Our Comprehensive Guide to Flat Roofs: Materials, Application, Design and More

flat roof guide

Flat roof systems require special attention that pitched roofs do not. If you own a home with a flat roof, it’s important to understand flat roof materials and construction, maintenance requirements, and everything else involved in taking care of your roof.


  1. Flat Roof Materials & Construction (top)
  2. Maintenance
  3. Flat Roof Myths and Facts
  4. Flat Roof Financing and Warranty with Capitol Improvements

Flat Roof Materials & Construction

flat roof materials

Homeowners can choose from several different types of flat roof materials, each of which has its own application and construction process, as well as its own pros and cons. The three main types of flat roofs are:

  • Modified Bitumen Systems or MBS, including:
    • Torch-down systems
    • Self-adhering systems
  • Thermoplastic polyolefin or TPO
  • Ethylene propylene diene monomer or EPDM

1. Modified Bitumen Systems (MBS)

Modified Bitumen Systems (MBS)

Modified bitumen roofs are one of the most popular types of flat roof systems in commercial/industrial applications, and they're used residentially, as well. Modified bitumen systems (MBS) have become a popular alternative to built-up roofs (BUR) because MBS is lighter and more durable.

Modified bitumen is a type of bitumen (tar or asphalt) combined with a modifying compound, thus improving its performance. The two most common compounds used to modify roofing bitumen are: atactic polypropylene (APP) and SBS (styrene-butadiene-styrene).

The two common methods for applying modified bitumen flat roof systems are:

  • Torch-Down Application (Torch Application)

Torch-down roof application is the process of adhering levels of modified bitumen (APP type) through the application of high heat.

  • Self-Adhering or Mop Application

SBS modified bitumen can be applied “cold” or without the use of high heat because of the addition of the styrene-butadiene-styrene compound. This process consists of applying self-adhering sheets or mopping the bitumen onto the roof platform.

Lifespan

10-12 years when properly applied in appropriate settings.

Benefits

  • It comes in a variety of different types/applications to suit each home and homeowner.
  • It is less complicated and requires less labor time to install than built-up flat roofs.
  • Less complicated installation also means there is a smaller possibility of errors during installation.
  • It is relatively low-cost.
  • Modified bitumen is more flexible than built-up roofs, making it more elastic and durable against freezing temperatures.
  • It can be recycled at the end of its lifespan.

Drawbacks

  • Torch application requires an open flame to apply, which requires special safety considerations.
  • Extra attention must be paid to overlapping joints and pieces to avoid leaks.

 

2. Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO)

TPO roofing is a type of synthetic “rubber roof”, consisting of a single-ply layer or membrane of thermoplastic polyolefin material. TPO is a popular material used in residential flat roofing applications because it is light-weight, highly reflective, and weather-resistant.

It comes in a standard white color, which helps prevent the absorption of heat. TPO roofing is also a popular choice for homes and buildings which have low-pitched (as opposed to flat) roofs because it can improve curb appeal with a unique appearance and is highly energy-efficient.

Lifespan

The average lifespan of TPO roofing is 20 years with proper installation and maintenance.

Benefits

  • It has superior water resistance and leak protection.
  • It is resistant to heat and UV rays.
  • It is relatively cost-effective.
  • TPO is relatively low-maintenance and easy to repair.
  • TPO roofing is 100% recyclable.
  • It offers reduced energy costs, especially in cooling costs.
  • Relatively resistant to tearing and scratching.
  • TPO is very lightweight, so roof decks and joints do not need reinforcement.

Drawbacks

  • TPO will age faster in regions with hotter temperatures.
  • It’s important to make sure your TPO roofing product is high-quality and installed by a qualified professional, since many poor-quality TPO roofing products exist in the market.

 

3. Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer (EPDM)

Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer (EPDM)

 

EPDM, or ethylene propylene diene monomer, is another type of synthetic rubber roofing material. Like TPO, EPDM is commonly used as a single-ply membrane. However, EPDM differs from TPO in several ways.

EPDM is an older roofing technology than TPO, so it is considered more time-tested and trusted. However, EPDM does not offer the same heat-resistance and energy-saving technology as TPO roofing.

Over the years, EPDM roofing has evolved and is now available in peel-and-stick membranes, making for quick application.

