What Is Used In Commercial Roofing?

What Is Used In Commercial Roofing?

The Diverse Landscape: Unveiling the Materials Used in Commercial Roofing

Commercial roofs play a critical role, safeguarding businesses and their assets from the elements. Unlike their residential counterparts, commercial roofs require a unique blend of durability, functionality, and cost-effectiveness. This comprehensive guide delves into the materials that dominate the commercial roofing landscape, exploring their advantages, considerations, and how they contribute to the protection and performance of commercial buildings.

A Material Menagerie: Unveiling the Most Common Choices

Several roofing materials have stood the test of time and earned their place as the go-to options for countless commercial buildings. Here’s a closer look at the most prevalent choices:

  1. Single-Ply Membranes: Lightweight and versatile, single-ply membranes have revolutionized commercial roofing. These come in various materials, each offering distinct benefits:

    • Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO): This white or light-colored membrane boasts excellent heat resistance and superior weldability, making it ideal for hot climates.
    • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Offering superior chemical resistance and high strength, PVC membranes are well-suited for industrial applications or areas with potential exposure to harsh chemicals. However, their dark color can absorb more heat.
    • Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer (EPDM): Known for its affordability, flexibility, and ease of installation, EPDM membranes are a popular choice for flat roofs. However, they may require a cover sheet for UV protection.


  • Lightweight: Single-ply membranes are significantly lighter than traditional options like built-up roofing (BUR), reducing stress on the building structure. This is particularly advantageous for retrofit projects.
  • Easy Installation: These membranes can be installed quickly and efficiently, minimizing downtime for your business operations.
  • Energy Efficiency: The light-colored variants, like TPO, reflect sunlight and heat, reducing energy consumption for cooling during hot weather.
  • Durability: Single-ply membranes offer excellent resistance to water, wind, and punctures, ensuring long-lasting performance.
  • Low Maintenance: These membranes require minimal maintenance compared to other options. Regular inspections are still recommended, but repairs are typically less frequent.


  • Susceptible to Damage: Single-ply membranes can be punctured or torn if not properly installed or protected from sharp objects. Regular inspections are crucial to identify and address any potential damage promptly.
  • Limited Aesthetics: These membranes generally offer a utilitarian appearance and may not be suitable for buildings where aesthetics are a high priority.
  1. Modified Bitumen Roofing: An evolution of the traditional BUR system, modified bitumen membranes offer improved flexibility and weather resistance. These membranes consist of asphalt bitumen blended with polymers, resulting in a more durable and easier-to-maintain option compared to BUR.


  • Durable and Reliable: Modified bitumen offers excellent waterproofing and weather resistance, making it a dependable choice for commercial applications.
  • Relatively Affordable: Compared to some other commercial roofing options, modified bitumen offers a good balance between performance and cost-effectiveness.
  • Ease of Installation: Installation of modified bitumen membranes is a familiar process for many roofers, potentially reducing labor costs.
  • Heat Resistance: Modified bitumen offers good heat resistance, making it suitable for various climates.


  • Susceptible to Puncture: Like single-ply membranes, modified bitumen can be punctured if not carefully protected during installation or roof maintenance activities.
  • Seaming Requirements: Proper seaming of the membranes is crucial to ensure watertightness. Skilled roofers are essential for achieving a reliable and long-lasting installation.
  • Off-Gassing Concerns: During installation and in hot weather, modified bitumen can release some fumes. Proper ventilation is essential to mitigate these concerns.
  1. Metal Roofing: Offering a combination of durability, aesthetics, and longevity, metal roofing has become a popular choice for many commercial buildings. These roofs come in various styles and materials, including:
  • Standing Seam Metal Panels: These interlocking panels create a clean, modern aesthetic and offer superior wind resistance.
  • Metal Shingles: Available in various profiles and finishes, metal shingles provide a more traditional look with the exceptional durability of metal.
  • Corrugated Steel: A cost-effective option, corrugated steel offers good strength and weather resistance, but may have a more industrial appearance.


  • Exceptional Durability: Metal roofs can last for decades with minimal maintenance, making them a cost-effective choice in the long run.
  • Fire Resistance: Metal roofs are non-combustible, offering a significant fire safety advantage compared to other roofing materials.

