Rolled Roofing Basics: Everything You Need to Know

a roofing contractor laying rolled roofing

Rolled roofing is a simple, cost-effective roofing material primarily used for buildings with low-slope roofs. It consists of long strips of mineral-impregnated and asphalt-coated material, often topped with mineral granules. These rolls are typically about 3 feet wide and can cover approximately 100 square feet per roll.

This type of roofing is known for its easy installation process, which typically involves rolling the material out on the roof surface and nailing it in place.

Its lightweight and ease of handling make it a popular choice for DIY projects, particularly for structures like sheds, barns, workshops, and other outbuildings. The cost of rolled roofing also makes it a popular choice for homeowners.

Types of Rolled Roofing

rolled roofing being laid on an apartment block

Rolled roofing, while seemingly straightforward, comes in a few different types, each suited for specific purposes and preferences. The primary types include:

  1. Smooth Finish Rolled Roofing:
    • This type features a smooth, sleek surface without the granular texture seen in other varieties.
    • It’s primarily used for utilitarian purposes on structures like sheds, workshops, or low-slope sections of residential roofs.
    • The smooth surface is often coated with a reflective material, which can help in reducing heat absorption.
    • It tends to be less durable than other types and might require a coating of roof paint or another protective layer for extended lifespan and improved weather resistance.
  2. Mineral-Surfaced Rolled Roofing:
    • This is the more common type of rolled roofing and is similar in appearance to traditional asphalt shingles.
    • The surface is embedded with mineral granules, which provide added protection against the elements and UV rays.
    • It offers better durability compared to the smooth finish type and comes in a variety of colors.
    • Mineral-surfaced rolled roofing is often used for small commercial buildings or residential outbuildings, and it can be a more attractive option compared to the smooth finish.
  3. Saturated Felt Rolled Roofing:
    • This variety is made of felt material saturated with asphalt, making it more flexible.
    • It’s typically used as an underlayment for other roofing materials rather than as a primary roofing cover.
    • Saturated felt rolled roofing adds an extra layer of protection against leaks and is often applied beneath shingles or tiles.
  4. Rubber Membrane (EPDM) Rolled Roofing:
    • Though not strictly the same as traditional rolled roofing, rubber membrane roofing, or EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer), is a rolled material often used in similar applications.
    • It’s highly durable, resistant to weathering and UV rays, and is used primarily on flat or low-slope roofs.
    • This type of roofing is more expensive than traditional rolled roofing materials but offers a significantly longer lifespan and better performance in harsh weather conditions.

Advantages of Rolled Roofing

roofing contractors laying a roof


The cost-effectiveness of rolled roofing is one of its most significant advantages, making it a popular choice for various applications. Here’s an expanded look at this aspect:

  • Low Material Costs: Rolled roofing is one of the most affordable roofing materials available in the market. Its manufacturing process is less complex than that of shingles or tiles, which translates into lower costs for consumers.
  • Coverage: Due to its large coverage area per roll, fewer materials are required to cover a given roof area compared to traditional shingles.
  • Reduced Labor Costs: The installation process for rolled roofing is straightforward and much faster than that for shingles or tiles. This simplicity and speed of installation mean reduced labor costs, which can be a significant portion of a roofing project’s total expense.
  • Ease of Installation: Its ease of installation also makes it a viable option for DIY projects, potentially eliminating labor costs entirely for homeowners who are handy and confident in their roofing abilities.
  • Transportation: The lightweight nature of rolled roofing makes it easier and less expensive to transport compared to heavier roofing materials.


Rolled roofing is particularly well-suited for low-slope or flat roofs, and this suitability stems from several key characteristics of the material:

  • Seamless Coverage: Rolled roofing is applied in large, continuous strips, which means it has fewer seams than traditional shingle roofing.
  • Flexibility: The material used in rolled roofing is more flexible compared to standard shingles. This flexibility allows it to conform better to slight dips and rises that are often found in low-slope and flat roofs.
  • Waterproof Qualities: Rolled roofing materials are impregnated with asphalt, which provides excellent waterproofing properties.
  • Easy and Effective Overlap: During installation, the rolls of roofing material are overlapped, creating layers that enhance waterproofing. This overlapping is especially effective on low-slope roofs where water and snow can accumulate.
  • Weight Considerations: Low-slope and flat roofs sometimes cannot support the weight of heavier roofing materials like tile or certain types of metal roofing. Rolled roofing is lightweight, which makes it a suitable option for these roofs without putting additional stress on the building’s structure.
  • Cost-Effective Solution for Large Areas: Maintenance and repairs on low-slope or flat roofs can be more challenging due to water pooling and the potential for more rapid wear. Rolled roofing, with its simple installation and repair process, offers a practical solution. Damaged sections can be easily patched or replaced without the need to redo the entire roof.

Limitations and Considerations

While rolled roofing offers several advantages, it also has its limitations and considerations that should be taken into account.

Rolled roofing typically has a shorter lifespan compared to other roofing materials like asphalt shingles, metal, or tiles. On average, it lasts about 5 to 10 years, depending on environmental factors and maintenance. This shorter lifespan means it may not be the best choice for a primary residence or a building where long-term durability is a priority.

The effectiveness heavily depends on the quality of installation. Poorly installed rolled roofing can lead to leaks, reduced lifespan, and increased maintenance costs. It is essential to ensure proper installation, preferably by experienced professionals.

Also, in terms of appearance, it is generally more utilitarian and less visually appealing than other roofing options. It offers limited style and color choices, which may not be suitable for homes or buildings where aesthetic appearance is a significant concern.

Rolled Roofing Installation and Costs

a drill on a roof

Breaking down the costs involved in purchasing and installing rolled roofing involves considering various factors, including the materials themselves, labor costs, and any additional supplies needed for the installation. Here’s a general overview:

Roofing Material: The cost of rolled roofing material varies depending on the type (e.g., smooth-surfaced, mineral-surfaced) and quality. On average, it can range from $30 to $100 per roll, with each roll typically covering around 100 square feet.

Underlayment: Some installations may require an underlayment for additional protection, especially on residential structures. The cost for roofing underlayment can range from $0.10 to $0.50 per square foot.

Professional Installation: The cost of labor can vary widely based on location, the complexity of the roof, and the rates of the roofing contractor. On average, labor costs for installing rolled roofing might range from $1.50 to $3.00 per square foot. For a typical 1,000 square foot roof, labor can cost between $1,500 and $3,000.

DIY Installation: If you choose to install the roofing yourself, you can save on labor costs. However, it’s important to consider the value of your time and the potential need for specialized tools.

Nails and Fasteners: The cost for nails and fasteners is relatively low but necessary for securing the roofing material. This might add an additional $10 to $20 to the total cost.

Flashing: If your roof requires flashing around chimneys, vents, or edges, this will add to the cost. Flashing materials can range from $5 to $25 per piece.

It’s wise to factor in a contingency budget for unexpected issues like structural repairs or additional materials, which can be around 10-20% of the total estimate.

Rolled roofing can be a practical and economical choice for specific situations, especially for non-residential structures or where budget constraints are paramount. However, it’s essential to make an informed decision based on the specific needs of your project, the expected longevity of the material, and the total cost, including installation and maintenance.

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