Lifespan

The average lifespan of an EPDM rubber roof is 25 years when properly applied in appropriate settings

Benefits

  • EPDM rubber roofing is waterproof (leaks are rare) and highly durable -- EPDM roofing doesn’t scratch easily.
  • Repairs are relatively simple.
  • EPDM is lightweight, so the roof deck typically doesn’t require reinforcement.
  • EPDM roofing has a longer lifespan on average than either TPO or MBS.

Drawbacks

  • Exterior pipes, HVAC systems, chimneys, etc. can cause leaks unless properly flashed.
  • It can be damaged by branches and storm damage.
  • It is more prone to damage from foot traffic during and after installation.
  • EPDM does not reflect heat like TPO.

 

Maintenance

flat roof maintenance

One of the biggest reasons homeowners avoid flat roofs is because they require more maintenance than pitched roofs. However, if you know how to properly maintain a flat roof, you can mitigate this issue and enjoy the benefits of your flat roof without worry.

The following are the most important considerations when it comes to maintaining your flat roof.

1. Traffic Damage

This is number one our list because, to perform any type of maintenance or check on your flat roof, you’ll need to climb up and step foot on the roof. Your weight shouldn’t be enough to cause damage if the roof is properly installed. However, scuffing, scratching, or digging into roofing materials with sharp tools can damage a flat roof’s moisture-protectant layers.

2. Drains and Scuppers

Keeping the roof’s drains and scuppers clear is the second-most important step in maintaining your flat roof. Clogged drains make it impossible for water to drain off of the roof, forcing water to pool up on the roof instead.

3. Leaves and Debris

Gently sweeping the roof to prevent leaves and debris from building up can go a long way in maintaining your flat roof. Especially in the autumn months when leaves begin to fall, you’ll want to make sure you remove them from your roof before they turn to mulch.

4. Low Branches

Check the trees surrounding your house for low-hanging branches that touch--or come close to touching--your roof. These can easily begin to scrape and damage the roof before you have time to notice.

5. Caulking and Flashing

When you check your roof for damage, always check the caulking and flashing. These two parts are easy to replace, but if not maintained, can damage your entire roof system.

6. Professional Help

While some minor damage can be fixed DIY with patch kits from your local home center, larger or deeper cracks and splits require professional tools, experience, and equipment. If you’re not confident that you can seal any damage in a way that is completely watertight, call in a professional contractor for help.

 

Flat Roof Myths and Facts
flat roof myths and facts

 

Flat roofs improve energy savings.

Fact:

TPO flat roofs work to repel UV rays and prevent heat absorption, which means you can spend less money on cooling your home during the hot summer months.

 

Maintenance and repairs are easier on flat roofs.

Myth:

While it may be easier to climb up and walk around on a flat roof, they also require special equipment and knowledge to maintain and repair. Flat roofs also require much more regular maintenance than pitched roofs.

 

Flat roofs add usable space to your home.

Fact:

If you’ve ever been in the upstairs or attic space of a home with a steep-pitched roof, you know just how much space those roofs can take up. Valuable square feet can be saved by choosing a flat roof, which leaves all of the space underneath fully usable.

A flat roof also adds extra usable space to the exterior of a home, whether that means attaching the HVAC unit to the roof or installing a garden or rain buffering system atop your home.

 

Flat roofs are less expensive to install or replace.

Myth:

Because they require special training and expertise to install correctly, flat roofs are typically more expensive to install or replace than pitched roofs.

 

Flat roofs are perfectly flat, so they can’t shed water.

Myth:

Building codes usually require even “flat” roofs to have a minimum pitch of at least 1%, or ⅛” per 1’. Some building codes even require a slope of at least 2%. This minimum slope is enough to accommodate water runoff and to help prevent water damage. Flat roofs also utilize waterproof membranes to deter moisture.

 

Flat roofs don’t last as long as pitched roofs.

Fact:

Because they are more prone to moisture, debris, and heat damage over time, flat roofs must be replaced more frequently than pitched roofs. However, modern materials like TPO and EPDM have extended the lifespan a great deal in recent decades, and flat roof technology continues to improve.

Flat roofs are a bad idea in hot regions.

Myth:

While they may not last as long in areas of extreme heat, flat roofs made of materials like TPO can work well in even the hottest regions. We recommend TPO because it is white in color and works to reflect heat away from the home. Issues like cracking and blistering usually occur from improper application of roofing materials like modified bitumen and synthetic rubber.

You can replace a flat roof yourself.

