When it comes to rubber roof replacement, the only name you need to know is EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer). These rubber roofing membranes are known in the Commercial Roofing industry for their exceptional durability across many climates and long lifespan compared to other types of flat roof systems.
As a reliable synthetic rubber roofing material, EPDM can endure harsh weather conditions and last for over 30 years when installed according to manufacturer specifications.
But how do you get ensure the rubber roof you install maximizes its lifespan potential?
We’ll cover that below and reveal two examples of EPDM installs lasting over 40 years.
What is the Lifespan of EPDM Rubber Roofing?
EPDM roofs can last up to 40 years or more when installed by a manufacturer-certified roofer using a fully-adhered application method, as long as proper maintenance schedules are kept for the roof’s full lifecycle.
Here’s some proof:
EPDM began gaining popularity in the 1960’s and some of the original installations from that time period are still protecting their buildings in their original form, like at Albo Manufacturing in Wisconsin which we will cover below.
While 40 years lifespans may not be the norm, there are more than one example of EPDM rubber membranes lasting 4 decades.
Long-term weathering studies conducted by the EPDM Roofing Association on 28-32 year old EPDM roof installations found they were performing adequately too.
If you’re planning a flat roof replacement in Boston or another part of the country, know that with proper installation and maintenance, this can be your last flat roofing install for almost half a century.
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How Material Chemistry Impacts EPDM Roof Lifespan
EPDM roofing membranes are composed of ethylene and propylene derived from oil and natural gas.
Their cross-linked thermoset material gives EPDM roofing dimensional stability and the ability to recover after temperature fluctuations or weather events. Science.
What Is Dimensional Stability?
Dimensional stability in the context of EPDM roofing refers to the rubber’s ability to maintain its original dimensions and shape over time despite being exposed to a range of environmental factors, such as temperature fluctuations, moisture, UV radiation, and physical stresses.
This is important because it means that your EPDM roof won’t experience significant shrinking, swelling, warping as it ages or under your local region’s ever-changing weather conditions.
Plus, with elasticity over 300%, EPDM can absorb potential impacts of hail, tree branches, and other debris if your building is in a location that leaves it exposed to flying objects. This doesn’t mean the rubber stretches like a rubber band, you can’t jump on it like a trampoline unfortunately, it just means that the chemical properties can better handle environmental changes than a roofing material like TPO or Asphalt Shingles can.
How Rubber Roof Longevity Compares to Other Roof Types
Rubber roof coverings have an impressive lifespan range of 40-50+ years with proper maintenance, exceeding most other roofing materials. Here’s how EPDM’s lifespan compares to other roof types:
- 3 Tab Asphalt: 20 years
- Architectural Asphalt: 30+ years (up to 50 with the right installer)
- TPO: 20+ years
- PVC: 15-30 years
- Modified Bitumen: 10-20 years
- Metal: 40-60 years
- Slate: 50+ years
- Synthetic Slate: 30+ years
As you can see, EPDM rubber’s longevity as a roofing material is only matched by slate and metal roofs when correctly installed and cared for. And since slate and metal are normally only installed on pitched roofs, these types have no direct comparison as you plan your flat roofing project.
The most common roof material you’ll be comparing rubber (EPDM) with is TPO, and lifespan differences are not close (on top of TPO being more expensive).
How Climate and Environmental Factors Impact Rubber Membrane Durability
All roofing materials are subject to environmental stressors that vary based on the building’s region and location. EPDM is no exception. The most common factors that can speed up wear and tear and end up shortening the lifespan of your EPDM roof include:
EPDM membranes contain carbon black to resist UV radiation. But over decades, intense sunlight can still cause the rubber to become brittle and crack.
A roof in South Carolina, for example, will see more UV exposure than one in Massachusetts, but other factors associated with local climates in the Northeast impact Massachusetts roofs, like extreme temperature swings.
Regular recoating can help deflect UV rays, but may not be a cost effective solution when weighing the lifecycle cost of rubber membranes.
A more long-term solution is White EPDM membranes, which have increased in popularity as Energy Efficiency becomes more of a conversation throughout the Construction Industry and with International and Local Building Codes for Roof Replacement. White EPDM will be less impacted by the Sun than black colored rubber.
While EPDM’s dimensional stability and elasticity help the membrane remain flexible in temperatures ranging from -45°F to 300°F, sustained exposure to lots of temperature extremes can speed up material degredation over time.
Temperature swings like this are more common in Northern climates with long harsh winters and quick but hot summers.So although areas like New England see less direct sunlight than flat roofs in the Southeast USA, EPDM up North will generally have a slightly shorter lifespan due to these temperature swings.
Investigating Thermal Stability by EPDM Roof Type
Thermal stability is the ability of a material to maintain its original properties and structure when exposed to high temperatures. This measure of a material’s strength indicates how well the material, in our case EPDM rubber, resists degradation and significant changes in physical properties under significant heat stress.
According to Penn and Paroli, a study of the thermal stability of EPDM roofing materials shows that “specific formulations of EPDM membranes exhibit less effect from heat aging than others, indicating variations in the material’s stability and durability based on composition”.
The material type matters when you choose a rubber membrane for you building, so make sure your roofing contractor chooses one from one of the best EPDM membrane manufacturers.’The material type matters when you choose a rubber membrane for you building, so make sure your roofing contractor chooses one from one of the best EPDM membrane manufacturers.
