Is a TPO roof good for the environment?
As we move more into a sustainable world, the roofing industry is aiming to go green while maintaining roof integrity and cost efficiency. TPO roofing is among the fastest growing commercial roofing products and is gained traction with experienced roofing contractors here in Colorado. While there are many benefits to TPO roofing in an increasingly eco-conscious world, there are also many issues with the product that are not sustainable.
Thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) roofs have gained popularity across the commercial roofing industry for their many performance and installation advantages (application window can be longer in certain climates). The popularity stems from the benefits of the savings the provide in energy conservation and the ability to reduce a building owner's carbon footprint. TPO single ply roofing membranes provide resistance to ultraviolet (UV) light, ozone, and chemical exposure. Because of their bright white color, TPO roofs provide the benefit of lowering a roof's surface temperature and increasing the energy efficiency of a building. They are designed to be a solar reflective membrane and are energy star rated. With a TPO membrane, the roof will reflect UV rays and heat from the building, decreasing the amount of energy needed to cool the interior of the building. TPO roofing can reduce heating and air conditioning costs by as much as 25 – 35% once installed and completed. TPO Roofs can help reduce the urban heat island effect in cities like Denver, minimizing the thermal impact on the climate. TPO roofs also contribute to cooler cities, better air quality, and lower energy consumption. In urban areas, TPO contributes to cleaner air inside the building by helping keep it free from the smog outside.
There are little environmental concerns with the base polymers and all of the raw materials and base additives are non hazardous. Unlike other roofing options, such as PVC, TPO roofing does not contain environmentally-harmful chemicals such as chlorine. Furthermore, there are no noxious fumes during installation like there can be with asphalt based roofing materials.
How long does a TPO roof last?
The estimated life of a TPO roof is roughly 15-20 years, but in regions like Colorado and other states with extreme UV exposure it has proven to be shorter. Many TPO products are prone to failure with extended exposure to heat. Once a TPO roof has reached the end of its' service life it cannot be renewed. It will either need to be restored with a liquid applied membrane or torn off, thus the old roof will end up in a landfill. In some circumstances, a layover is possible but building code only allows this to be done once. Other types of roofs, such as spray polyurethane foam (SPF), can be repaired and recoated, but aged TPO roofs cannot be hot-air-welded. Not only can this be incredibly costly to a property manager or facility owner but it also adds more to our landfills. Therefore, it may not be the most environmentally friendly roofing option.
Although TPO roofs are sold as a greener option, when a closer look is taken, these roofs often times have a shorter cradle-to-grave timeline and result in unnecessary landfill waste. Not only are these roofs difficult to repair but they don’t serve much of a function past the lifecycle of the serviceable roof. In comparison, one of TPO’s largest competitors is PVC. Aged PVC remains weldable, giving building owners a service-friendly roof throughout its lifespan. At the end of a PVC’s lifecycle, some manufacturer’s of these membranes are even able to reuse the PVC membrane by collecting the roof at tear off, grinding it up, and recycling it to make a new membrane.
One of the best long-term investments in commercial roofing is spray foam roofing systems. At the end of a spray foam coating lifecycle, a recoat is always possible and easy to achieve. A TPO roofing systems can be restored by the use of roof coatings but the window of opportunity is very narrow. Once a TPO roof has worn-out (typically determined by the amount of scrim that can be seen) it cannot be coated.
Not only are there more service friendly roof options, but there are more sustainable options for your flat roofing needs.