TPO, considered the newest innovative option for flat roofing, has its roots in the 1970s when EPDM and flexible PVC were the primary options for most buyers looking for a sheet roofing option over the old-school “BUR” roofs, and the first installation of TPO recorded was in 1986 on a roof in Michigan.
Most people looking to have a flat roof installed or replaced are looking to keep their buildings protected from the elements, dry and have their investment last as long as possible while performing as best as possible.
TPO fits those criteria well while being non-disruptive to install and covered under 10, 20 and 30 year warranties.
EPDM Roofing Systems are an economical install without disturbing day to day business.
Modified Bitumen is the classic standard in flat roofing, but has recently fallen in popularity.
PVC Roofing is popular for being heat reflective, lightweight, & eco-friendly
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What is a TPO Roofing System?
TPO stands for “Thermoplastic Polyolefin.” Which is a single ply roofing membrane. In more basic terms, it’s a rubber roofing material that’s rolled out in a single layer, rather than in multiple layers. Which reduces the complexity in installing the roof (less chances for leak-causing errors) and 100% recyclable.
Most often, customers recognize TPO as that “white roof” on top of a building, which also lends to it’s energy efficiency. Because most TPO sheets are manufactured in white (usually available in a few other colors like tan), they reflect more UV radiation (heat), keeping your building cooler in the summer months (reducing your electric bill - sometimes operating at up to 90% less energy than other buildings of the same size).
Here are a few quick benefits of TPO:
- Durable, flexible and versatile.
TPO sheets are manufactured to be highly resistant to any tearing, impacts or punctures. Meaning that if a tree branch falls onto the roof, or a hail storm blows through, there isn’t going to be costly or significant damage to the roof.
- Economical and Easy Install.
TPO membranes generally cost less in maintenance over the years compared to other flat roofing types and the membranes are mechanically attached plus heat adhered (not glue) to insulation boards. That means that installation is a quick process (saving labor costs upfront) and long term there is little possibility of roof “blow off.”
- The Roofing is “Cool”
Because TPO is manufactured in a light color, the sun’s energy is reflected away, reducing building energy costs significantly by reducing AC costs in the summer.
- Seams are Heat-welded
The few seams between sheets of TPO are all heat welded together to create a strong, air-tight bond and because there are no blow-torches used (such as in modified bitumen), there is no risk of building fire during installation or increased insurance costs for an install.
Additionally, seams are usually the weakest part of any commercial roofing system, but with TPO the fused seams usually create a stronger area than the rest of the coverage.
- It’s ECO-Friendly
TPO contains no toxic materials or hazardous ingredients, are 100% recyclable and reduce building energy use.
How long does TPO last?
TPO compounds have changed recently, and often vary by manufacturer. The average TPO roof is rated to last around 15-20 years, most commonly are best rated for 10-15 years and many have manufacturer warranties for 30-35 years. The usual cause of a TPO roof to reach it’s age limit is the gradual degradation of the membrane. However, because TPO is the new kid on the block, many of the original roofs using the new formula have not had 30 years of usage to prove themselves yet.
The single most important factor in determining how long your investment is going to last is, as with all other type of roofing system, the quality of the install. The install quality is usually going to determine how long the roof itself will last overall, whether or not there will be leak problems and how often maintenance will need to be done. For those three reasons alone, it’s important that you choose a highly qualified roofing contractor if you’re looking to maximize your roof’s lifetime value.
Finally, the last factor in your roof’s lifespan is the quality of the manufactured materials. The best rated TPO manufacturers are Firestone (Genflex), Johns Manville (JM), GAF (offers a 35 year warranty) and Versico (also known as Carlisle, offers a 25 year warranty).
A good general rule of thumb is if you’re looking for a reliable roof for 10-15 years, go with TPO. If you’re looking for one that is guaranteed reliable for 20 years, go with PVC, which has had the length of time in manufacturing development and installation to be thoroughly tested against time and the elements.
How much does TPO roofing cost?
Generally speaking, TPO is in the ‘mid-tier’ range for modern commercial roofing costs. The classic roofing options from a company are going to be: Modified Bitumen, EPDM, TPO and PVC.
At Infinite Roofing, we’ve discontinued the installation of Modified Bitumen, in favor of EPDM, TPO and PVC options. Ranked by material cost: EPDM is generally the cheapest, TPO roughly costs $10 more per square than EPDM (although this can vary widely, sometimes TPO is cheaper), and $21 per square less than PVC, placing it squarely in the mid-cost range of all the flat roofing materials. Again, manufacturer prices will vary and thickness of the sheets will make costs vary and the most reliable way to find out the exact cost for your situation is to have a professional roofing estimate performed.
TPO comes in three general thicknesses: 0.45, 0.60 and 0.90
TPO Roofing Pros
One of the biggest reasons companies choose TPO comes down to cost: the install cost and the material cost is generally on par, and even sometimes cheaper than EPDM and can have a significantly less cost than PVC if you have a lot of square footage to cover.
Additionally, the white coloration of TPO reduces energy consumption in your building, reducing ongoing building energy costs. Plus, TPO is often fastened directly to the roof decking, using heat welding which creates a very strong water tight seal and because TPO is resistant to corrosion, it is extremely mildew, mold and algae resistant and does not require regular power washing.
The Bright Future for TPO
TPO is still the new kid on the block, so while manufacturers will warranty the roof for up to 35 years, and even though TPO is relatively inexpensive, there simply hasn’t been enough time to fully test a 35 year old TPO roof and whether or not it will last the entire time 100%.
Additionally, many of the early TPO roofs broke down after about 10-15 years of usage, and while the manufacturing methods changed to lengthen and strengthen TPO, it still hasn’t had enough time to fully test.
Plus the manufacturing quality of TPO can vary tremendously, adding customer confusion to the process about exact time the roof can last and whether or not it will require a lot of maintenance. For that reason, we recommend strongly sticking to one of our mentioned manufacturers: Firestone, GAF, Verisco or JM.
Part of the reason why early TPO roofs broke down prematurely is that the surface is laminated, to reduce the need for regular cleanings and make maintenance easier. However, a laminated surface over time can bend, crack and deteriorate (which is why cheaper TPO materials tend to last a lot shorter). Additionally, TPO is usually rolled out over the roof in thinner sheets, creating seams every 6 to 8 feet and any time there is a seam in roofing, you have a potential problem area for leaks (although, again, because seams in TPO are heat welded, they are generally stronger than other flat roofing systems).