EPDM’s elasticity allows it to withstand winds up to 55 mph and resist hail up to 2 inches without damage. In a scenario where winds are blowing at a speed of 55 mph, a rigid material might crack or break under pressure from the blowing. EPDM’s chemical properties help it fair better under these conditions.
The impact of hail on a rubber membrane is similar to how wind affects the single-ply material. When hail that is sized up to 2 inches in diameter falls on an EPDM roof, the material’s elasticity allows it to absorb the impact without cracking or puncturing.
This special rubber isn’t invincible though. The hail isn’t going to bounce right off, but it can fair better than other roof materials under inclement weather conditions.
In severe hailstorms where hailstones are larger than 2 inches, roof impact can be strong enough to puncture the EPDM material depending on the angle and speed at which the hail hits.
No roof is indestructible to weather, but EPDM does a great job at protecting your building from what Mother Nature throws at it.
Key Material and Installation Factors Influencing Rubber Roof Lifespans
What enables EPDM roofing membranes to last so long compared to other roofing products?
There are four key factors:
As discussed, EPDM’s cross-linked thermoset material structure makes it dimensionally stable and recoverable compared to thermoplastic alternatives. The chemicals in EPDM material can stretch over 300% without permanent deformation.
It may sound like common sense, but thicker rubber roofing membranes last longer. 90 mil will last longer than 60 and 60 longer than 45. Roof Hub recommends 60 mil for most flat roofing installations in Boston and in most New England roofing markets like Northern Connecticut.
Thicker rubber lasts longer because it can handle environmental stressors like UV radiation, temperature fluctuations, and physical damage much better than thinner rubber. Increased thickness correlates with a greater ability to absorb and distribute mechanical stresses over a larger volume roof area, which reduces the possibility of punctures and tears. Less ripping and tearing keeps the insulation and substrate in its original form longer, which directly correlates to a longer lifespan.
With UV radiation and extreme temperature resistance, EPDM stands up to hail, heavy snow, storms, and other severe weather events better than most roofing membranes over a long period.
Installation and Maintenance
Proper types of EPDM application methods like fully-adhered systems enable roof performance up to and over 30 years. Preventative maintenance is important if you want your roof to last this long, so it’s best to discuss maintenance with your contractor of choice when your roof is initially replaced.
When these longevity factors align, EPDM rubber roofing continues providing resilient protection for decades. The material properties and large sheet sizes reduce vulnerability when backed up by professional installation that follows manufacturer specs, on top of routine care.
The skill of the installation crew and adherence to these manufacturer guidelines have a significant impact on the lifespan of an EPDM roof and can’t be taken lightly, especially if installing using the fully-adhered application type (which Roof Hub recommends). Proper attachment is critical, because while membrane seams may appear intact on the day of the installation, even the slightest errors in bonding to the substrate can allow moisture to seep in, leading to building leaks over time.
Real-World Examples of EPDM Roof Longevity
Want a few case studies of EPDM lasting for a long time?
You’re in luck…
Here are two notable examples of EPDM roofing systems with exceptional lifespans:
Albo Manufacturing EPDM Roofing Lifespan Case Study
- Installed: 1980
- Location: West Bend, Wisconsin
- Performance at 40 Years: Minimal cracking/weakening
- Withstood: Tornadoes, record heat, wildfires, thunderstorms
- 40+ Year EPDM Roof Lifespan Reported by: Holcim Elevate (formally Firestone)
Firestone Rubber Roof Lifespan Case Study
- Installed: 1991
- Location: Indiana
- Performance at 30 Years: Still watertight
- Withstood: Hailstorms, heavy snow, 100°F summers
Both roofs show EPDM rubber roofing’s resilience against extreme Midwestern weather over 30-40 years with careful maintenance. While the Midwest has a much different climate than the Northeast, what’s important to consider is the variety of weather these roofs have seen over the course of almost half a century.
EPDM’s lifespan significantly exceeds the average TPO roof. And since technology for adhesives and seam tapes are only improving, you can be confident in your choice to install an EPDM roof now and into the future.
Maintenance Regimens That Prolong EPDM Roof Lifespans
A great installation sets the stage for long-term performance, but your new single-ply membrane can only achieve exceptional lifespan results seen in the case studies above if it is maintained and cared for consistently.
The most important maintenance steps for extending EPDM rubber lifespan include:
- Regular inspections to spot potential leaks, especially around seams, drains, and roof-wall intersections.
- Clearing debris around drains and penetrations to ensure adequate water flow and reduction of ponding.
- Performing repairs quickly to prevent further damage. If you see something, say something (to your local roofer)
- Re-coating the membrane every 10-15 years can be a way to extend the service life.
Facility managers should establish a maintenance plan for their EPDM roof as soon as it’s installed. Planning ahead helps the building’s staff catch potential issues while they are still small and easily fixed, so you can avoid costly large-scale repairs.
EPDM Ruber Roofs Can Last 50 Years or More (When Installed Correctly)
For building owners and property managers needing durable low-maintenance roofing, EPDM is the best choice. It will cover you against all elements, whether its rain, hail, snow, or wind. With routine inspections and care, these roofs will provide decades of uninterrupted protection if you are set up for long-term success by your Flat Roofing Contractor.
Free Rubber Roof Estimate for Long Lifespan Installations
Need a new EPDM roof?
Contact Roof Hub at 857-237-7648. We’ll install your roof in accordance with manufacturer specifications and create an install and maintenance plan that aligns with your building’s location and the resources you have. You can start your flat roof estimate online now, then if the numbers look good, we will come out to the property to do a pre-install inspection.