What is the “best” cuisine? Italian, Greek, or French? It’s a nonsensical question; everyone has different tastes and needs. The same is true with roofing. The best material to use for a flat roof is what works for you, your budget, and your building. The decision is not just about looks, commercial roof replacement costs, or installation ease. The search for the “best” commercial roofing material is easier when you understand your choices.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a single-ply plastic membrane attached to a reinforcing scrim material. It can be manufactured in wide rolls, reducing seams for most commercial roofs.
Advantages of PVC roofing:
- Extremely strong
- Minimal maintenance
- Very energy efficient
- Thin and lightweight in comparison to other materials
- Resists chemical, wind, and water damage
Disadvantages to consider with PVC include the need for a complete tear-off of your old roof system, the need for increased maintenance after around ten years (though the material can easily last 20), and decreased performance in extreme cold.
Rely on a reputable, local roofer for all maintenance and upkeep of a PVC roof since repair work on older PVC systems is challenging.
Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) stands out as a roofing material because of its unusual bright white appearance. It came to the United States after debuting in Europe in 1991. It is not time-tested like EPDM or BUR, but initial indicators are that TPO is as durable as PVC.
Advantages of TPO:
- Single-ply membrane
- Available in roll widths from 10 to 20 feet
- Naturally reflective; helps defeat UV rays
- Energy efficient
TPO is installed only after existing roofing is removed. The exposed insulation can be switched out (a plus for many older buildings) and replaced with one of several insulation options:
- Polyisocyanurate (Polyiso)
- Extruded Polystyrene (XPS)
- Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)
TPO is attached mechanically or through chemical bonding; seams are welded with hot air. Disadvantages to TPO are that the newer technology lacks a proven track record, it requires careful installation by true professionals, and colors are limited.
Ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (no wonder we call it EPDM) is a synthetic rubber membrane roofing material available in black or white colors. White offers some energy savings by reflecting heat. It is a rolled-out, seamed material available in widths from as narrow as 7 ½ feet to as wide as 50 feet.
An EPDM roof is Old School roofing, having been in widespread use for nearly half a century. It can be mechanically fastened, chemically adhered, or ballasted. Its seams can be sealed with liquid adhesives or with tape.
Advantages of EPDM:
- Astounding longevity (some EPDM roofs are more than 50 years old)
- Ease of installation
- Tried and true material
- Environmentally sustainable
Downsides to EPDM roofs are the degradation of chemicals by ultraviolet light (from strong sunlight), the potential for punctures from foot traffic, and the need to monitor seams diligently.
Built-Up Roofing (BUR) is made from alternating layers of a reinforcing mesh or fabric and bitumen (asphalt). It’s finished with a top layer of aggregate (stone or gravel) acting as ballast.
If EPDM is Old School Roofing, BUR is Old Old School, dating over 100 years.
Advantages of BUR:
- Predictable performance
- Over 100 years of data on wear, weathering, and maintenance needs
- Provides a continuous sealed surface
- Fairly easy to maintain
- The single most common low-slope roofing material in commercial applications
BUR roofs last between 15 and 30 years with conscientious maintenance. Some downsides to BUR include the strong odors during installation (this may require temporarily closing your business to avoid putting off customers), long installation time, and the potential for wind and water damage.
Choosing the Best
We began by saying no single solution is “best” for everyone, and we mean it. Only you and your local, dependable commercial roofer can select the optimal roofing solution for your particular application.
Be prepared to ask your roofer essential questions:
- What are the benefits of each type?
- What is the maintenance of each material like?
- What about their comparative longevity?
- What local conditions could affect a material’s longevity, resistance to wear, or maintenance concerns?
- Does one work better for a particular roof than another?
- Is installation fast?
- Does the material or installation process generate offensive smells?
- Will we have to close the business during installation?
- Is one roofing material safer than another to install?
When you want to sit down and discuss your commercial property’s next roof, please contact us at Division 7 Roofing. Our friendly representative can explain the options, discussing the pros and cons of each roofing material. More important, our representative will listen to your needs, hear your concerns, and design a commercial roofing solution that is best for you.