Types of Commercial Roofing Systems: What Are Your Best Options?

Commercial roofing systems are a critical aspect of any building's structural integrity and energy efficiency and overall aesthetics. 

This article will offer a brief overview of the most popular commercial roofing systems and seek to address some common questions associated with each type. By providing a comprehensive overview, this article aims to empower readers to make confident, educated choices for their commercial roofing needs.

What Are the Different Types of Commercial Roofing Systems?

When it comes to commercial roofing systems, there are several options available, each with their own advantages and considerations. It is vital to consider factors such as cost, durability, and energy efficiency. 

In this section, we will discuss some of the most common types of commercial roofs and briefly outline their characteristics.

What Is a Built-Up Roofing System?

Built-Up Roofing (BUR) systems have been a popular choice for commercial buildings due to their proven reliability and performance. These systems consist of multiple layers of asphalt and reinforcing fabrics, creating a durable and long-lasting roof. These systems are suitable for low-slope roofs and can be covered with a reflective coating to improve energy efficiency.

Benefits of Built-Up Roofing Systems

  • Longevity: BUR systems can last more than 30 years when properly maintained.
  • Water Resistance: The multiple layers create a strong barrier against water infiltration.
  • Energy Efficiency: BUR systems provide good insulation, reducing energy costs.

What Are Single-Ply Roofing Membranes?

Single-ply roofing membranes come in two primary types: thermoset (EPDM) and thermoplastic (TPO or PVC). These membranes are made from flexible materials that are heat-welded or adhered in place. They offer excellent weather resistance and can be installed on various roof slopes.

Benefits of Single-Ply Roofing Systems:

  • Lightweight: Single-ply materials are lighter than BUR and MB systems, reducing stress on the building's structure.
  • Easy Maintenance: Single-ply systems are resistant to UV degradation, chemical exposure, and punctures, reducing maintenance costs over time.
  • Environmentally Friendly: Many single-ply systems are Energy Star-rated and recyclable.

What Is Metal Roofing?

Metal roofing systems are durable, lightweight, and low-maintenance, making them a popular choice for commercial buildings. They are made from materials such as aluminum, steel, or copper and can be installed in a variety of styles, including standing seam and corrugated panels.

Benefits of Metal Roofing:

  • Longevity: Metal roofs have a lifespan of 40-70 years, depending on the material and conditions.
  • Fire Resistance: Metal roofing materials are non-combustible, providing enhanced fire protection.
  • Energy Efficiency: Metal roofs can reflect solar heat, reducing cooling costs during warmer months.

What Are Modified Bitumen Roofing Systems?

Modified bitumen roofing systems are made from asphalt combined with modifiers such as SBS or APP, resulting in a more flexible and durable material. These roofs are primarily used on low-slope buildings and are installed using torch application, cold adhesives, or self-adhering sheets.

Benefits of Modified Bitumen Roofing Systems:

  • Weather Resistance: MB systems perform well in extreme temperatures and can withstand heavy foot traffic.
  • Easy Installation: MB roofing materials come in rolls, making installation quicker and more cost-effective.
  • Variety of finishing options: MB systems can be finished with granules, paint, or reflective coatings to suit various aesthetic preferences and energy efficiency goals.

What is the Most Common Type of Commercial Roofing?

When looking at the most common type of commercial roofing, it is important to consider the features and benefits that make it so widely used. One popular choice is the flat roof system. If you are interested in commercial roofing, you might find yourself asking:

What Are the Features of Flat Roof Systems?

Flat roof systems have several features that make them a popular option for many commercial buildings. Some of these features include:

  • Low Cost: Flat roof systems are generally more affordable than other types of roofing systems.
  • Easy to Maintain: Flat roofs are accessible and easy to clean, making routine maintenance less time-consuming and labor-intensive.
  • Space-Saving: Flat roofs provide additional usable space for rooftop equipment, gardens, or recreational areas.

What are the Different Types of Flat Roof System Materials?

There are several types of materials commonly used for flat roofing systems. These include:

  1. Single-ply Membrane: This can be made of materials such as TPO, EPDM, or PVC, which are all synthetic rubber or plastic materials that are durable and water-resistant.
  2. Built-up Roofing (BUR): This system uses layers of roofing felt and tar or asphalt, topped with a layer of gravel or other protective material to provide durability and resistance against the elements.
  3. Modified Bitumen: This material is a blend of asphalt and rubber or plastic polymers, making it more elastic and resistant to tears and leaks compared to traditional asphalt systems.

