Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have questions about commercial or residential asphalt roofing systems? If you can’t find answers here, please visit our Technical Bulletins or Ask an ARMA Expert.

Click on the questions below to see the answers

Steep-Slope FAQs

How are asphalt shingles made?

In the United States, asphalt shingles are categorized as either organic-based or fiberglass-based. Organic-based asphalt shingles are manufactured with a base (also termed mat or substrate) made of various cellulose fibers, such as recycled waste paper and wood fibers. This organic base is then saturated with a specially formulated asphalt coating and surfaced with weather resistant mineral granules. Fiberglass-based asphalt shingles are manufactured with mat composed entirely of glass fibers of varying lengths and orientations. This fiberglass base is then surfaced with a specially-formulated asphalt coating, followed by weather-resistant mineral granules.

How do I determine if a roof should be replaced?


Sooner or later, every roof needs to be replaced, usually due to the long-term effects of weathering. If a residential roof is more than 20 years old, it is a prime candidate for reroofing. To determine if you need a new roof:

  • On the ground, walk around your home with binoculars and inspect your roof for cracked, curled or missing shingles, as well as any excessive loss of the protective mineral granules. DO NOT CLIMB ON THE ROOF; walking on the roof is dangerous and can damage your roof.

  • In your attic, take a flashlight and look at the underside of the roof deck and rafters for any stains or wet spots indicating water leaks.

Asphalt shingles can often be applied directly over existing roofs without the necessity of tearing off the old roof. However, new shingles can not be properly applied over hard or brittle materials, uneven surfaces for nailing or roof decks with warped, rotted or unsound support that should first be replaced or repaired.

Some local ordinances forbid reroofing over two or more layers of shingles. If a home already has been shingled several times, it is important to first determine if the roof deck can support another layer of shingles before undertaking any re-roofing project.

How many homes are topped by asphalt shingles? Why?


Asphalt shingles are the leading choice for residential roofing in the United States because they provide quality, durability, versatility and economy. Over 12.5 billion square feet of asphalt shingle products are manufactured annually – enough to cover more than 5 million homes every year. Four out of five homes are roofed with asphalt shingles.

Asphalt shingles offer consumers the broadest array of colors, shapes, and textures available. With an enormous range of styles, asphalt shingles can match almost every type of architectural design and achieve virtually any desired effect – and do it affordably.

Low-Slope FAQs

How do I choose the roofing system that works best for a particular job?


The combination of asphalt, modifiers and reinforcements determines the characteristics of a specific modified bitumen membrane. To obtain the best roofing system possible, the designer, building owner and contractor should understand the dynamics of the roof as well as the roofing system when specifying either APP or SBS modified roofs.

The architect, specifier, building owner and roofing contractor should examine the following parameters when choosing a roofing system:

  • What is the building's type and usage?

  • What building code requirements apply to the system?

  • What is the estimated service life of the roof system? What type of maintenance will be required to maximize the service life of the roof system?

  • What kind of roof deck will be used (type, size, slope)?

  • How much is the roof deck expected to move relative to the roof perimeter? Shrinkage of the deck material? Moisture content of the deck?

  • Access for equipment on the roof?
How is BUR applied for maximum performance?


It's critical to get secure bonding of the roofing felts (plies) using bitumen. To achieve this bond the roofing contractor applies thin, uniform moppings of bitumen. This waterproofs the system and ensures proper adhesion for fusing the membrane system together. The temperature of the bitumen is critical. By heating it to the proper temperature the roofing contractor gets the right viscosity for proper mopping. The contractor heats the bitumen to its EVT or Equiviscous Temperature, the temperature at which it can be most effectively mopped into uniform layers. Each batch of bitumen should be labeled by the supplier with its EVT.

Once felts are rolled into place on the heated bitumen applicators pull brooms or squeegees over the felt or use some other method to make sure that its embedded in the bitumen.

