EPDM rubber is one of the most common low-slope roofing systems for homes featuring low-slope or flat roofs.
EPDM in a Nutshell
Rubber membranes for low-slope and flat roofs are made from EPDM rubber, a type of synthetic rubber characterized by a wide variety of applications.
The E in EPDM refers to Ethylene, P refers to Propylene, D refers to Diene, and M or Monomer refers to its classification.
The properties of natural rubber are modified to serve the purpose of synthetic rubber — synthetic rubber has improved weather resistance qualities as a result.
Most homeowners can expect to pay between $7.50 and $14.50 per square foot to install a new EPDM rubber membrane on a typical flat roof. This translates to a total project cost range of $11,250 to $21,750 for a typical 15-squares (1,500 square feet) low-slope roof replacement.
The total project cost can be higher or lower depending on the condition of the existing roof and the underlying deck, type and thickness of insulation, and the number of roof penetrations like chimneys and skylights. The overall roof difficulty, accessibility, and project location will also greatly impact costs.
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For comparison, PVC and TPO roofs cost an average of $8.50 to $15.50 per square foot installed, including materials, professional installation, and labor warranty.
Potential Issues Requiring Frequent Repairs
By far, the most frequently encountered problem with the EPDM rubber membrane is that it often fails at the seams due to freezing and refreezing of pooling water in contact with the seams, or because of the drying out of the glue due to age and/or improper installation, which happens quite often, especially if the contractor who installed the EPDM system in question is more of a generalist with primary focus on asphalt roofs, as opposed to a specialist with exclusive focus on low-sloped roofs.
Did you know? A skill gap in installing EPDM rubber and flat roofs in general is a common theme in residential flat roofing jobs. This is not the case in the commercial flat roofing segment because there is a sufficient volume of flat roofing work for commercial contractors to fully develop a specialist level expertise.
In the northeast, a typical EPDM rubber roof will likely need to be repaired within five to fifteen years from the day it was installed due to leaky EPDM membrane seams. A professional repair involves cleaning up, re-gluing and re-seaming and patching over the failed seams.
EPDM rubber roofing was created several decades ago, during a time when builders and architects who were responsible for specifying roofing systems and waterproofing materials for commercial flat roofs, were in quite a dire need for a simplified low-slope roofing system that was easier and quicker to install than the traditional built up roofs (BUR) or torched down roofs responsible for a fair share of fires during the installation.
Notably, EPDM rubber roofs did not pose the danger of fire and offered a fairly reasonable service lifespan for the money. Moreover, EPDM membranes did not require any special equipment such as torch for the installation, which greatly simplified the commercial project permitting, installer training, and the overall installation complexity.
Rubber roofs were also significantly cheaper to produce and install, resulting a positive cost-benefit return. Because there was no similar low-cost low-slope roofing product at the time, EPDM quickly gained a widespread acceptance as the new flat roofing alternative.
Nowadays, rubber roofing competes head-to-head against PVC and TPO roofing membranes.
Advantages of EPDM Rubber
One of the greatest advantages of EPDM rubber is that it has a strong resistance to water and the rubber membrane will not pollute rainwater, which means that a homeowner can store and use the collected rainwater for cleaning, personal hygiene, and other non-potable uses.
Inspiration Credits: Calico Studio
Resistant to UV, Weather, and Heat
Its outstanding resistance to UV rays and its stability against weather influences are two of the main properties of EPDM rubber roofs. It can survive intense temperature and it is also resistant to fire. Aside from that, it has exceptional electrical insulating properties, and it is resistant to steam and polar substances.
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Durability Considerations & Better Alternatives
Because of its long-lasting elasticity and flexibility, rubber roofs are less likely to crack. They are more durable and can last longer than a lot of other types of roofs. They do not require heavy maintenance aside from rubber membrane seam repairs that can fail due to standing water, or due to glue drying out.
In our view, a better alternative to EPDM rubber is a specially-reinforced PVC membrane that is hot air welded, creating a super-strong bond in between the seams that become impenetrable to water, rather than simply glued at the seams.
As you can imagine, any glued seams will eventually come apart due to breaking down of chemical bonds from weathering effects, standing water and freeze-and-thaw cycles.
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