Picking out a new roof can be an exciting but overwhelming affair given the myriad of options out there in roofing materials. Having familiarity with all options available in your area is the best approach to take when considering which roof to choose for your home, says roofing contractors

If you’re in the market to buy a new home, knowing roof options common to your area will help you identify potential advantages and pitfalls of prospective homes, and you will know what to look for when considering the condition of a potential home’s roof. 

One option among the many such as asphalt shingles, slate shingles, and metal roofs is the tar and gravel roof. 

What Is A Tar And Gravel Roof?

A tar and gravel roof is commonly referred to as conventional built-up roofing or BUR. This type of roof is composed of multiple layers of asphalt topped with gravel. Tar and gravel are only used on flat roofs.

How Long Does a Tar And Gravel Roof Last?

Tar and gravel roofs do not last as long as other roofing methods, but their low cost makes them an attractive option nonetheless. You can expect a brand new tar and gravel roof to last approximately 20 to 30 years or so. The lifespan of this type of roof can be extended by patching the membrane, or by adding additional protective layers upon installation.

roofing contractors

How Are Tar And Gravel Roofs Constructed?

Tar and gravel roofs are composed of many layers that are topped with a loose coating of gravel for protection from foot traffic and the elements. Layers of asphalt based waterproof sheeting are laid down on the roof surface, alternated by layers of tar. Underlay can be laid out first for additional protection.

Additional layers of fiberglass or foam can also be installed to increase the insulation of your home and lengthen the lifespan of your roof. Once your layers are installed, a mineral aggregate surface layer such as river stone is applied all over so that it completely covers and weighs down the sheets. This gravel coating protects the sheeting from the elements, reflecting light, and protecting the roof from any foot traffic.

How Much Do Tar And Gravel Roofs Cost?

Tar and gravel roofs are very affordable, making them a popular choice for flat roofs seen in many parts of the country that experience drier climates. On a typical single story home, you can expect to pay under $10,000 for a new tar and gravel roof. So costs should stick to well under $400 a square, or under $4 per square foot for total installation.

Labor costs will vary from region to region so make sure you obtain several quotes from reputable roofing contractors first to get an accurate idea of how much installation of a tar and gravel roof will cost in your area.

When Should Tar And Gravel Roofs Be Replaced?

The life of a tar and gravel roof can be extended with patches in the places where leaks begin to form. These patches are laid directly over the layered sheets and then covered by gravel. When purchasing a new home, you will need to inspect the tar and gravel roof for patches.

A good rule of thumb is that if 25% or more of the roof is covered with patches, then the time has come to replace the roof. If you are purchasing a new gravel roof, you may want to consider adding protective layers so that twenty years pass by before you have to begin applying spot patches.

What Kind Of Homes Are Best Suited For Tar And Gravel Roofs?

Homes with flat roofs are suited for tar and gravel roofs, though these roofs aren’t the only option for flat homes. Tar and gravel roofs do best in climates where precipitation is light just because they tend to pool water in places. They’re also an excellent option for very sunny areas because white gravel can be used, which is great for reflecting the sun’s heat and insulating the home well.

What Are The Benefits Of A Tar And Gravel Roof?


Tar and gravel roofs are very inexpensive to install and maintain.

Energy Savings

The reflective nature of the roof will help keep heat out and cool air in, thereby saving you money on your utility bills.

Fire Resistant

The gravel is a natural fire retardant, making your home more resistant to natural fires that may be common in some areas of the country.

Extendable Life

Tar and gravel roofs are easy to repair if you know the exact source of the leak, thereby extending the life of the roof.


These roofs can withstand someone walking all over it. You don’t need to worry about damaging or misplacing shingles.

What Are The Disadvantages Of A Tar And Gravel Roof?

Messy Install

Installing a tar and gravel roof can be quite messy. Hot tar is tough to work with and can be dangerous. It is smelly, and the fumes can be toxic.

Leaks Travel

If you don’t know exactly where the leak is coming from on a tar and gravel roof, it may be difficult to locate the source. Since it’s a flat roof, there’s no natural direction a leak would run, so tracing leaking water back to the source may take some time.

Not Environmentally Friendly

Tar and gravel roofs, while inexpensive, are the least environmentally friendly option in the roofing industry. It is messy to tear down, and it creates a significant amount of waste that is not biodegradable.


Tar and gravel roofs are very heavy. Proper precautions must be taken to ensure the roofs joists are strong enough to withstand the amount of weight a tar and gravel roof will place on the home’s structure.

Trends In Roofing

As more roofing options become available that have higher ratings regarding lifespan, eco-friendliness, and convenience, tar and gravel roof installations are experiencing a decline. While they are still popular choices for commercial buildings, nicer looking affordable, eco-friendly options that are easier to install are becoming more popular in flat-roofed residential homes. Which would require less roof repair as well.