The strength of the membrane depends on the type of felt used, the number of plies, overall ply construction, and the lapping of the overlaying felts. Typically, membrane ply construction is defined by headlap, endlap, and sidelap. Headlap is the distance of the overlap that exists between the lowermost and the uppermost plies of the shingled portion of the roof membrane when measured perpendicular to the long dimension of the membrane. Endlap is the overlap distance that is measured from where one roll of felt ends to where another begins. Sidelap is the overlap distance along the length of the felt where one roll of felt overlaps the adjacent overlying felt.

The application of Built-Up Roofing systems is detailed work, but the professional who pays particular attention to those details such as curbs, walls, flashings or other projections that interrupt the membrane, achieves a quality, efficient, long-lasting product for the building owner.

ARMA offers many sources of information to enable the roofing professional to do just that.

How is Modified Bitumen roofing applied for maximum performance?


The application of modified bituminous roofing is a construction process that involves the skillful arrangement of several components as specified for the process. Roof performance is determined by factors that include building design, job specifications, materials quality and suitability, application procedures and maintenance. The level of quality in the workmanship during the application process is critical.


The application of modified bitumen roofing systems is not an exact science. It's a craft that involves people, roofing professionals, who deal with a broad range of materials, designs, customs, techniques, weather events, and climates. ARMA recognizes the importance of these critical factors as they affect the quality of modified bitumen roofing. These factors are controlled by applicable inspection and review procedures carried out during the development, manufacturing, production, and application stages.

What are Modified Bitumen modifiers? How do they work?


Modified bitumens generally use a traditional waterproofing medium -- asphalt -- modified with atactic polypropylene (APP), styrene butadiene styrene (SBS), synthetic rubber or other agents that create a uniform matrix that enhances the physical properties of the asphalt. SBS and APP are the most common bitumen modifiers.

  • SBS (Styrene-Butadiene-Styrene) modifies the asphalt by forming a polymer network within the bitumen. SBS gives the bitumen rubber-like characteristics and improved resistance to aging and weathering. Most SBS-modified bitumen sheets are either set in hot mopping asphalt, torch-applied or adhered with cold-process adhesives. SBS-modified bitumen sheets that do not have factory applied granule or foil surfacing need some form of field-applied ultraviolet protective coating.

  • APP (Atactic Polypropylene) is a thermoplastic polymer which forms a uniform matrix within the asphalt. This enhances the bitumen’s performance by increasing its UV resistance, increasing its flexibility at low temperatures and improving its flow resistance at high temperatures. APP-modified bitumen sheets are generally applied using a propane-fueled torch. Applicators use the heat to soften the modified bitumen on the underside of the sheet. The sheet's bottom surface becomes a molten adhesive which flows upon the substrate and then cools to form a waterproof adhesive bond. Some APP sheets can also be applied with cold process adhesives.

What are reinforcing plies? What are they made of?

While modified asphalt provides the primary waterproofing characteristics of these membranes a reinforcing ply adds strength and puncture resistance. Glass fiber and polyester plies are the most commonly used reinforcing fabrics. Each has distinctive properties. Polyester has excellent elongation, tensile strength and recovery. It provides good puncture resistance and stands up well to foot traffic. Glass fiber resists flame penetration and provides excellent tensile strength and dimensional stability.

What are some low-slope roofing terms?

