured. If that happens, moisture and heat can quickly become a problem.

Costs per Flat Roof Material

It’s important to note that costs vary dramatically from state to state, especially in terms of labor. The following figures are ballpark figures that we’re sharing to give you an indication of the approximate cost.

Modified Bitumen: One of the most affordable options on our list. Expect to pay around $2 to $5 per square foot for materials and then $3 to $7 per square foot for installation.

Built-Up Roofs: A great deal of materials go into creating a BUR. That includes tar, gravel, fabric, and then the aggregate on top. This leads to a high labor cost too. You should expect to spend $3 to $6 per square foot on materials with an additional $4 to $8 per square foot on installation.

PVC Membrane: Stepping up in cost, PVC roofing costs $6 to $9 per square foot for materials and $4 to $8 per square foot for installation.

TPO: TPO is not dissimilar to PVC but comes in slightly cheaper. It costs $5 to $8 per square foot for materials and $3 to $6 per square foot for installation.

EPDM: EPDM rubber roofing is the entry-level membrane option on this list. You’ll find that materials cost around $1.50 to $4.50 per square foot, with installation expenses ranging from $3 to $7 per square foot.

Key Takeaways

There really is a great deal to consider when picking your flat roof material. Budget is often the primary driver for many people, but you’ll also need to factor in energy efficiency, aesthetics, waterproofing, maintenance, and the style of roof that you have.

  • Choose a material that best suits the roof itself. Some options will work better than others.
  • There are pros and cons to each material, weigh them carefully against each other.
  • If in doubt, always defer to professional assistance.

If you’d like some impartial, professional advice that will help you to make the choice, then speak with Trenton Roofing. We’re ready to assist you and will be happy to take your call.

Alex Valentino

Alex Valentino – Vice President

Leading the way for the company’s second generation of family and employee ownership, Alex’s mission is to create lasting relationships built on trust and respect by providing uncompromising workmanship and unparalleled customer service. With a focus on safety and consumer education, Trenton Roofing strives to set the bar for the advancement of the roofing industry and the betterment of our local communities. When he is not working, Alex can be found traveling with his fiancée, watching football or playing a relaxing round of golf with his friends.