Myth:

DIY sites may claim that installing new flat roof materials like TPO and EPDM is simple enough to do yourself, but doing so can result in leaks, damage, and a roof replacement that lasts no more than a few years. Correctly replacing a flat roof requires the proper equipment, as well as professional training and experience.

 

Flat Roof Financing and Warranty with Capitol Improvements
Flat Roof Financing and Warranty with Capitol Improvements

With Capitol Improvements, you can trust your new flat roof to last for years or decades to come.

 

Capitol Improvements Flat Roof Warranty

Material Warranty Period
Modified bitumen 12 years
TPO 20 years
EPDM 25 years

 

Capitol Improvements also offers easy financing for projects like flat roof replacement, with options for great and not-so-great credit.

If you live the DC area, contact us at Capitol Improvements to learn about how you can finance or get started on your flat roof project.

Roof Financing (made easy): Here’s how you can pay for a new roof

easy roof financing

When you need a new roof, you don’t always have the luxury of paying in cash. Leaks and other damage may make roof replacement an immediate necessity, or you might not want to wait to improve your home. If you’re considering installing a new roof, roof financing can help you get there.


  1. Intro to Roof Financing (top)
  2. Roof Financing with Capitol Improvements
  3. Step-by-Step Guide to Roof Financing
    • Know What to Look For in a Lender or Creditor
    • Seek Estimates
    • Create a Budget
    • Compare Financing Options
  4. Financing Options
  5. Financing a Roof with Bad Credit
  6. Is Roof Financing Right for You?

 

Roof Financing with Capitol Improvements

Timberline HD Roof

Capitol Improvements knows that roof financing is often easier said than done. That’s why we work with Enerbank to help you simplify the process of applying for and receiving financing. If you live in Washington D.C., Maryland, or Virginia, we can make roof financing easy with payments from $99/month and a 15-minute phone application process. 

We work with Enerbank USA, a trusted and proven lender that provides home improvement loans. This allows us to provide our customers with flexible payment plans and an easy lending process.

 

Benefits of Financing with Capitol Improvements:

    • Payments from $99/month
    • 15-minute phone or online application process
    • Unsecured (signature) loans – no collateral
    • No prepayment penalties
    • 60-120 month loan terms
    • Low interest financing (based on creditworthiness)

To learn more about all of our financing options, contact us to get your fast and free quote. Otherwise, read on to find out everything you need to know about your other roof financing options.

 

Step-by-Step Guide to Roof Financing

  1. Know What to Look For in a Lender or Creditor

When you’re looking at options for financing a new roof, it’s important to know what to look for in a creditor or lender.

The following checklist will help you in the process of comparing creditors and lenders to finance you roof:

 

    • Low Interest Rates

Determine the interest rate on the loan or credit card for someone with your credit score. The lower, the better. Also check whether the interest rate is fixed or variable—fixed is generally preferable, as variable can mean it increases at any time.

 

    • Fast Funding

Determine how long the approval process will take and how long after that you can expect to receive the loan.

 

    • Low or No Fees

Are there any origination fees, and if so, how much will they cost? Many loans come without origination fees.

 

    • Long Term and Monthly Payments

How long is the loan repayment term, and how much are the monthly minimum payments?  Remember: a longer term means lower minimum monthly payments, but more interest paid overall.

 

    • Lower Minimum or Higher Maximum

Determine the minimum and maximum amount you can borrow with the lender or creditor.


If you need a large lump sum for one major project—like roof installation—a loan with a higher maximum is preferable.

If you’re planning to pay partially in cash and only need to borrow a relatively small amount, you’ll have to make sure the amount you want to borrow is at or above the lender’s minimum.

If you plan on continuing home improvement work, the option to use revolving credit (where you can use the credit over and over again, as long as you keep paying it off), may be a good choice.

    • Collateral or No Collateral

Some loans come with the requirement that you put up collateral against the loan—usually your home or other major belonging. If you’re not prepared to put your home at risk to receive the loan, you’ll want to steer clear of this type of loan.

    • No Prepayment Penalty

Check for the words “prepayment penalty” or "penalties". If the lender charges a penalty for paying off the loan early, that loan is most likely not your best choice.

    • Easy Payment Process

How easy does the lender or creditor make it to make payments? Is there an online portal or autopayments ?

 

2. Seek Estimates

When you’re financing a big project like roof installation, it’s important to borrow only as much as you need. That’s why the next step is seeking estimates for the cost of your roof installation.

