January 19, 2023

EPDM Roofing: What Is It & Why Should You Care

EPDM is a type of synthetic rubber. Learn all about it's use in roofing.

Time to read:
5 Minutes
Written by
Jennifer Cote

You may get into a habit when selling roofs of always relying on the same materials all the time. Metal, slate, asphalt. Metal, slate, asphalt. But there are other options out there that may be a good fit for your customers.

In this blog, we're exploring EPDM roofing, including:

  • What it is
  • Pros and cons of it as a roof
  • Different ways you can install it
  • Cost comparisons to other materials

What is EPDM?

EPDM stands for ethylene propylene diene monomer. This material is a type of synthetic rubber.

Natural rubber comes primarily from the latex in Hevea Brasiliensis trees - or Para rubber trees. These are native to the Amazon rainforest. Natural rubber is not a hardy material. It does not withstand harsh temperatures, chemicals, or oils. Basically, natural rubber isn't strong or resilient.

EPDM rubber is made by combining three different chemical building blocks (monomers) – ethylene, propylene, and a diene component – through chemical reactions. The result is a rubber material that is resistant to UV radiation and can last, outdoors, upwards of 30 years.

commercial roof with epdm roofing material

A quick history

People have used rubber for thousands of years in different ways. Rubber boomed in the 1880s, though, with the need for rubber tires for bicycles. Then, when the automotive industry took off and tires expanded, the need for rubber boomed again.

EPDM was created in the 1950s to meet the demand for rubber as the boom continued. EPDM was made to be like natural rubber but can withstand heat, chemicals, and other harsh elements. Its invention diversified the use of rubber in a lot of ways. Industrial respirators, radiators, garden hoses, gaskets, washers, o-rings, and electrical tools all utilize EPDM.

In the 1970s, the cost of asphalt shingles went up because of the oil embargo. EPDM was used to create an alternative roof material.

EPDM for roofing

This roofing system started being used as a roofing material in the 1970s when an oil embargo drove up the cost of asphalt shingles.  The rubber is rolled into sheets that are laid out and attached to roofs. It's great for large, flat roofs like commercial properties.

EPDM is a great option for flat or low-slope roofs on:

  • Commercial buildings.
  • Detached garages or carparks
  • Sheds
  • Porches or entrance covers
  • House extension roofing
EPDM roofing on a residential home roof
EPDM roofing membrane used on a flat section of a residential home.

It can also be used for:

  • Rubber gutter lining
  • Balcony flooring
  • Green eco-roofs

Pros and cons of EDPM roofing

Like all roofing materials, the EPDM membrane roofing system has its own pros and cons.

Benefits of EDPM

EPDM roofing brings tremendous value for property owners who are looking for functional and low-cost roofing solutions. Here are some of its main benefits:

  • Super long lasting — it can last up to 30 years.
  • Lightweight — the material isn't really heavy and rolls out without adding much weight to a building. It weighs about a half pound per square foot for a 60 mil, fully-adhere, membrane-only EPDM.
  • Low risk of leaks — The long sheets are rolled out and have fewer seams that can leak.
  • Easy to install — Roll it out and adhere it to the roof.
  • Hail resistant — EPDM is rubber, so hail stones bounce on it.
  • Ozone resistant — Ozone resistance refers to the ability of a material to withstand exposure to the ozone, i.e. oxygen. EPDM has an ozone-resistant rating of 'A' up to 100°F
  • Commercial properties are ideal candidates for rubber roofing for two reasons: because the rooftop is usually not seen by the public and it does not need much maintenance or repair.
  • Cost-effective — It's lower cost than other roofing materials, which is great for large installations.
  • Base-layer material — EPDM can be used as a base if you want to add a rooftop garden, solar array, or another rooftop feature.
  • Color variations — This material is available in white or black. For commercial properties in the south, a white EPDM roof can lower your air conditioning costs and reduce your impact on urban warming.

Disadvantages of EPDM

There are a lot of pros to this roofing material. But, we need to look at the cons, too.

  • Prone to damage — These sheets aren't very thick and, while resistant to hail and weather, can tear or be punctured with sharp objects. Branches, rock, or other debris can damage the roof.
  • Shrinkage — Since EPDM is installed in long rolls, any shrinking of the material compromises the entire roof.
  • Seam failure — Although there are fewer seams than other roofing materials, there is still a chance of a seam leak with EPDM. If that happens, again, the entire sheet may need to be replaced.

3 ways to install this roof

There are 3 ways that you can install your EPDM roof:

1. Adhered

The rubber roofing is completely glued onto the roof sub-surface. This installation process is the most time-intensive, but the end result is also the highest-quality EPDM roofing solution. It is also a more expensive installation option than some faster methods.

2. Attached mechanically

This method is when sheets are attached to a roof with latches, fasteners, or screws. This is the most common installation method because it doesn’t take very long.

3. Ballasted

A ballasted method of installation is when the sheets are laid down and then "ballasted" to hold it down; No anchors or adhesives are used. Typically, gravel is used to hold down the EPDM, but stones or sand could be used, too.

ballasted EPDM roofing material
Ballasted EPDM roofing. Image from Professional Roofing.

Cost breakdown

Here is how the cost of EPDM roofing compares with some other popular roofing options:

  • EPDM: $6 to $8 per square foot
  • Asphalt Shingles: $3.50 to $4 per square foot
  • Tile: $8 to $10 per square foot
  • Metal: $7 to $11 per square foot
  • Slate: $20 to $25 per square foot

As you can see, EPDM is one of the more cost effective options on the market compared to other forms of roofing. Asphalt shingles are one of the most affordable materials, though, which is why so many residential homes use them.

Another option for your customers

There are a wide range of benefits and use cases for EPDM roofing. It's a real contender for commercial properties — and can even be used on some residential roofs if they have flat or low-slope roofs.

Keep EPDM in mind when pitching a roof to both commercial and residential customers, and feel free to use this blog to help educate them on the pros, cons, and use cases of this roof material.

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