Are Tar and Gravel Roofs Still Used?

Feb 25, 2024


Roofing is an integral part of any structure, and the choice of roofing material plays a significant role in its durability, functionality, and aesthetic appeal. One option that has stood the test of time is tar and gravel roofing. This article aims to shed light on tar and gravel roofs, giving you a clear understanding of this roofing method.


Tar and gravel roofs, also known as built-up roofs, have been a popular choice for commercial buildings and flat or low-slope structures for many decades. This roofing method involves alternately layering hot tar and reinforcing fabrics, before a final layer of gravel is spread on the roof surface.

The gravel in tar and gravel roofing serves multiple purposes. It provides a low-cost, fire-resistant, weather-protective layer that adds an extra level of durability to the roof. The gravel also shields the underlying layers from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays, prolongs the lifespan of the roofing materials, and enhances the aesthetic appeal of the roof.

The tar used in tar and gravel roofs is bitumen, a by-product of petroleum refining. Bitumen is highly resistant to weather elements, providing waterproofing benefits and enhancing the overall durability of the roof. This material is particularly suitable for climates prone to heavy rain or snowfall, as it prevents water from seeping into the structure.

Over the years, tar and gravel roofs have undergone various modifications to improve their performance. Modern tar and gravel roofs may include fibreglass membranes or modified bitumen sheets to enhance their durability and weather resistance. Despite these advancements, the basic principle of applying layers of tar and gravel remains the same, making this roofing method a reliable choice for different structures.

In conclusion, tar and gravel roofs combine the advantages of durability, weather resistance, and aesthetic appeal, making them an excellent choice for various building types. This traditional roofing method continues to be popular due to its proven track record and versatility.


The practice of using tar and gravel as roofing materials can be traced back to centuries ago, and despite the influx of new and technologically advanced roofing options, it continues to be a popular choice for many property owners today. Often referred to as built-up roofing or BUR, tar and gravel roofs are commonly used for flat or low-slope roofs.

Constructed with alternating layers of bitumen (or tar) and reinforcing fabrics, tar and gravel roofs are highly durable and weather resistant. The final layer of gravel serves two purposes: it protects the underlying layers from sunlight and provides an aesthetic finish that many property owners appreciate.

Typically, a tar and gravel roof consists of three to five layers of asphalt-based tar and roofing felt. The number of layers usually depends on the requirements of the building and the local climate. In areas with harsh weather conditions, more layers are often needed to ensure durability and longevity. Once the layers have been laid down, a final layer of gravel or crushed stones is spread over the top to protect the tar from the sun’s damaging UV rays and to provide additional weight to keep the roofing materials in place.

Though the installation process of tar and gravel roofing is labor-intensive and requires professional expertise, the longevity and durability of this roofing option make it a worthwhile investment. With proper installation and maintenance, a tar and gravel roof can last up to 30 years or more.

Despite the advent of modern roofing materials like metal, tile, and synthetic products, tar and gravel roofing remains a trusted choice due to its proven track record. It’s especially favored in commercial buildings and multi-unit residential properties, where the large flat roofs can be easily covered with this cost-effective material.

However, as with any roofing material, tar and gravel have their pros and cons. While they are lauded for their durability, weather resistance, and cost-effectiveness, they also come with potential downsides like a more complex installation process and the need for regular maintenance. But for those looking for a solid, long-lasting roofing solution, tar and gravel roofs offer a compelling option worth considering.

Pros and Cons of Tar and Gravel Roofs

When considering a roofing system for a building, it is essential to evaluate the pros and cons. This is especially true with tar and gravel roofs, a popular choice for many structures, particularly flat or low-sloping ones.

Pros of Tar and Gravel Roofs

There are several advantages that make tar and gravel roofing a preferred choice for many property owners. Firstly, this type of roofing is known for its impressive durability. When properly installed, a tar and gravel roof can last anywhere from 10 to 20 years. This longevity is largely due to the multiple layers of tar and gravel, which provide a solid, resistant surface against weather conditions.

