Types of Commercial Roofing Materials


Commercial buildings often have needs that differ from residential, and this includes the type of roof that you use. Commercial buildings often have a flat or minimally sloped roof, which means that traditional roofing materials won’t work. Seams, overlaps, and other measures used on residential roofs and in settings where water is freely able to flow off of the roof aren’t able to be used in flat areas due to the risk of leaks, and the way that standing water would eventually begin to break down the roofing material. In addition, commercial roofs may have other purposes as well, including storing HVAC equipment, providing access for maintenance, and possibly even allowing regular use by the building’s occupants. Therefore, there are a number of different types of roofing materials produced just for commercial buildings.

Thermoplastic Roofs

One of the fastest growing roofing products available for commercial use today is the thermoplastic roof. There are essentially two kinds being produced today – TPO roofs and PVC. Both are extremely durable, lightweight, and reflective roofing materials that can be used on flat and low-slope roofs over commercial buildings.

The benefits of thermoplastic roofing include:

  • The ability to retrofit to existing roofing materials
  • Three different methods of installation, including the ability to adhere directly to the structural deck with fasteners or the ability to do away with fasteners and allow the material to bond directly to the structural membrane
  • Superior seams which will not leak even after 20 years
  • Resistance to fire, punctures, chemicals, and high winds

Thermoplastic roofs will last 20 years or more when cared for properly. Maintenance includes a yearly, visual inspection of the roof, including thermal imaging when possible to check for weak spots or hidden damage to the roof. Sealants may need to be repaired or replaced on a regular basis to help prevent leaks or deterioration.

EPDM Roofing


EPDM roofing is a single ply, rubber roofing membrane that is used not only on commercial buildings, but also on things like RVs and motor homes as well. This is an incredibly durable, low-maintenance roofing material that is resistant to ozone, UV, weathering, and abrasion damage. This is one of the more sustainable and environmentally friendly roofs available today, which makes it popular amongst building owners who are focusing on a greener design.

Additional benefits of EPDM include:

  • The ability to use fasteners or to adhere the material right onto the roofing membrane
  • The fact that the material is lightweight and suitable for a number of types of roof decks
  • This is one of the most cost effective solutions due to how easily and quickly it can be installed

EPDM does require more maintenance than some other types of commercial roofing materials. The surface should be inspected yearly, as well as cleaned to help remove things like “chalking” as well as mold and mildew, which may grow on the roof over an extended amount of time. While not damaging to the roof, mold and mildew may stain the roof if not cleaned off regularly.

Modified Bitumen

A modified bitumen roof is one that is made up of asphalt that has been reinforced with either polyester or fiberglass. It gives good resistance against foot traffic, as well as against punctures and tears, making it an excellent choice for commercial roofs that get a lot of use. You can find modified bitumen roofing in a variety of different types to offer you different versatility in temperature resistance and durability.

Additional benefits include:

  • Enhanced tensile strength when compared to other flat roofs subjected to foot traffic
  • Resistance to cold temperatures
  • Available in a variety of different colors and textures

Maintenance of a modified bitumen roof is simply and involves a yearly inspection and cleaning. Check for signs of wear on the roof itself, as well as signs of wear on the flashing. Sweep the roof free of debris on a regular basis to help aid in the inspection.

Built Up Roof


In many cases a built-up roof will perform similarly to a modified bitumen roof. Whereas a modified bitumen roof is made up primarily of reinforced asphalt, however, a built up roof is made up of multiple layers of different materials including felts, fabrics, and mats which are held together with bitumen. It is usually finished with a mineral cap sheet or a weather resistant coating.

Benefits of using a built up roof include:

  • Excellent resistance to the weather and elements
  • High durability and resistance to punctures and tears
  • Has a variety of different finishing applications including gravel, which can give it several different looks, as well as increased performance based on location and weather.

