TPO vs EPDM Roofing

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When looking to replace a leaking flat roof, two of the materials that often come to mind are TPO vs EPDM roofing.

Both are single ply membranes, and are top competitors in the field of residential flat roofing.

Let’s take a closer look at these two flat roofing materials.

EPDM Roofing: Main Features

First and foremost, let’s demystify the acronym. EPDM stands for Ethylene Propylene Dine Monomer, a type of synthetic single-ply roofing membrane.

This form of rubber roof has been around for many decades and has a solid track record in terms of performance and longevity. The two main components of EPDM are natural oil and gas, and it’s easily recognized by its signature black color.

These days, EPDM roofing is available in different colors, but over 90% of EPDM roofs in North America are black, as it was the only rubber roof option for many years.

It actually contains three separate layers. The elastic rubber substance comes first, followed by the polyester reinforcement, and on top comes the fire-resistant coating.

Together, these layers create a high-density rubber roof designed to withstand even frequent hailstorms. The rubber surface efficiently bounces the hail away without leaving any damage.

EPDM is lightweight and resistant to strong winds, thermal shocks, and other environmental impacts. In some ways, EPDM is considered the ultimate roof protector.

TPO Roofing: Main Features

The second-most popular choice in the commercial roofing market is TPO, or Thermoplastic Polyolefin. The emergence of TPO in the roofing industry has brought about many changes, but it’s still something of a novelty.

The oldest TPO roof in the US is likely no more than 35 years old.

TPO roofing has seen several different formulas since it was invented, and many brands are still finding new ways to perfect it.

Even though TPO has the word “plastic” in its name, it’s also a single-ply synthetic rubber roofing membrane.

Most commonly, TPO is a blend of ethylene-propylene and polypropylene rubber. TPO can be mechanically attached to the roof or affixed with commercial-grade adhesive.

There are two main reasons why TPO has become a sought-after commercial roofing solution. Firstly, TPO offers excellent sunlight reflection properties, making it more energy-efficient.

Secondly, TPO is somewhat less prone to puncture than EPDM, and that’s precisely what many commercial property owners want.

Did you know? TPO offers excellent energy efficiency, which can significantly lower energy costs because the surface is smooth, reflective, and white.

These factors ensure the commercial-grade AC system works less, leading to lower utility expenses.

If you are looking for the most reliable single ply roofing system, that is better than both TPO and EPDM rubber roofing, consider installing a PVC single ply membrane.

Cost of TPO vs EPDM Roofing

When choosing the type of rubber roof for your home, the price tag is often the most important consideration element.

It’s important to point out that the total installation cost can significantly vary, but overall, the EPDM rubber roof is considered the less expensive option, compared to TPO.

It’s a cost-effective solution that offers excellent value for the price. EPDM materials cost between $1.00 and $4.60 per square foot. Labor costs can drastically vary, starting from $3.60 to $7.60 per square foot.

The cost of additional installation material typically ranges around a few hundred dollars. The lower installation cost is also connected to installation difficulty.

EPDM roofing is faster and easier to install than TPO, since it doesn’t require any special equipment.

The installation of the EPDM roof membrane requires mechanical fastening, which most beginner roofing contractors can perform.

It’s vital to point out that an improperly installed EPDM roof will likely leak and require additional repairs.

By contrast, installing TPO roofing requires more knowledge and specialized equipment. This type of rubber roofing membrane has to be hot-air welded, which is inevitably more costly.

But the material itself is also slightly more expensive, and ranges between $1.60 and $5.10 per square foot. The labor cost for TPO installation is around $3.10-$9.20 per square foot.

If we take a 2,000-square-foot property, for example, the lowest possible installation price, including labor, is around $9,000, and the high-end range is $28,000.

In reality, the average price is somewhere in between, as these are just two extremes.

You can also use our Flat Roof Cost Calculator to estimate the cost of installing a flat roof.

Flat Roof Installation Cost: Factors to Keep in Mind

Asking about the price of materials and labor before installation is essential for property owners. Even with all the correct information, secondary factors will impact the total cost of rubber roofing installation.

Apart from the size of the roof, contractors will consider the ease of access. If your building’s roof is oddly shaped or tricky, the price will surely go up.

The height of the roof matters too, as it comes with the additional risk of bodily harm.

The location of the building will matter as well. More remote locations will increase the installation cost, as it involves more driving.

Finally, adding insulation or installing a roof slope for better drainage always costs more, so it’s important to check if these services are a part of the total installation cost.

Pro Tip: When it comes to TPO roofing, the attachment type will impact the price too. Choosing specialized glue to fasten the rubber roof to timber underlayment is the priciest yet most durable option.

Some contractors ballast the TPO roof with rocks and pavers to weigh it down, but that’s the cheapest solution available.

EPDM Roofing: Warranties

EPDM rubber roofing is well-known for its durability, so it’s no surprise that most major brands offer comprehensive warranties.

While the warranty duration and limitations will vary depending on the quality of the material and other factors, the range is anywhere from five to 40 years.

On average, an EPDM roof will come with a 15- to 35-Year limited warranty. Major roofing brands will usually offer several types of warranties. The most basic warranty will include material defects only, but buyers can opt for enhanced coverage.

For example, GAF offers a materials and workmanship error warranty, ensuring better and longer coverage. When reviewing EPDM roofing warranties, it’s crucial to pay attention to whether the policies are transferable to the next owner.