Another significant advantage is the cost-effectiveness of tar and gravel roofing material. Compared to other roofing materials, tar and gravel roofs are relatively inexpensive to install and maintain. They are also energy efficient as they provide excellent insulation, keeping the building cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

Finally, tar and gravel roofs offer superior fire resistance. The thick layer of gravel acts as a fire retardant, making these roofs a safe choice for buildings in areas prone to wildfires.

Cons of Tar and Gravel Roofs

Despite the many benefits, there are also some disadvantages associated with tar and gravel roofs. One of the primary concerns is the weight. Because of the several layers of tar and gravel, these roofs can be quite heavy, potentially causing structural issues for older buildings.

Another drawback of tar and gravel roofs is that they can be challenging to identify and repair leaks. This is because the gravel can obscure the exact location of the leak, making it difficult to find and patch effectively.

Lastly, while tar and gravel roofs are generally robust, they can be susceptible to punctures from walking on them or from falling debris. This can lead to leaks and other damage that require repair.

In conclusion, like any other roofing system, tar and gravel roofing comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. It is essential to consider these factors before deciding if this is the right option for your building.

Alternative Materials to Tar and Gravel Roofs

Tar and gravel roofs have been a popular choice for many years due to their cost-effectiveness and durability. However, they are not the only option available. With advancements in technology and materials, there are now a variety of alternatives to consider for your roofing needs. These alternatives not only offer the durability of tar and gravel but also provide additional benefits such as energy efficiency and increased aesthetic appeal.

Metal Roofing

Metal roofing is one of the most popular alternatives to tar and gravel roofs. It’s known for its durability, longevity, and energy efficiency. Metal roofs can reflect solar radiant heat, which can reduce cooling costs by 10-25%. Additionally, they are resistant to fire, mildew, insects, and rot, making them a low-maintenance option.

Asphalt Shingles

Asphalt shingles are another common alternative to tar and gravel roofing. They are made from a fiberglass base topped with asphalt and mineral granules. Asphalt shingles are known for their variety of styles and colors, making them a popular choice for homeowners looking to enhance the aesthetic appeal of their homes. Moreover, they are more affordable than many other roofing materials and are easier to install and repair.

Green Roofing

Green roofing, also known as living roofs, is a more eco-friendly roofing alternative. These roofs are covered with plants and vegetation, providing insulation and helping to reduce the urban heat island effect. Although the installation cost of green roofs is higher, they can save money in the long run by reducing energy costs. Moreover, they can enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of your home.

Solar Tiles

Solar tiles are an innovative alternative to tar and gravel roofs. These tiles are integrated directly into the roof and are nearly indistinguishable from regular roofing tiles. Solar tiles can generate electricity for homes, reducing reliance on traditional energy sources and potentially lowering energy bills.

In conclusion, while tar and gravel roofs have their merits, it’s worth exploring other roofing materials that could offer additional benefits. The best choice will depend on your specific needs, budget, and aesthetic preferences.


1. “Roofing Materials Guide.” HomeTips,
2. “The Pros and Cons of Different Roof Types.” Modernize,
3. “Green Roofs.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency,
4. “Solar Roof.” Tesla, Inc,


Having a tar and gravel roof can provide numerous benefits for both commercial and residential properties. Their longevity, cost-effectiveness, and ability to provide excellent insulation are just a few reasons why this roofing option remains popular. More importantly, tar and gravel roofs can withstand harsh weather conditions, making them an ideal choice for various climates.

However, like any other roofing material, tar and gravel roofs also have their limitations. They require regular maintenance to avoid issues such as leaks and water damage. Additionally, they may not be aesthetically pleasing to everyone’s taste.

Considering all these factors, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully when deciding on the best roofing option for your needs. Consulting with a professional roofing contractor can give you a better understanding of what to expect with a tar and gravel roof, and help you make an informed decision.

