How Rubber Roofs Work

A new large house in suburbia.

With the exception of those ra­re home repair enthusiasts, one of the most dreaded projects for homeowners is roof repair. A leaky roof can cause major damage to the structure of your home and, if left unchecked, could eventually lead to the damage of many possessions inside your home. Asphalt shingles, which are what you'll find on most roofs, generally only last 15 to 20 years and can require a lot of maintenance and upkeep.

If you're looking for an alternative to the exhausting process of roof repair and maintenance with asphalt shingles, you may want to consider rubber roofing. Worried that rubber roofing sounds like stretching out a dozen Goodyear treads over your home? Don't worry--although rubber roofing materials can come in a roll for buildings with flat roofs, you can also buy rubber shingles, which look much like slate shingles and come in a variety of colors and designs [source: The Roofery].


­Another advantage to using rubber roofing materials is that most rolls and shingles are composed of recycled tires, saw dust and slate dust, which are much more eco-friendly than other roofing materials. Although rubber-roofing shingles can be more expensive than asphalt shingles, rubber roofs are much more durable and less likely to crack and crumble through tumultuous weather and drastic changes in temperature. Rubber shingles are also much cheaper and lighter than slate shingles--if that's the style you're looking for--and are similarly fire resistant. Rubber roofing materials also last much longer and require less maintenance--most manufacturers warranty their roofs for thirty to fifty years, and some even carry a lifetime warranty. The first rubber roof, installed on a home in Wisconsin in 1980, is still holding strong today [source: Keon]

Read on to learn about rubber-roof installation.


Installing Rubber Roofs

In addition to durability and low-maintenance, another major advantage to using rubber shingles or rolls on your roof is that installation is much quicker and easier than installing or repairing asphalt or slate shingles. In general, installing a large rubber roll is the most beneficial and cost effective method for rubber ­roofing. Because the large rubber rolls have no seams and are very durable in extreme weather, the chance of leaks and cracks are extremely low. Rubber shingles, on the other hand, will likely cost more to roof your home, and will need to be nailed down in overlapping rows, much like other types of shingles. Rubber shingles, however, are much lighter than asphalt and slate shingles, making them easier to ship to your home and to move from the ground up to your roof [source: ChikyMiky].

­Before you install your new rubber roof, you should make sure to strip your roof down to a plywood base, as most manufacturers refuse to recognize warranties if the rubber roof is simply installed directly on top of previous roofing. Once you've stripped down your roof, measure and cut for any chimneys, vents and antennas before preparing the adhesive. After you've made the necessary adjustments to the roll and cut it to the shape of your roof, sweep your roof to remove all dirt, dust and debris and then apply the adhesive. Roll out the rubber across the adhesive, trim where necessary, and check for air bubbles. If everything appears in order, wait one half hour for the adhesive to bond and then make any last minute adjustments needed [source: Old House Web].


Rubber shingles can be used in addition to a flat rubber roof to improve the appearance. Before adding any rubber shingles, cover any seams with latex tape or sealant. Rubber shingles are nailed to the roof in rows, much like asphalt shingles.

Check out the next page to learn how to care for your newly installed rubber roof.


Care of Rubber Roofs

One of the biggest advantages of installing a rubber roof on your home is that it will last for a long time with much less maintenance required than with a traditional asphalt or slate roof. Depending on the quality of the rubber roofing system you have installed on your home, your rubber roof may require a very limited amount of maintenance -- some roofing systems claim that they will never crack or leak if installed properly [source: The Home N' Garden Center].

­However, if there is a problem with your rubber roof -- whether as a result of faulty installation or a breakdown in the rubber, it's usually a quick and simple fix. Like any roofing material, rubber expands and contracts as temperatures fluctuate. For leaks and cracks in the rubber, simply cover them with a latex tape or sealant. If a portion of your roof is especially wrought with cracks, you may want to consider patching it with new rubber shingles or with a smaller roll of rubber roofing.


To be safe, many homeowners with rubber roofs opt to coat the entire rubber roof system in liquid rubber or a similar liquid sealant to prevent upkeep and maintenance down the road [source: Gupta].

Now you are equipped with the basic knowledge of how to install and care for rubber roofs. For more complex rubber-roofing systems, it's probably wise to hire a certified contractor to install it for you; however, flat roof and other simple roof designs can easily be installed on your own.

To read about other home improvement topics, check out the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Rel­ated HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • ChikyMiky. "Installation of Your Rubber Roof." (Accessed 12/14/2008)
  • Firestone. "Over 1,000,000,000 sqm of proven performance." (Accessed 12/14/2008)
  • Gupta, Rachna. "Benefits of Rubber Roofing Systems and Rubber Shingles." (Accessed on 12/14/2008)
  • The Home N' Garden Center. "Rubber Roofing: A Top Alternative." (Accessed on 12/14/2008)
  • InfoPlease. "Goodyear, Charles." (Accessed 12/14/08)
  • KidCyber. "Rubber From Trees." (Accessed 12/14/2008)
  • Keon, Philip. "Self Installed Rubber Roofing: Proper Prepping Is Essential." (Accessed 12/14/2008
  • Old House Web. "Roofing: Rubber Roofs." (Accessed 12/14/2008)
  • The Roofery. "Rubber Roofing Shingles." (Accessed 12/14/2008)