As you can guess from the name, a flat roof is a roof that is completely level or very close to it. Flat roofs can be found on homes and buildings throught the United States, but are more common in areas with hot, dry climates, where water drainage is not a major concern.
Built-Up-Roof (BUR) / Multi-Ply
With this type of flat roof, the name says it all. Multiple layers of water-resistant material are "built-up" with layers of tar or asphalt between them. The roof is finished off with ballast made up of tar and gravel or stone. This is usually the cheapest type of flat roofing, but the multiple layers add weight to the roof and extra support is needed. It is also harder to find leaks with so many levels of material.
Single-Ply Rubber or Plastic
There are three different type of single-ply (membrane) roofs, all made from either plastic or synthetic rubber. These are: EPDM, PVC, and TPO. Each of these materials has its own methods of installation, and can range from easy (fasteners or glue) to difficult (using hot asphalt as a glue) to dangerous (heating the material with a torch, forming a bond). Single-ply roof materials are more expensive BUR, especially if you select lighter colors for heat reflection. Since this material is thinner than other solutions, proper inspection and regular maintenance are crucial.
Consider modified bitumen as a combination of the previous two materials. Modified bitumen consists of multiple layers of tar or asphalt that has been combined with polymers similar to those found in single-ply applications. Modified bitumen is applied in rolls. It can use "hot" methods for adhesion, such as asphalt or torches, or can be applied "cold," as peel-and-stick products are available. Modified bitumen's price point is between multi- and single-ply materials.
Metal Flat Roofing
The oldest method of flat roofing is flat-seamed metal roofing, where sheets of copper, steel, or galvanized iron are attached at the seams by soldering them flush at the joints. Metal roofing material is the most expensive solution and has its own variety of regular maintenance needed. Entire sheets need to be replaced if damaged by the elements, and worn-out joints will need to be soldered again. Metal roofing is often attractive, however, due to its ability to reflect light and heat.
Each flat roofing method has its pros and cons that will need to be evaluated before deciding on which material is right for you. Regardless of materials, flat roofing systems have their own requirements for protection, regular inspection and maintenance to ensure performance and prolong the life of your roof.
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