Rolled Roofing: Basics, Costs, & Self-Installation

Is Roll Roofing Right for You? When and Where to Use It

Roofing PVC membrane in rolls placed on the roof of a hall

Doralin Tunas / Getty Images

Roll roofing, or rolled roofing, might be a good solution if you prefer a simple, lower-cost material to re-roof a structure instead of using conventional shingle-type roofing materials.

What Is Rolled Roofing?

Rolled roofing is a mineral-surfaced roofing material that comes in rolls. It is thinner, less durable, and cheaper than asphalt shingles. 

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 install on a do-it-yourself basis, although in a limited fashion.

Is rolled roofing too good to be true? While rolled roofing is cheap and easy to install, its resale value is perilously low when it is used as roofing on occupied structures. Rolled roofing is best installed on unoccupied structures, such as sheds, shops, garages, and other outbuildings. Before you dash down to the home improvement store and pick up a few rolls, you should be aware of the significant disadvantages that come along with the advantages of this product.

Rolled Roofing Basics

Rolled roofing (or roll roofing)—also known as MSR—comes in rolls of 100 square feet. Rolled roofing is easy to obtain and can be found at all home improvement stores. One MSR roofing roll is usually 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. Square is a roofing term that refers to one roofing unit of 100 square feet.

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. Rolled MSR roofing is thinner, larger, cheaper, less durable, and horizontally installed in long strips. Besides being thicker, composite shingles or any type of shingle are far less prone to tearing or cracking because stress is distributed across a wide area of individually moving parts.

Several types of rolled 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 an underlayment.

Roofing with MSR is often your cheapest roofing option, as the material's cost is low and the labor cost can be as low as free if you do it yourself. Materials are limited to little more than the rolls of roofing and 11 gauge roofing nails.

Where to Use Rolled Roofing

  • Rolled roofing is rarely used for residences and other occupied structures. As a result, this product works well for utilitarian, functional structures such as work sheds, shops, potting sheds, barns, garages, outdoor roofed exercise structures, kids' treehouses, and other outbuildings.
  • Rolled roofing material is often used on low-sloped roofs. If your roof pitch declines up to 1 inch vertically for every 12 inches horizontally (1:12 pitch), it is a good candidate for rolled roofing as long as you use the concealed nail method of fastening. Otherwise, the safest minimum pitch for rolled roofing is 2 inches of decline per 12 inches of horizontal direction (2:12 pitch).


Hammered-down rolled roofing should not be used on flat roofs as this could lead to leaks.

Pros of Rolled Roofing

  • Rolled roofing is the least expensive roofing material, even compared to low-cost composite shingles. All materials, even the nails, are inexpensive.
  • This product is the best way of covering low-incline roofs.
  • Rolled roofing goes down quickly. Unlike shingles, which apply one by one, you can roll out a square of mineral surface rolled roof within minutes.
  • Rolled roofing is easy to transport. Composite shingles are heavy and unwieldy. Rolled roofing, by contrast, comes in lighter 75-pound units and is tightly rolled up and sealed. Professional roofers often have cranes or forklifts move conventional shingles from the ground to the roof level. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you can move the rolls to the roof by yourself or with the assistance of a partner, with no machinery required.
  • Rolled roofing is very adaptable and can be cut into 12-inch by 36-inch strips to act as hips and ridges or 9-inch strips for eaves and rakes.
  • If removing your current shingles is a problem, it is usually permissible to re-roof over your existing roof with rolled roofing. 

Cons of Rolled Roofing

  • If you wish to change the color of your roof to something other than black or white, rolled roofing may not help you. Black MSR is the most common color you will find, though white aggregate rolled roofing is also quite common. Tan, gray, and green are sometimes found, too.
  • Rolled roofing is less durable than shingles. One reason why shingles work so well: the network of multiple, loosely interlocking shingles expand and contract without stressing individual shingles. By contrast, rolled roofing is like having one big shingle. This shingle cannot respond to changes in the building structure without tearing. 
  • Rolled roofing will not make your structure any more attractive. It is generally considered a less attractive roofing material than shingles or other types of roofing systems. Homeowner's associations in gated communities may not allow the installation of any structure with rolled roofing, even outbuildings.
  • Rolled roofing has a short lifespan of between five and eight years. Compare this to a lifespan of about 20 years or even more for composite shingles. Rolled roofing tends to lose its grains and develop bald spots after only a few years of use. Also, one of the benefits of roofing with many hundreds of small units (shingles) is that they can move and shift as the house moves and shifts. Rolled roofing's larger sections do not move as readily as the home expands and contracts.
  • You can expect extremely poor resale value on residences that use this type of material. Few home buyers would consider rolled roofing to be anything more than a temporary, stop-gap roofing solution.

Tips for Installing Roll Roofing

Installing rolled roofing requires minimal steps:

  • First make certain to remove slag, gravel, and other debris from the existing roof to avoid puncturing the MSR.
  • Though rolled roofing does not require an underlayment, it can offer more protection from water. Synthetic underlayment is more durable than felt underlayment but either can be used for rolled roofing.
  • Apply roll roofing horizontally (parallel to the eaves) from the bottom of the roof upward.
  • Apply roofing cement to the edge of the first strip you lay horizontally.
  • Overlap and nail horizontal strips of the roll roofing material up the roof.
  • You will use adhesive for the top edge of the last strip on the roof.
  • After installation, check the corners and edges of the roofing to make sure they don't lift. If they lift, use more roofing cement to seal them down.
Roll roofing installation


peuceta / Getty Images 

Roofing PVC membrane in rolls placed on the roof of the site
Doralin Tunas / Getty Images