If you already know which roofing company you want to work  with, and you trust their estimate for the work, you may not need to compare several different options.

However, if you haven’t worked with a company before, it is wise to compare several estimates from different companies to find the most competitive rate for the highest-quality work. Estimates should always include the cost of materials, as well as labor.

 

3. Create a Budget

Once you know how much the roof work will cost, it’s important to create a budget to hone in on how much you need to borrow.

Even a simple budget can help you determine how much wiggle room you have to pay cash up front and how much you can afford to pay monthly on a loan or credit card.

 

 

4. Compare Financing Options


The fourth step in financing your new roof is comparing different types of financing. You already know what to look for when it comes to a lender or creditor and their service terms, but you also have the following sources of financing to consider:

 

Company Financing

roof financing with a company

Home improvement companies often offer their own options to simply the task of financing a new roof.

Capitol Improvements works with Enerbank, which lets homeowners more easily apply for and take out home improvement loans.

Some home improvement companies also offer the option to take out a dedicated credit card for working with their business. Like with a personal loan, you will apply for the credit card via a creditor who partners with the home improvement company of your choice.

Benefits

    • Streamlines the process of completing your roofing work.
    • Usually a signature loan or dedicated credit card, which means there’s no collateral.
    • All of the same benefits of either a credit card or signature loan.
    • Fast application and approval process.
    • May include special terms or offers from the company you’re working with.

Drawbacks

  • For less-qualified applicants, may be difficult to get approved or may end up with high interest rates.
  • May be limited to work with that specific company if it’s a dedicated credit card.  

 

Home Improvement Loan

A home improvement loan is a secured or unsecured personal loan you take on for the purpose of home improvement.

Unsecured Loans: One type of personal loan is a signature loan, which is unsecured. That means that you won’t have to use your home or anything else as collateral to receive the loan. This is the type of loan that many home improvement companies and roofing companies may help you get through their own partner lender, but you can also seek a personal loan independently.

Secured Loans: Secured personal loans--those with collateral to back them up--are also available for home improvement. A secured loan can offer a lower APR but comes with the risk of losing your home if you default on your loan.

 

Wells Fargo
  • Typical APR between 6.99 and 33.99%
  • Typical loan term of 1 to 5 years
  • Loan amounts from $3,000 to $100,000
SoFi
  • Typical APR between 5% and 15%
  • Typical loan term of 3 to 7 years
  • Loan amounts from $5,000 to $100,000
LightStream
  • APRs starting at 4.99%
  • Loan terms up to 7 years
  • Loan amounts starting at $5,000

 

Benefits

  • If you choose a signature loan (unsecured loan) no collateral means the lender can’t take your home if you fail to repay your debt.
  • Fixed interest and a steady monthly payment.
  • Low interest rates for applicants with good credit scores.
  • Borrow up to $100,000 for well-qualified applicants.
  • You can receive funds in as little as a day with some lenders.
  • Usually apply within about 15 minutes over the phone or online.
  • No closing fees like those associated with home equity loans.

 

Drawbacks

    • High interest rates for applicants with bad credit.
    • Applicants may be more limited in the amount they can borrow if they are taking on multiple projects at once.

  • Less-qualified applicants may not be approved for a loan.
  • You may pay an origination fee if you have bad credit.

 

Credit Card

roof financing with credit card

Depending on your credit limit, you can also fund part or all of your roof installation with a personal credit card. This includes existing cards you may have, as well as new cards you take out specifically for the project.

If you’re planning to use a credit card for part or all of your roofing installation, make sure to check your contractor’s credit card limits. Companies usually have to pay fees on credit card transactions, so they may have a limit on the amount they let you put on a card.

Using a credit card to pay for a new roof is best for highly-qualified applicants who are prepared to pay off their debt within a fairly quick period of time (12 to 20 months).

 

US Bank visa Platinum Card
  • 0% for 20 billing cycles on Purchases and Balance Transfers.
  • Then ongoing APR of 11.49-23.49%.
  • $0 annual fee.
Chase Freedom
  • 0% for 14 months on Purchases and Balance Transfers.
  • Then ongoing of 16.49-25.24%.
  • $0 annual fee.
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • 0% for 15 billing cycles.
  • Then ongoing of 11.49-23.49%.
  • 0% annual fee.
Citi Simplicity Card
  • 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 18 months.
  • Then ongoing of 15.49-25.49%.
  • 0% annual fee.  

