commercial building roofing

The Best Types of Roofing Material for Commercial Buildings

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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There’s a lot that goes into choosing a roofing material, from how sloped your roof is to what your aesthetic considerations are. Before we dive into some of the best materials available for commercial roofing, let’s address a couple of things:

First, this article won’t take aesthetic considerations into account. There’s no accounting for taste, after all, and what some of you will find delightful others may find tacky.

Second, no two commercial buildings are exactly the same. The materials we’re going to highlight here are useful for most commercial applications, but you might choose very different roofing materials if your commercial building more closely resembles a residential building. In other words, if you love terracotta tiles, by all means look into them – we’re just not going to discuss them in this article.

Metal Roofing

Metal roofing is incredibly durable and quite long-lasting. Those two elements mean you’re less likely to have to replace or repair a metal roof compared to some other types of roofing – though the cost to replace a metal roof (should you need to) can be quite high. Metal is also quite well-suited to sloped roofs. 

There are many different kinds of metal roofing – different alloys will be used for different climates, aesthetics, and more. No matter which alloy you choose, however, it’s important to note that metal roofing is the most expensive of the roofing options we’re going to propose in this article. 

On the flip side, it’s also one of the most environmentally friendly – many metal roofs are made up almost entirely of recycled materials, the roofs themselves are recyclable, and they’re incredibly durable. Some governments offer incentives for environmental design, and these incentives may offset the difference in costs between metal and other types of roofing (though in most cases, they won’t totally make up the difference of initial cost).

Built-Up Roofing (BUR)

BUR, sometimes known as tar-and-gravel roofing, isn’t necessarily the most eye-catching roofing on the planet. That said, BUR is incredibly functional. It gets its name from the alternating layers of tar and roofing felt that are used in order to create a well-insulated, waterproof, stable roof.

BUR is less expensive to install than metal roofing, though more expensive than some other types. It’s not very functional on highly-sloped surfaces, so flat or low-slope roofs are best. There’s a relatively low maintenance cost associated with BUR, and it can be fire resistant if you top it with aggregate (gravel). You can, however, choose other toppers if you so desire.

BUR is less environmentally friendly than metal roofing, and if you use hot asphalt as your “tar”, it can give off toxic fumes. You can use cold asphalt to alleviate this problem. Installation costs tend to be a bit high, as the process is quite involved.

PVC Roofing

Those of you who are looking for roofs that will wow your clients while helping the environment…keep looking. On the flip side, if you have a large, commercial, flat or low-sloped building, and you want to keep costs and maintenance down while installing an incredibly durable system, PVC just might be for you.

PVC is single-ply (as opposed to built-up roofing, which has multiple layers), and made of one of the most mass-produced plastics in the world. It’s fire resistant, water resistant, chemical resistant, and durable, lasting in the range of 20-30 years. It’s more expensive than BUR, but less expensive than metal roofing.

TPO Roofing

TPO is kind of the new kid on the block, and you might think of it as a more affordable version of PVC. Most of the advantages and disadvantages of PVC apply here, too. TPO roofing is generally white, so it can be useful if you’re trying to deflect the sun’s rays and save on cooling. Conversely, this may be a disadvantage in cold climates, where heating is your biggest energy cost.

Why, then, would you choose PVC over TPO? Simply put, TPO may be less durable. It’s been around for less time than PVC, and analysis shows it usually lasts for about 15-20 years. That means you may need to replace it sooner, which can end up costing more in the long run.

EPDM Roofing

EPDM, essentially, is rubber roofing. The low-to-no-slope rule applies again here, as it’s a single-ply roof that’s applied in sheets. The stuff is incredibly durable, and can last for 30-50 years – only metal roofing has a longer life span. EPDM surfaces are black, so they’re well-suited for cold environments, where heat gain is important.

There are, however, a couple of disadvantages to EPDM, especially in warmer climates. The rubber can expand and tear in the heat, making the roof susceptible to water damage. What’s more, it can degrade as a result of intense UV light. It is, however, quite cost effective, priced at about the same per square foot as TPO.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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