Commercial Roofing Materials Guide: Best Types, Choices & Options

Commercial Roofing Materials Guide Best Types Choices Options

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Identifying the right roofing material is critical for the longevity and efficiency of commercial buildings.
  • Single-ply membranes, such as TPO, EPDM, and PVC, offer unique benefits and are widely used in flat roofing.
  • Metal roofing stands out for its durability and sustainability, making it a top choice for businesses.
  • Green roofing systems not only provide environmental benefits but can also enhance energy efficiency.
  • Understanding the specific needs of your business is crucial when selecting the best roofing material.

Unlocking the Secrets of Commercial Roofs

When it comes to commercial roofing, the stakes are high. A roof is more than just a cover; it’s a complex system that needs to withstand all that nature throws at it, while also contributing to the overall energy efficiency and aesthetics of your building. The right choice can save you thousands in repairs and energy costs, and that’s why it’s crucial to get it right the first time.

Why Material Matters in Roofing Decisions

Materials are the foundation of any roofing system. They determine not only the durability and lifespan of your roof but also its thermal properties and even how it looks. Choosing the wrong material can lead to frequent repairs, leaks, and increased energy bills. Therefore, it’s essential to understand the properties of each material and how they align with your business needs.

The Variety and Versatility of Commercial Roofing

Commercial roofing is not a one-size-fits-all solution. From flat to low-sloped, from restaurants to warehouses, every building has its own set of requirements. Fortunately, there’s a vast array of materials available, each with its own set of strengths. Your job is to match those strengths to your building’s needs.

The Main Contenders in Roofing Materials

Let’s dive into the most popular roofing materials and their key features, so you can make an informed decision that aligns with your specific needs.

Built-Up Roofing (BUR): The Traditional Multilayered Solution

Built-up roofing, or BUR, is a time-tested method that’s been around for over a century. It consists of multiple layers of bitumen and reinforcing fabrics that create a finished membrane. Here’s why it’s a good choice:

  • Durability: The multiple layers make BUR highly resistant to foot traffic and punctures.
  • Longevity: With proper maintenance, a BUR system can last up to 30 years.
  • Cost-effective: It’s one of the most affordable roofing options on a per-year basis.

Single-Ply Membranes: TPO, EPDM, and PVC Compared

Single-ply membranes are sheets of rubber and other synthetics that can be ballasted, mechanically fastened, or chemically adhered to insulation, creating a layer of protection on your commercial building. Let’s break down the three most common types:

For example, TPO roofing is known for its heat-reflective properties and energy efficiency, making it a smart choice in warmer climates.

Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO): TPO is a single-ply roofing membrane that is quickly gaining popularity due to its white reflective surface that helps reduce cooling costs. It’s also resistant to UV rays, ozone, and chemical exposure.

Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer (EPDM): EPDM is a durable synthetic rubber roofing membrane known for its long service life and resistance to weathering, abrasions, and extreme temperatures.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): PVC roofing is highly resistant to impact, fire, and chemicals, with a lifespan that rivals TPO and EPDM. It is also recyclable at the end of its life cycle, making it an eco-friendly option.

Each of these materials has its own set of advantages, and the best choice for you will depend on factors like your climate, building design, and budget.

Factors to Weigh When Picking Your Roof

Now, let’s talk about the practical considerations. Picking the right roof involves more than just selecting a material; it’s about understanding the full scope of what that material will mean for your building over its lifespan. Here are some of the factors you need to weigh before making your choice.

Assessing Climatic Impacts on Roof Performance

The climate where your building is located will have a significant impact on the performance of your roof. High winds, heavy rain, scorching sun, and freezing temperatures all test the resilience of roofing materials. For instance, in areas with heavy snowfall, a strong, sloped metal roof might be your best bet to prevent accumulation and potential collapse. In contrast, a heat-reflective TPO roof might be more appropriate in sun-drenched regions to help keep buildings cool and energy costs down.

Understanding Weight and Structural Requirements

The weight of your chosen roofing material is a key factor, as it must be supported by your building’s structure. Heavier materials like BUR require strong support, while lighter options like single-ply membranes might be more suitable for buildings with weight restrictions. It’s important to have a structural engineer assess your building’s capacity before making a decision.

Another aspect to consider is the roof’s slope. Different materials are better suited to different slopes, which affects drainage and the overall performance of the roof. For example, flat roofs require materials that can withstand pooling water, whereas pitched roofs need materials that can shed water effectively.

Besides that, consider the installation process. Some materials require more labor-intensive installation, which can impact the overall project timeline and cost. A quicker and easier installation might be preferable if you’re working on a tight schedule or budget.

Long-Term Maintenance: Balancing Cost and Convenience

Maintenance is a fact of life with any roofing system. Some materials may be more cost-effective upfront but require more frequent maintenance, which can add up over time. For instance, while asphalt shingles might be cheaper to install, they generally don’t last as long as metal roofing and will need to be replaced more often. On the other hand, metal roofing, while more expensive initially, often requires less maintenance and can last for decades.