 

Benefits

  • Many cards offer 0% APR for a year or more, allowing you to pay zero interest if you pay off your debt in that time.
  • Fast application and approval process.
  • No annual fees.

Drawbacks

  • Higher interest rates after the 0% APR period.
  • Must pay off debt faster to avoid high interest rates (20 months as opposed to 60-120 months with a loan).
  • You may not get approved for the total amount that you actually need.
  • High fees if not paid off in time.

 

Home Equity Loan

A home equity loan—not to be confused with a home equity line of credit—is another financing option available to well-qualified applicants. A home equity loan is a lot like a personal loan, but it is secured with the equity in your home. The equity is the current market value of your home minus what you owe on the home. For example, if your home is worth $300,000, and you still have $100,000 left on your mortgage, your equity on the home is $200,000.

Your home equity loan will be calculated by most lenders at 80% of your equity on the home. If your equity is $200,000, the amount you can borrow would be 80% of that, which would be $160,000.

Benefits

  • Homeowners with a high amount of equity on their homes are able to borrow larger amounts.
  • Typically offers a lower APR than a standard personal loan.
  • Fixed APR means you’ll make the same payment every month for the life of the loan.

Drawbacks

  • You put your home at risk if you fall behind on payments.
  • Closing costs and fees can add up quickly on this type of loan.
  • Longer application and disbursement process.
  • Not an option for those with very low equity or no equity on their homes.

 

Home Equity Line of Credit

saving for a new roof

Home equity lines of credit are often confused with home equity loans, but they are not one and the same. Unlike a home equity loan, a home equity line of credit works like a credit card in that you can use the funds repeatedly, as long as you stay under your limit.

 

Benefits

  • Many HELOCs offer a “draw period” of up to 10 years, which is where you only pay interest while drawing funds from the line.
  • Generally lower fees than home equity loans.

Drawbacks

  • Variable APR means your interest rate could rise substantially.
  • An extended draw period means you’ll face higher payments later on.
  • Not available to those with low or no equity on their home.
  • Possible balloon payments at the end of loan term.
  • Origination fees.

Cash-Out Refinance

finance roof with a home equity line

If the cost of your new roof is substantial, cash-out refinance may be one of your best options. A cash-out refinance is where the homeowner takes a new mortgage that’s greater than their existing mortgage, plus settlement costs. In this way, you as the homeowner fold the cost of your new roof in with your mortgage.

Benefits

    • Better interest rate than other loan options.
    • Interest you pay on the loan is tax-deductible.
    • Higher maximum borrowing limit for qualified homeowners.
    • Some homeowners may qualify for cash-out refinance backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). This is known as an FHA loan.

Drawbacks

  • Bank may charge for property appraisal, document fees, and attorney fees.
  • Increased mortgage amount and mortgage payment term, which can put you at risk of foreclosure if you don’t pay.

 

Financing a Roof with Bad Credit

Roof financing with bad credit

If you have good or even average credit, financing your roof can be fairly straightforward. For homeowners with fair or poor credit, however, the options may be more limited.

If you have bad credit and need to finance a roof installation, you may not qualify for certain loan options, but you can still qualify for loans with higher interest rates.

 

Loan and credit options for low credit scores:  

 

Avant
  • Highly reputable source of low-credit loans.
  • 9.99%-35.99% APR
  • 2-5 year term
  • 4.75% origination fee
  • Funding in one day if approved
One Main Financial
  • Loans with no minimum credit score*
  • 9.99%-35.99% APR
  • 2-5 year term
  • Varying origination fees

*Must earn at least $20,000 per year to qualify.

Digital Federal Credit Union -
  • Visa Platinum Secured Credit Card for low credit
  • 13% variable APR
  • $0 annual fee

 

Capitol Improvements works with Enerbank to make roof financing possible for nearly everyone. If you have fair or poor credit, Enerbank can suggest loan terms and an interest rate that may still make financing worthwhile.  

Is Roof Financing Right for You?

If you can’t pay for a new roof in cash, roof financing may be your best or only option. Roof financing with the right lender is a great choice if you need work done quickly or you want to add value to your home. Armed with all of the information you need to choose a lender and a source of financing, you have everything you need to get started with roof financing.

If you live in the Washington D.C., Virginia, or Maryland area, Capitol Improvements can make financing your new roof fast and easy with payments from $99/month and a 15-minute phone application process. Call today or request a quote to get started today!