    • Low Maintenance: Metal roofs require minimal maintenance beyond periodic cleaning and inspections. They are also resistant to rot and insect infestation.
    • Energy Efficiency: Metal roofs, particularly those with reflective coatings, can help reduce cooling costs by reflecting sunlight and heat.
    • Aesthetics: Metal roofing offers a variety of styles and finishes, allowing for a sleek, modern look or a more traditional aesthetic depending on the chosen profile and material.


    • Higher Initial Cost: Metal roofs typically have a higher upfront cost compared to some other commercial roofing options.
    • Noise Concerns: Metal roofs can be noisy during heavy rain or hail. Proper insulation and underlayment can help mitigate this issue.
    • Susceptibility to Dents: Metal roofs can be dented if struck by hail or heavy objects. However, modern metal roofing materials are quite resilient.

Beyond the Mainstream: Exploring Additional Commercial Roofing Options

While single-ply membranes, modified bitumen, and metal roofing dominate the commercial landscape, other options cater to specific needs or preferences:

  • Built-Up Roofing (BUR): A time-tested option consisting of alternating layers of asphalt and felt, BUR offers excellent durability and fire resistance. However, it’s a heavier material and requires more maintenance compared to modern options.
  • Green Roofs: Eco-friendly and aesthetically pleasing, green roofs feature a layer of vegetation on top of a waterproof membrane. These roofs offer excellent insulation properties and contribute to stormwater management, but require a structurally sound roof deck and ongoing maintenance.
  • Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF): This lightweight, closed-cell foam can be applied directly to the roof deck, providing excellent insulation and waterproofing properties. However, SPF roofs may require a protective topcoat and are not suitable for all climates.

Choosing the Right Material for Your Commercial Roof

The ideal roofing material for your commercial property depends on several factors:

  • Building Structure and Slope: The weight capacity and slope of your roof will influence the suitability of certain materials. For example, metal roofs might not be suitable for very low-slope roofs due to drainage concerns.
  • Budget: Commercial roofing projects can be significant investments. Consider your budget and the long-term lifecycle costs of each material, including maintenance requirements.
  • Location and Climate: Weather conditions in your area play a crucial role. Consider factors like wind resistance, snow load capacity, and UV resistance when selecting a roofing material.
  • Energy Efficiency: Certain roofing materials, like metal with reflective coatings or single-ply membranes, can contribute to lower energy bills.
  • Aesthetics and Compatibility: Consider the desired visual appeal of your building and ensure the chosen roofing material complements the overall architectural style.
  • Maintenance Requirements: The ease and frequency of maintenance required for each material should be factored into your decision.

Pro Tip: Consulting with a qualified commercial roofing contractor is essential. They can assess your specific needs, conduct a roof inspection, and recommend the most suitable roofing material based on your building, budget, and local conditions.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions on Commercial Roofing Materials

Q: What is the most common roofing material for commercial buildings?

A: Single-ply membranes, modified bitumen, and metal roofing are the three most prevalent materials used in commercial applications. The choice between them depends on various factors like budget, desired lifespan, aesthetics, and local climate.

Q: What are the most important factors to consider when choosing a commercial roofing material?

A: Several factors play a vital role:

  • Durability and weather resistance: The chosen material should withstand the elements in your area and provide long-lasting protection for your building.
  • Cost: Consider both the upfront installation cost and the long-term lifecycle costs, including maintenance requirements.
  • Energy efficiency: Opt for materials that can help reduce energy consumption, such as those with high reflectivity.
  • Aesthetics: Consider the desired visual appeal of your building and choose a material that complements the overall architecture.
  • Maintenance requirements: The ease and frequency of maintenance associated with each material should be factored into your decision.

Q: How much does a commercial roof cost?

A: Commercial roof costs can vary significantly depending on the size and complexity of your roof, chosen material, labor costs in your area, and any specific requirements like additional insulation or specialty features. Here’s a ballpark range per square foot:

  • Built-up Roof (BUR): $3-$6
  • Modified Bitumen: $4-$8
  • Single-Ply Membranes: $5-$10

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