Smart Selection: Aligning Roof Choices with Business Needs

  • Consider the aesthetic impact of your roof on your business’s image.
  • Factor in the specific environmental conditions your roof will face.
  • Think about the accessibility of your roof for maintenance and repairs.
  • Assess the potential for additional rooftop equipment or future expansions.

Every business has unique needs, and your roof should reflect that. Retail spaces might prioritize a roof that looks good and aligns with their brand, while an industrial facility might need a roof that’s safe and accessible for regular maintenance.

Furthermore, think about the future. If you’re planning to install heavy equipment on the roof, like HVAC units or solar panels, you’ll need a roof that can support that weight. You also need to think about expansion – if there’s a chance you’ll add to your building, choose a roofing material that can be easily adapted or extended.

Most importantly, don’t forget about your budget. It’s not just the upfront costs you need to consider, but the long-term costs of maintenance, repairs, and eventually, replacement. Sometimes spending more now can save you money in the long run.

Lastly, consider the environmental impact of your roofing choice. Eco-friendly materials and systems can not only reduce your carbon footprint but may also provide financial benefits in the form of energy savings and government incentives.

Roofing for Retail: Aesthetics vs. Function

For retail buildings, the roof is part of the customer’s first impression. A shabby or unsightly roof can deter potential customers, so it’s important to choose a material that’s both functional and visually appealing. For instance, standing seam metal roofing offers sleek lines and comes in a variety of colors to match your brand, while also providing excellent durability and low maintenance.

Industrial Roofing: Safety and Accessibility Considerations

Industrial buildings often house heavy machinery and chemicals, which can emit fumes or cause other roofing hazards. Materials like PVC or TPO are resistant to chemical exposure and provide a durable, watertight seal. Safety and accessibility for maintenance personnel are also crucial, so consider walkway pads and guardrails as part of your roofing system.

In addition, industrial roofs often need to support heavy equipment. Make sure the roofing material and structure can handle the additional load, and consult with engineers to ensure compliance with safety standards and building codes.

Office Buildings: Combining Performance with Professional Appearance

Office buildings typically aim for a balance between performance and aesthetics. A roofing material that insulates well can save on energy costs, which is critical for large office spaces. At the same time, the roof should contribute to a polished, professional look. Green roofing systems can offer a unique aesthetic, improve air quality, and provide outdoor spaces for employees to enjoy.

Guided Decision: Steps to Your Ideal Roof

Choosing the right commercial roofing material is a process that should be approached methodically. Here’s a roadmap to guide you through the decision-making process.

Step 1: Identify Your Roofing Requirements

Start by listing out all the demands your roof will need to meet. Think about climate, building use, aesthetic preferences, and any additional equipment you’ll need to accommodate. This will help you narrow down your options to the materials that can meet those specific requirements.

Step 2: Set Your Budget and Expectations

Once you know what you need, consider what you’re willing to spend, both upfront and over time. Remember that the cheapest option isn’t always the most cost-effective in the long run. Be realistic about your budget and consider the potential return on investment from energy savings and reduced maintenance costs.

Step 3: Consult with a Roofing Professional

After assessing your needs and budget, the next step is to bring in a professional. A qualified roofing contractor can provide valuable insights into the best materials for your situation and help you navigate any potential challenges. They can also ensure that the installation is done correctly, which is crucial for the longevity and performance of your roof.


How long should a commercial roof last?

The lifespan of a commercial roof varies widely depending on the material and how well it’s maintained. Generally, you can expect:

  • Asphalt shingles to last 15-30 years
  • Metal roofing to last 30-45 years
  • Single-ply membranes like TPO, EPDM, and PVC to last 20-30 years
  • Built-up roofing (BUR) to last 20-30 years

Regular inspections and maintenance can extend the life of your roof, no matter what material you choose.

Which roofing materials offer the best insulation properties?

Insulation is key for maintaining temperature control within your building and reducing energy costs. Materials known for their insulation properties include:

  • Polyurethane foam, which has a high R-value and can be applied to various roof types
  • Green roofs, which use soil and vegetation to provide natural insulation
  • Thicker single-ply membranes, which can provide better insulation than thinner versions

Can commercial roofs be environmentally friendly?

Yes, options like green roofs, which incorporate vegetation, and cool roofs, which reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat, are both environmentally friendly and can improve the energy efficiency of a building.

Other eco-friendly options include recyclable materials like metal roofing and PVC, as well as roofing systems designed to support solar panels.

What is the most cost-effective commercial roofing material?

When it comes to cost-effectiveness, you have to consider both upfront costs and the total cost of ownership, which includes maintenance and lifespan. Generally, the most cost-effective options include:

  • TPO and PVC single-ply membranes for their balance of cost, durability, and energy efficiency
  • Metal roofing for its longevity and minimal maintenance
  • Built-up roofing (BUR) for its low cost per year of life

How often should commercial roofs be inspected?

Commercial roofs should be inspected at least twice a year, typically in the spring and fall, to ensure they’re in good condition and to catch any issues early. It’s also a good idea to have your roof inspected after any severe weather events that could have caused damage.

Brock Overton


President & Co-Founder


Popular Topics