Hey Vern,

My husband and I own a flat-roof duplex near the historic district in Pottsville. The roof is around 14 years old and has already been repaired once. Unfortunately, we recently noticed leakage again. I want to replace the roof with a pitch to prevent future water problems but my husband would rather stay with a flat roof because he feels it’s more historically accurate. What do you think?


Rebekah from Pottsville, PA

Rebekah, I’m glad you reached out- Water seepage into your home is always a huge concern. 

There’s something to be said about flat roofs and their historic ties, but there’s a lot at play when planning your roof replacement. Yes, it’s completely appropriate to keep your flat roof, but building out a pitch can add to your roof’s longevity. 

The average lifespan of a residential flat roof is about 10-20 years. At 14, yours is definitely a candidate for replacement. And if your flat roof is leaking and has been repaired before, the roofing material has likely deteriorated and a new roof is the best choice. 

But whether to simply replace, or change the slope, will depend on factors like your budget, what you value most, and what you plan to do with your home in the near future. In the past, we’ve talked about flat roofs for commercial builds, but today let’s switch focus to your residential roof. 

Let’s take an in depth look at flat and pitched roofs, to help your family make the best decision.

Your Roof’s Pitch vs. Pennsylvania’s Weather

Here in Pennsylvania, we see our fair share of wintery weather. The stand-out benefit of a pitch on your roof? Snow, sleet, and ice slide right off. Water is the biggest factor in deteriorating roofing materials.

Less contact with the winter weather means superior longevity. 

You can expect to enjoy 20-25 years of life from a sloped roof- possibly even longer if you choose a roofing material like architectural shingles to cover your new pitch

A pitched roof allows for better insulation and ventilation, too, which benefit your home’s overall efficiency and health. 

Another pro to adding on a higher roof? Attic space. Finished attic space can add additional square footage to your home. Dreaming of a new home office or rec room? Building out a new roof could gain you that extra room. 

The Additions of an Addition

Roof construction

With all of these benefits, why would anyone consider a flat roof?

The biggest reason is cost. Unfortunately, adding a pitch to your flat roof isn’t always as simple as just putting up trusses. 

Adding on a higher roof line will require a consultation with an architect or structural engineer to check the existing joist structure and strength. Adjustments may need to be made in order to support the new load. 

The resulting build out could also require replacing the ceilings underneath. And if you’re raising the pitch significantly? You’ll also need to have the chimney or heating/exhaust pipes raised and possibly siding added to match your existing siding. 

All of this means a greatly increased budget to reap those maintenance savings of a pitched roof down the line. 

Depending on the cost up front, and how long you intend to own this home, switching to a pitched roof may not make long-term financial sense. 

The Case for Flat Roofs

Flat roof

There’s a lot to be said for increasing your roof’s slope- but flat roofs aren’t without their advantages.

These days, when using modern materials and installed by a trusted professional, the longevity of a flat roof can rival that of a pitched roof. A flat roof will save you money during future reroofing, too, since you have less overall square footage to cover. 

Flat roofs boast a much safer inspection process for both homeowners and roofing professionals (meaning less labor costs!) 

And while you won’t be enjoying a brand new finished attic space inside, a flat roof can allow for easier installation of solar panels and skylighting- saving you even more in energy costs. 

Another benefit to flat roofing? Wind resistance. 

Pottsville sees it’s fair share of tornado and hurricane force winds every year. A flat roof offers some of the best wind resistance roofing can offer. This means not having to worry about shingles when the storms start to blow. 

There are plenty of reasons to keep your flat roof profile. But let’s take a look at the historical accuracy of flat roofing.

Is A Flat Roof Historically Accurate?

John O'Hara house with flat roof

Did you know the term flat roof is actually a misnomer?

Even a flat roof has a slight slope to encourage water to roll into a drainage system. The preferred term for these roofs is actually “low pitch” and coal-tar-and-asphalt low pitch roofing became very popular around the turn of the century

You didn’t mention the build date of your duplex, so it’s hard for me to say if sticking with a flat roof would be more accurate, historically speaking. But it’s possible your building was originally roofed with this low-pitch, coal tar and asphalt material. 

We’ve written about another famous flat-roofed Pottsville home before. The John O’Hara House sits on Mahantongo Street and along with the ornamental cornice and brownstone steps, the house also boasts a flat roof trimmed in red. Famed author John O’Hara called the three-story, Italianate style building home during his formative years in the early 20th century. 

The building has since been renovated to house five apartments, but one thing that was kept? The flat roof. 

History backs up the design, and remaining truthful to the original roof style has it’s pros. Ultimately, the decision comes down to which you think best suits your home. 

Another thing to consider: It sounds like your duplex isn’t within an existing historical district but it certainly can’t hurt to check with the City of Pottsville for their Historical Architecture Code before making any final decisions. 

The Modern Flat Roof

If continued leakage is what has you worried, there’s good news! 

If you stick with a flat roof, you’re no longer “stuck” with coal tar and asphalt. Modern materials like BUR, Bitumen, and single-ply membranes do a much better job at keeping water out than their predecessors.  

And more important than materials? Workmanship. Hiring a trusted roofing company is a critical component of reroofing your home. 

There’s no right or wrong answers to this question- it really comes down to your preference and budget. Hopefully this helps answer your questions without stirring up any further disagreements between you and your husband! 

Want to learn more about the options for your structure? We would love to help. 

Give us a call and we’ll help you plan the best next step for your roof. Our team is experienced at both installing a new pitched roof as well as offers top-of-the-line in flat roofing substrates. 

Until next time, 

Vern Martin