Rolled Roofing (MSR): Basics and Costs of This Self-Install Material

Rolled Roofing Material
Rolled Roofing Material. Getty / Fotosearch

Not happy with the cost and complexity of re-roofing one of your structures with conventional shingle-type roofing materials?  Rolled roofing is one of the easiest and cheapest roofing materials you can purchase.  Plus, it is one of few types of roofs that most homeowners can self-install, although in a limited fashion.

Is rolled roofing too good to be true?  In a sense, yes.  Before you run down to the home improvement store and pick up a few rolls, you should be aware of significant disadvantages that come part-and-parcel with the plusses of this product.

Bottom Line:

  • Defined:  Mineral surfaced roll roofing, or MSR, comes in rolls of 100 square feet.  It is easy to obtain and can be found at all home improvement stores.
  • Prices:  Cost for roofing 100 square feet currently is about $50 to $75, including both the roofing material and 11 gauge roofing nails.  In short, roofing with MSR is your cheapest roofing option, as materials cost is low and labor cost non-existent (if you do it yourself).
  • Where to Install:  Best for sheds, shops, garages, and other out buildings.  Few homeowners choose to install MSR on their primary homes.
  • Adaptable:  MSR can be cut into 12" by 36" strips to act as hips and ridges or 9" strips for eaves and rakes.
  • Easy to Handle:  Moving composite shingles from ground level to the roof is difficult and dangerous.  Professional roofers often have cranes or fork lifts move shingles for them.  If you are a DIYer, you can move the 75 lb. rolls to the roof by yourself or with the assistance of a partner--no machinery required.
  • Re-Roofing:  It is usually permissible to re-roof over your existing roof with MSR.  First make certain to remove slag, gravel, and other debris from the existing roof to avoid puncturing the MSR.

Rolled Roofing: Like Shingles, But Longer and Thinner

The conventional way of roofing a house is with individual composite (asphalt) shingles.

Rolled roofing is vaguely similar in that it is also an oil-based asphalt product.  But the similarity stops there.  MSR roofing is thinner, larger, cheaper, less durable, and is horizontally installed in long strips.

Several types of roll roofing are used as supplements to other roofing materials; one example is saturated felt, which is builders-grade felt impregnated with asphalt, and used mainly as underlayment.

Sizing and Cost

One MSR roofing roll will be one "square" (100 sq. ft.) and about 36 feet long by 36 inches wide. So in terms of quantity, a roofing roll is about the size of one composite shingle "square."

Materials alone, black roll roofing, at the low end, will cost about $50 per square (100 to 108 sq. ft.).  Add another $6 per 400 count non-corrosion roofing nails.

Applications

  • Functional Buildings:  Roll roofing is rarely used for residences and other structures that garner attention.  Thus, it works well for work sheds, shops, potting sheds, garages, and other outbuildings.
  • Lower Roof Pitches:  Rolled roof is often used on roofs that are low-sloped. If your roof pitch declines up to 1 inch vertically for every 12 inches horizontally, it is a candidate for roll roofing (1:12 pitch) as long as you use the concealed nail method of fastening.  Otherwise, the safest minimum pitch for roll roofing is 2:12, or 2 inches of decline per 12 inches horizontal direction.

    Pros 

    • Inexpensive:  Least expensive roofing material, even compared to low-cost composite shingles.  
    • Good For Low But Not Flat Roofs:  Best, and sometimes the only, way of covering low-incline roofs.  Rolled roofing should not be used on flat roofs, though.
    • Quick Application:  Unlike shingles, which apply one by one, you can roll out a square of mineral surface roll roof within minutes.
    • Easy To Transport:  Shingles are heavy and unwieldy.  Rolled roof, by contrast, comes in lighter 75 lb. units and is tightly rolled up and sealed.

    Cons

    • Few Color Choices:  Black MSR is the most common color you will find.  Green is sometimes found, too.
    • Low Durability:  One reason why shingles work so well is because the network of multiple, loosely interlocking shingles expand and contract without stressing individual shingles.  By contrast, roll roofing is like having one big shingle.  This shingle cannot respond to changes in the building structure without tearing.  
    • Not Attractive:  Generally considered a less attractive roofing material than shingles or other types of roofing systems.  Homeowner's associations in gated communities may not allow installation of any structure with roll roofing.
    • Short Lifespan:  Predicted lifespan of about 5-8 years. Compare this to a lifespan of about 20 years or even more for composite shingles.  MSR tends to lose its grains and develop bald spot after only a few years of use.  Also, one of the benefits of roofing with many hundreds of small units (this is, shingles) is that they can move and shift as the house moves and shifts.  MSR's larger sections do not move as readily as the home expands and contracts.
    • Low Resale:  Extremely poor resale value on residences using this type of material.  Most buyers would consider this to be only one step up from having tar paper on your roof.