Everything You Need to Know about Roll Roofing

Published: Oct. 12, 2018

Roll roofing for flat roofs is available in rolls that typically vary in width from 6 to 20 feet wide and up to 100 feet long. Most of the roll roofing available is made from a variant of rubber. Roll roofing includes materials like:

  • EPDM Roofing: Rubber roofing that is made of a combination of recycled rubber, slate dust and sawdust.
  • Rubber Roofing: The most popular roll roofing available and also the most affordable option.
  • Bitumen Roofing: Uses a type of asphalt and is supplied in self-adhesive or cold-press adhesive rolls.
  • TPO Roofing: Generally made of a combination of polypropylene and ethylene-propylene rubber.

Asphalt roll roofing, also known as selvage roofing is commonly used for buildings that have a low-sloped roof pitch in North America. Made like asphalt shingles, an organic fiberglass or felt mat is saturated with asphalt and then faced with a granular stone aggregate. It typically comes in 18 or 36 inch wide rolls. Roll roofing is generally installed as a single ply and there is hardly the need to overlap.

History of Roll Roofing

The American composition roofing industry became prominent in the 1840s and it was prospering by the 1880s. Asphalt pressed into roofing materials were packaged as long strips or rolls to be used on flat roofs. Roll roofing emerged in the late 19th century and was a common roofing material by the beginning of the twentieth century. It wasn’t long before it was replaced by asphalt shingles in 1903. This was because asphalt shingles were easy to transport and the materials used for asphalt shingles were available in good supply during World War I.


  • Easy Installation: Roll roofing is supplied in large rolls that can easily be rolled over a flat roof and installed in place using roofing adhesives or nails.
  • Cost-Efficiency: Roll roofing is the most affordable roofing option available. As long as the surface of the roof is smooth, there is no added expense of buying an underlay since the rolls can be laid and secured evenly.
  • Strengthening Options: To strengthen the roof and add durability, bitumen roof paint as well as a solar reflective coating can be applied to the roof. A layer of underlay can also be installed.
  • A Range of Lifespans: Depending on the type of roofing, a rolled roof can generally last anywhere between 10 to 20 years and more.
  • Waterproofing: Rolled roofs can easily provide protection from water for up to 10 years.

Disadvantages of Rubber Roofing

  • Not Suitable for all Roofs: Roll roofing is suitable for smaller flat roofs on outbuildings like garages and garden sheds. It is not recommended for a primary home.
  • Limited Options: Roll roofing is generally supplied in a black color and therefore is suitable for applications where curb appeal is not a priority.
  • Longevity: The average lifespan of roll roofing is about 7 to 8 years, considerably shorter than other roofing materials that can last up to 15 years and more.
  • Wear and Tear: Materials used in roll roofing like EPDM and rubber are all prone to expansion and contraction. The more seams the roof has the more areas on the roof that can pull away and cause damage and leakages.

Alternatives to Roll Roofing

Roll roofing is suitable for low-pitched flat roofs. Alternatives to roll roofing include:

Metal Roofs:

Standing seam metal roofs can be installed on a low slope that is no less than 1 in 12 (1:12) pitch. Standing seam roofs can be installed over existing built-up roofs with ease. Seams are generally strong and offer protection against water. Metal roofs are energy-efficient, durable and require little maintenance.

Asphalt Composition Shingles:

Asphalt shingles are mainly made using fiberglass or organic felt. These shingles work great for re-roofing and waterproofing applications. Asphalt shingles are widely used for roofs in North America due to their reasonable costs. Asphalt shingles come in small pieces and hence, take longer to install as compared to roll roofing.

Coated Roof Systems:

Coated roof systems work well in prolonging the lifespan of an existing roof system. Roof coatings have become cost-effective alternatives to roof replacements. The coatings can be applied using a brush, roller or sprayed directly on the roofs. Roofs can be coated with foam, solar reflective paint, elastomeric coatings that include Silicone, Butyl, Acrylic and Polyurethane and more.

Fire, Rain and Wind Ratings

Roll roofing can offer protection from fire, rain and wind depending on the materials used in the rolled roof as well as the underlayment used. Customers should always use a fire rated roll roofing product. Rolled roofing that uses asphalt offers good protection from fire, water and strong winds. Asphalt products are proven to resist extreme temperatures are manufactured to comply with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standards for fire and wind-resistance. Bitumen Polyester membrane rolls also offer good waterproofing. Rolled roofs can also be painted with waterproofing sealants.

Solar Reflectance

A flat roof receives about 1,000 watts of sunlight per square meter in the midday sun. Roll roofing, that is typically black, will absorb most of the energy from the sun, heating the roof as well as building. Any type of roll roofing system can offer solar reflectance. The black membranes can be coated with white paint to make them reflective. A clean, white roof reflects around 85% of the sunlight and can considerably save on energy.


The cost of roll roofing will vary based on materials, location, installation and other factors. On average, rolled roofing materials cost anywhere from $30 to $100 per square. Installation of the rolled roof can cost $1.50 to $3.00 per square foot.