Built up roofs perform a lot like modified bitumen roofs in terms of maintenance. They should be inspected on a yearly basis, and swept or brushed regularly to help aid in inspection. If your built up roof has a gravel finish, be sure to use a softer bristled brush when cleaning to avoid removing any of the gravel.

Metal Roof

Metal roofs are extremely popular for more industrial style commercial roofing settings. In this case, a metal roof refers to a specific types known as a standing seam roof. In a standing seam metal roof different sheets of metal are placed next to one another and joined at their upper most edge or seam, which rises up above the rest of the panels. Metal roofs are highly durable and can outlast many other types of commercial roofing material by more than 30 years. Standing seam roofs are not always suitable for flat roof applications, however, and are not meant to be walked on.

The benefits of a metal roof include:

  • Fire resistance
  • Increased strength and durability over other roofs
  • Energy efficiency and the ability to help create a sustainable design for the building

Proper maintenance of a metal roof involves a yearly inspection of the fasteners holding the seams together. Replacement of the fasteners may be necessary in a number of cases depending upon the weather. Walking on the joists of the metal roof should be avoided at all times to avoid dents.

Coated Roof

A coated roof system is installed over your existing roofing material and is designed to help prolong the life of your current roof. Coated roofing systems are poured in a liquid form over the entirety of the current roof, where they are allowed to cure and harden. The coated roof is highly reflective, helping to reduce energy costs, and is often more durable than the type of roof it was installed over, which can dramatically increase the lifespan of the roof as a whole.

Benefits of installing a coated roofing system include:

  • The system is seamless, filling cracks and splits in the roof for a completely watertight seal
  • The roof remains cooler than some other types of roofs, which can keep areas below the roof cooler as well
  • Extremely cost effective solution for making repairs to an existing roof

Coated roofing systems require little to no maintenance beyond a yearly inspection and the removal of any debris that may have gathered on the roof over time.

Solar Panel Roofs

Many people have heard of solar panels, and in many areas solar panel roofs for commercial buildings are beginning to see an increase in installation. A solar panel roof may involve covering the entire roofing structure in solar panels, or it may involve a mixture of solar panels and other roofing materials.

The benefits of installing a solar panel roof include:

  • The ability to use sunlight to power the building
  • Decreased utility bills for the building as a whole

Unfortunately, solar roofing panels are expensive, and may need to be angled up off of the roof to get the best light. They cannot be walked on, which does restrict access to the roof. Beyond this, maintenance includes yearly inspections and cleaning not only of the panels themselves, but also of any cables and batteries required to store the electricity.

Green Roofs

Green roofs are becoming increasingly popular in urban areas. They involve covering either part of the entire roof in living vegetation and soil over a waterproof membrane. This living roof is thought to reduce heat in urban areas, as well as to provide a green place for people to visit.

Other benefits of a green roof include:

  • Lowered energy bills for the building as green roofs tend to stay cooler
  • Insulating the building, which can also save on heating costs as well
  • A roof that lasts two to three times longer than traditional roofing materials

Maintenance of a green roof is more expensive and time consuming than other roofing types. The vegetation must be maintained, including watering, fertilizing, planting, and potentially weeding. The soil must be aerated regularly, and the waterproof membrane should be inspected for cracks on a regular basis as well.

Cover Your Roof

Commercial roofing materials are continuing to improve as more people look for a longer lasting, more sustainable option for their roofs. Look to these options for your commercial building to help get the most from your building’s rooftop.

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2 thoughts on “Types of Commercial Roofing Materials

  1. It’s good to know how commercial roofs are different and have different needs than traditional roofs. I think it’s important to become educated on these types of materials you have mentioned so you can know how to work best with your roofing contractor. The more you know about roofing and your particular building, the better your roofing contractor will be able to help you.

  2. It’s interesting to learn about the different commercial roofing choices. Are commercial roofs always flat, or can they be peaked? Either way, it seems like metal would be a smart choice for anything, since it’s fire resistant and so durable.

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