How to Select the Right Commercial Roofing System?

Selecting the right commercial roofing system involves considering several factors. Weighing the impact of climate, building structure, lifespan, and maintenance needs will lead to an informed decision. In this section, we will address these important aspects.

Does Climate Affect Your Roofing System Choice?

Climate plays a crucial role in determining the best roofing system for your commercial building. Different materials have varying levels of resistance to specific weather conditions. For example:

  • A metal roof is suitable for areas with heavy snowfall due to its snow-shedding capabilities.
  • EPDM (ethylene propylene diene terpolymer) and TPO (thermoplastic olefin) single-ply roofing systems are ideal for hotter climates as they reflect sunlight and reduce energy consumption.
  • In areas with high humidity or heavy rain, a fully adhered roofing membrane or a standing seam metal roof can provide better waterproofing.

How Crucial Is Your Building's Structure in Decision-Making?

The structure of your commercial building plays a significant role in the choice of the roofing system. Important factors to consider are:

  • Roof Slope: Flat roofs require different materials and installation methods compared to sloped roofs.
  • Load Capacity: The roofing system should not exceed the building's design load capacity.
  • Space Use: The interior use of the building can impact the choice, for example, a roof garden may require a more robust waterproofing system.

Why Do Lifespan and Maintenance Needs Matter?

The longevity and maintenance requirements of a commercial roofing system are essential aspects to evaluate. A long-lasting, low-maintenance system can offer significant cost savings in the long run. Here are some points to consider:

  • Metal roofs have a long lifespan (up to 50 years) and require minimal upkeep.
  • Built-up roofs (BUR) and modified bitumen systems have a shorter lifespan (around 20-30 years) but may provide better structural stability.
  • Consider warranties, repair costs, and potential energy savings when comparing the total cost of ownership between different systems.

What Are Green Roofs and Cool Roofs?

Green roofs and cool roofs are innovative roofing systems designed to alleviate environmental concerns, enhance building performance, and save energy costs. Both of these systems offer specific advantages to property owners, and they continue gaining popularity among architects and builders.

How Do Green Roofs Work?

Green roofs, also known as living roofs or vegetated roofs, incorporate a layer of plants on top of a waterproof membrane. These plants are grown on a specially designed growing medium and are supported by a drainage system. Green roofs provide a habitat for local flora and fauna, help absorb rainwater, and regulate the building's temperature.

There are two main types of green roofs: extensive and intensive. Extensive green roofs are typically less than 6 inches deep, require minimal maintenance, and are ideal for groundcover plants. Intensive green roofs, on the other hand, can be as deep as several feet, allowing for a wider range of plant species, including trees and shrubs.

What Are the Benefits of Cool Roofs?

Cool roofs are designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than traditional roofs. These roofs use reflective materials, such as light-colored paint, coatings, or specialized shingles, to achieve a higher solar reflectance index (SRI). The SRI measures a roof's ability to reflect solar energy and is expressed on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher values indicating greater reflectivity.

  • Energy Savings: Cool roofs help reduce energy consumption by lowering the building's cooling load, leading to considerable savings on electricity bills for the property owner.
  • Improved Comfort: Due to their reflective surface, cool roofs can reduce indoor temperatures, resulting in a more comfortable living environment for occupants.
  • Urban heat Island Mitigation: As cool roofs minimize heat absorption, they contribute to lowering ambient temperatures in urban areas, combating the urban heat island effect.

Both green roofs and cool roofs provide valuable benefits and serve as viable options for commercial property owners looking to optimize building performance and support sustainable design initiatives.

What Can Be Learned from Different Commercial Roofing Systems?

By exploring various commercial roofing systems, it becomes apparent that each carries its own set of advantages and disadvantages. It is essential for business owners and building managers to understand the specific needs of their building when choosing the most suitable roofing system.

Evaluating factors such as climate, building use, and budget will aid in making an informed decision. Comparing roofing systems such as single-ply membranes, built-up roofing, and metal roofing demonstrates the diversity in materials and installation methods.

Considering factors such as durability, energy efficiency, and maintenance requirements, it is clear that no single roofing solution is perfect for every building. 

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