APP (Atactic Polypropylene): A modifier of asphalt (see modified bitumen roof membrane) that increases the UV resistance of the bitumen as well as its flexibility at low temperatures and improves its flow resistance at high temperatures.
Asphalt: A bituminous waterproofing agent applied to roofing materials during manufacture. 
Built-Up Roof (BUR): A flat or low-sloped roof consisting of multiple layers of asphalt and ply sheets. 
Base Sheet: A saturated or coated felt installed as the first ply in some multi-ply modified bitumen roofing assemblies. 
Bitumen: (1) a class of amorphous, black or dark colored (solid, semi-solid or viscous) cementitious substances, natural or manufactured, composed principally of high molecular weight hydrocarbons and found in asphalts, tars, pitches and asphaltines; (2) a generic term used to denote any material composed principally of bitumen.
Bituminous: Containing or treated with bitumen. 
Cap Sheet: A granule-surfaced coated sheet used as the top ply of a modified bitumen roof membrane. 
Coated Sheet or Felt: (1) an asphalt felt that has been coated on both sides with harder, more viscous asphalt; (2) a glass fiber felt that has been simultaneously impregnated and coated with asphalt or coal tar on both sides. 
Cold-Applied Roofing: A continuous roof membrane, consisting of plies of felts, mats or fabrics that are laminated on a roof with alternate layers of cold-applied roof adhesive and surfaced with a cold-applied coating. 
Deck: The structural surface to which the roofing or waterproofing system (including insulation) is applied. 
Felt: A flexible sheet manufactured by the interlocking of fibers through a combination of mechanical work, moisture, and heat. Felts are manufactured principally from vegetable fibers (organic felts), glass fibers (glass fiber felts), or polyester fibers (polyester felts); other fibers may be present in each type. 
Fiberglass Mat: An asphalt roofing base material manufactured from glass fibers. 
Flashing: Pieces of metal or roll roofing used to prevent seepage of water into a building around any intersection or projection in a roof, such as vent pipes, chimneys, adjoining walls, dormers and valleys.
Granules: Ceramic-coated colored crushed rock that is applied to the exposed surface of asphalt roofing products. 
Incline: The slope of a roof expressed either in percent or in the number of vertical units of rise per horizontal unit of run. Also referred to as slope. 
Low-Fuming Asphalt: An asphalt that contains a small amount of special
polymer that, when heated, floats to the surface, creating a skim layer on
the asphalt in the kettle that traps most of the fumes.
Membrane: A roof covering or waterproofing layer whose primary function is the exclusion of water.
Modified Bitumen Roof Membrane: A continuous, semi-flexible roof membrane assembly consisting of plies of saturated felts, coated felts, fabrics or mats between which alternate layers of bitumen are applied, either surfaced or unsurfaced. 
Organic Felt: An asphalt roofing base material manufactured from cellulose fibers.
Re-covering: The process of covering an existing roofing system with a new roofing system. 
Re-roofing: The practice of removing an existing roofing system and replacing it with a new roofing system. 
Roll Roofing: Asphalt roofing products manufactured in roll form, either smooth- or mineral-surfaced. 
Saturated Felt: An asphalt-impregnated felt used as an underlayment between the deck and the roofing material. 
SBS (Styrene-Butadiene-Styrene): A modifier of asphalt (see modified bitumen roof membrane) that enhances the bitumen’s ability to resist the effects of aging the weather.
Self-Adhering Membrane: A membrane that can adhere to a substrate without the use of an additional adhesive. The undersurface of a self-adhering
membrane is protected by a release paper or film, which prevents the
membrane from bonding to itself during shipping and handling. These
membranes can be base sheets, ply sheets, cap sheets or underlayments. 
Smooth-Surfaced Roof: A roof membrane surfaced with a layer of hot-mopped asphalt, cold-applied asphalt-clay emulsion, cold-applied asphalt cutbacks, elastomeric coating, or sometimes with an unmopped, inorganic felt. 
Square: A unit of roof measure covering 100 square feet. 
Thermal Insulation: A material applied to reduce the flow of heat.
Underlayment: Asphalt saturated felt used beneath roofing to provide additional protection for the deck.
Vapor Retarder: A material designed to impede the passage of water vapor into the roofing system.

What are some of the advantages of BUR?


Built-up roofing systems have had a long-standing popularity, due in large part to the success and proven reliability of BUR. The stock of 20, 30 and 40-year-old BUR roofs still in excellent condition attests to this fact. Specifically, BUR roofs offer:

  • Multi-Layer Protection – the multiple layers of bitumen and bitumen saturated “felts” make a water-resistant barrier capable of providing many years of reliable protection from the elements.

  • Thermal Performance – Built-up roofing systems exhibit exceptional resistance to the conduction of heat between the exterior and interior of a building, resulting in noticeable reductions in heating and cooling costs.

  • Fire and Uplift Resistance -- Built-up roofing systems are tested through Factory Mutual Research Corporation to meet very strict fire resistance requirements and ensure adequate uplift resistance under extreme wind conditions.

  • Economy -- Compared to other high performance commercial roofing systems, built-up roofing is one of the best investments on the market due to its competitive cost per year of expected service life.