If you choose to sell your property at some point, having the ability to transfer the warranty to the buyer’s name gives you more leverage.

TPO Roofing: Warranties

With TPO roofing, the warranty policies are roughly in the same range as the EPDM rubber roof. When researching TPO roofing, make sure to check the transferability and options for enhanced warranties.

TPO roofing manufacturers are keen to offer comprehensive warranties covering material and workmanship defects in the 15- to 35-year range.

However, as we mentioned, this is a relatively new material, and there’s no empirical evidence yet that tells us about TPO longevity.

The results so far are promising, and brands stand by the quality of this synthetic rubber roofing system.

With all roofing warranties, property owners should familiarize themselves with the limitations of damages and exclusions from the coverage.

Roofing manufacturers tend to put a lot of relevant information in the fine print, so make sure not to miss it.

For example, a lack of roof maintenance can void the warranty, and in most cases, the damages from natural disasters are not covered. You may even lose the warranty if you paint the roof a different color.

Advantages of EPDM Roofing

We’ve touched on this already, but the cost is one of the most convincing benefits of installing an EPDM roof. Additionally, it’s usually not difficult to find a contractor with enough experience to complete the installation correctly.

But in terms of EPDM properties, the fire resistance is a significant advantage. Many commercial property owners chose EPDM not only because it’s fire-resistant, but it will even slow down the progression of an ongoing fire.

EPDM is an eco-friendly choice, and that is important to those committed to sustainability. It’s a 100% recyclable material that can adapt to any roof style or shape.

EPDM is long-lasting, typically stays in excellent condition, and requires minimal maintenance for over 20-30 years.

EPDM Roofing Disadvantages

Pointing out a few EPDM rubber roof drawbacks is important too. One of the main complaints is the overall utilitarian design. It is a plain, black rubber area that isn’t very attractive.

Some commercial property owners solve this problem by installing artificial grass or wooden decks, but those can get pretty pricey.

Another downside worth considering is that this type of roof retains the heat from sunlight, making it less energy-efficient than TPO.

TPO Roofing Advantages

One of the easiest ways to differentiate EPDM and TPO is by color. TPO usually comes in a reflective white color, though light gray and beige are options.

Compared to the basic black roof associated with EPDM, the visual appeal is undeniable.

But even more than that, the white reflective surface is precisely what ensures the impressive energy-efficiency properties of TPO.

If you live in an area where summers are long and hot, the TPO roofing system is likely a better solution.

It lowers HVAC usage and can reduce the overall carbon footprint. Another vital advantage of the TPO is the numerous insulation options that are not available with EPDM roofing.

PolyISO is a common insulation material that offers better roof rigidity and longevity. Even though TPO is slightly more expensive than EPDM, it’s still a relatively affordable type of flat roofing system.

TPO Disadvantages

Installation complexity is one of the clearer disadvantages to TPO roofing. It can be more challenging to find a skilled contractor with all the right equipment.

Many top roofing companies have expanded their TPO roofing services, and the number is on the rise.

Again, even though TPO is more resistant to puncturing and offers excellent overall durability, it’s still inconclusive as to how long-lasting it is.

Leading brands in the industry are constantly tweaking the formula to ensure its longevity.

Did you know? TPO rubber roofing systems are the go-to choices for modern RVs. When you need to replace your recreational vehicle’s roof, TPO ensures excellent heat reflectivity and thus more comfort.

Which TPO or EPDM Roofing Brand Should You Choose?

There are many great options to consider, but if you want to be on the safe side and stick to verified quality, Carlisle SynTec Systems, GAF, Firestone, or Johns Manville are some of the names to consider.

Whatever you choose to go with, do your own research and find the best price-to-value ratio.

Which Rubber Roofing Membrane Is Better, EPDM or TPO?

There’s no straightforward answer to this question, as the honest answer depends on your needs. Both materials are an excellent choice for protecting your commercial building.

Considering your geographic location is probably the most critical factor to keep in mind. An EPDM roof is likely the better option in areas prone to strong winds, snow, and hail storms.

In very hot and humid areas, TPO is the more prudent solution. The less expensive and readily available option is sometimes the best for many people.

Can TPO Be Installed Over an EPDM Roof?

Yes, it can. If your commercial building already has an EPDM roof, but you want to install TPO, there’s no need to rip out the existing membrane. This is the recommended route as it’s less invasive, faster, and not as expensive.

Can EPDM and TPO Roofs Be Restored?

That largely depends on the roof’s condition. In some cases, repairs and protective coatings can prolong the roof’s functionality. But in some instances, these efforts can end up costing more than a complete roof replacement.

TPO vs. EPDM Roofing: Which Is Right For Your Property?

Some property owners will choose an EPDM rubber membrane because it has verified durability and longevity.

The plain, black rubber roof might not be great-looking, but it bounces hail away and offers remarkable fire-resistant properties.

TPO is more energy-efficient, better-looking, and less likely to be punctured, but it is still pretty new, and the jury is not yet out on whether it offers the same longevity as EPDM.

Both materials are cost-effective, though precise price ranges will differ depending on your location, roof size and accessibility, and brand quality.

Author: Leo B
For over 20 years Leo has run a successful roofing business in New England, specializing in metal roofing, as well as cool flat roofing technologies. Having replaced and installed hundreds of roofs in New England, Leo has first hand experience with pretty much every residential roofing material and roofing manufacturer available in the US.
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