Built-up Commercial Roofing

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Built-up Commercial Roofing

What is Built-up Roofing?

Built-up roofing, or BUR, has been used in the commercial roofing industry since the mid-1800s. It’s a tried-and-true type of roofing that was the commercial roofing system of choice up until the 1970s when newer single-ply roofs hit the market, such as EPDM and TPO roofing.

Built-up roofs have alternating layers of bitumen, such as asphalt, and reinforcing fabrics referred to as “felts”. BUR roofs can be composed of two, three, four or more layers – the greater the number of layers, the more durable the roofing becomes.

Today’s BUR bitumen and felt roofing material options are more advanced than ever before. Modern bitumen materials contain added polymers designed to reduce fumes/odors, increase durability and improve its waterproofing properties.

The installation process consists of mopping hot bitumen material onto the surface of the roof and felt is then applied on top of that. There are also cold-applied adhesive bitumen material available, which eliminates the need for steaming hot bitumen. This is a safer option that retains the same waterproofing and durability of traditional hot bitumen.

Traditional felts are made from organic materials, but modern felts are composed of stronger materials, such as fiberglass. The felt comes in 36-inch wide rolls.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Built-up Commercial Roofing


  • Proven roofing technique – Used for 100+ years in the U.S.
  • Resistant to UV rays, wind, hail and rain
  • Affordable roofing over the long-term
  • 50+ year serviceable life is possible with proper installation and maintenance
  • White surface cap sheet available to help reduce AC energy needs during the summer; white sprays and white gravel are other “cool roof” options


  • Steeper initial cost compared to most single-ply roofing systems
  • Although designed to last for decades, a poorly installed BUR system may only last 10 years or less
  • Heavy roofing, especially ballasted built-up roofing

Are BURs Eco-Friendly?

Built-up commercial roofing systems aren’t traditionally known as eco-friendly; however, recent advances in BUR materials and design are helping to point this type of low-slope roofing toward the “greener” end of the spectrum.

Many commercial buildings, particularly in the southern and western United States are choosing to install a white cap sheet or lay white gravel on top of the BUR to help control cooling costs in the building. White roofing helps reflect as much as 80% of the light and UV rays from the sun.

Additionally, modern built-up roofs can outlast most single-ply roofing systems if installed correctly. A roof that lasts 30, 40, 50 or more years is definitely an eco-friendly choice over opting for a roof that has to be replaced every 15 to 20 years.

Cost of Built-up Commercial Roofing

The chart below depicts the average cost of installing a built-up roof on a 2,000 square foot rooftop in four major cities across the country. The exact price of your particular installation can vary depending upon the materials used and complexity of the project.

BUR Pricing in the U.S.:


Material/Installation Cost for 2,000 sq ft Roof


$7,100 - $9,700


$6,000 - $8,000

New York

$8,300 - $11,300

Los Angeles

$6,900 - $9,400

(These prices reflect the average price for materials and installation of a built-up commercial roof. Various factors can affect the overall cost, including materials, geographic location, roof complexity and number of BUR layers).

Built-up Commercial Roof Repairs and Maintenance

An annual maintenance plan is the key to maximizing the usable service life of a built-up roofing system. BURs are nearly maintenance-free, but it’s recommended to keep the roof clear of tree limbs, leaves and other foreign debris. It’s equally important to ensure there are no areas of the roof prone to collecting rainwater. Remove ponding water from the roof within 24 hours of noticing it, and call your roofing contractor to have the issue assessed.

A roofer experienced with commercial BUR systems can easily inspect and repair minor roof damage. Built-up roofing can withstand heavy winds, rain and hailstorms due to its multi-ply design where if the top layer is damaged there are always “back-up” layers underneath to help prevent leaks.

How to Find a Qualified BUR Roofing Contractor

The commercial roofing contractors at HometownRoofingContractors.com are prescreened to ensure they are experienced installers of built-up commercial roofs. That way you know you’re dealing with a commercial roofing contractor that has the tools and knowledge to get the BUR system installed correctly the first time.

The most common cause of roof damage and failure is a poor installation. It’s critically important to work with a roofing company experienced in commercial roofing and built-up roofs in particular. It can literally increase the usable service life of the roof by decades.

For your convenience, we also publish user reviews from verified customers who have already had their built-up roof installed or repaired. This will help you get an unbiased opinion regarding the roofer’s professionalism, work ethic, pricing and workmanship.