While tar and gravel roofing may be a traditional choice, advancements in roofing technology have given rise to alternatives. Materials such as metal, slate, or synthetic tiles may offer different benefits that could potentially surpass those of tar and gravel. It’s always worthwhile to explore these options and see which one best suits your specific needs and preferences.

In conclusion, tar and gravel roofing remains a reliable, durable option that can offer good value for money. However, it’s important to consider all aspects, including maintenance requirements and aesthetics, before deciding on this as your roofing solution.


For an in-depth understanding of tar and gravel roofs, it’s crucial to refer to reliable sources. The following references offer detailed insights on this type of roofing:

1.Built-Up Roof Systems- National Roofing Contractors Association

The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) provides comprehensive information on various roof systems, including tar and gravel. It offers insights on the construction, repair, and maintenance of these roofs.

2.Tar and Gravel Roofing- Building Enclosure

Building Enclosure provides an article dedicated to tar and gravel roofs. It covers various topics, including installation methods, benefits, drawbacks, and cost considerations.

3.Flat Roofing Materials – EPDM rubber, BUR, Tar & Gravel, TPO, PVC, Spray-On, Plus Pros and Cons – Roofing Calculator

Roofing Calculator gives an overview of different flat roofing materials, including tar and gravel. It helps to understand the pros and cons of different materials and aids in decision making.

4. Tar and Gravel Roofs – Bob Vila

Bob Vila’s website is a reputable source of home improvement information. Bob’s article on tar and gravel roofs provides practical advice, from installation to maintenance.

5. Tar and Gravel Roof Repair – Roofing Pros Local

Roofing Pros Local offers insights on how to repair a tar and gravel roof. It also provides information on why the roof may be leaking and gives tips on how to prevent future problems.

By making use of these sources, homeowners, builders, and roofing professionals can gain a comprehensive understanding of tar and gravel roofs, making informed decisions when it comes to their installation, maintenance, and repair.


After a comprehensive review of tar and gravel roofs, it is essential to visually understand these roofing systems’ look and structure. This gallery will present a series of images that demonstrate the appearance and application process of tar and gravel roofing.

Tar and Gravel Roof
An example of a tar and gravel roof on a residential building. Note the smooth, gravelly surface designed to reflect sunlight and provide durability.
Tar and Gravel Roof Installation
A team of professionals installing a tar and gravel roof. This image shows the application of hot tar, which is then covered by a layer of gravel.
Tar and Gravel Roof Damage
Signs of damage on a tar and gravel roof. Cracks and divots in the surface can lead to leaks and other roofing problems.

Each image in this gallery represents a distinct stage or aspect of tar and gravel roofs – from installation to damage. By understanding how these roofs look and function, homeowners and business owners can make informed decisions about their roofing needs.


In addition to the traditional use of tar and gravel roofs, there are also other unique aspects that worth noting. The tar and gravel roof is not just a protective layer for your house, but it can also serve as an aesthetic enhancement to your home’s exterior. With the right choice of gravel or stones, you can create a unique and attractive roof that stands out among your neighbors.

Furthermore, tar and gravel roofs can also provide a certain level of noise insulation. Due to the thick layers of tar and gravel, these roofs can help to reduce noise from rain, hail, or even nearby traffic. This could be a significant advantage if you live in a busy urban area or if you value peace and quiet within your home.

However, one should keep in mind that while a tar and gravel roof is a durable option, it does require maintenance. Over time, the tar can crack and the gravel can dislodge, leading to leaks and water damage if not addressed. Therefore, regular inspection and timely repairs are essential to preserve the longevity and effectiveness of a tar and gravel roof.

Lastly, although tar and gravel roofs are typically associated with flat roofs, they can also be installed on a slight slope. This can help to improve drainage and prevent water pooling, which can further extend the lifespan of the roof.

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