Choosing a Commercial Roof: Factors to Consider

Jul 6, 2020Blog, Commercial Roofing

For commercial building owners and managers, choosing the right commercial roof is a critical decision. The material you choose will impact the overall safety of your building, as well as its energy efficiency and longevity.


The best way to make sure you end up with the right roof for your building is to find a commercial roofing professional you can trust. An experienced commercial roofer will consider all factors and make a confident and informed recommendation based on your building’s specific needs.

But, while a recommendation from a trusted professional should carry considerable weight, ultimately the final decision is yours. Choosing the wrong roof can lead to years of expensive headaches so it’s important that you have some understanding of what material is most suitable for your building’s needs. That’s why River Run created this list of factors to consider when selecting a new roof for your commercial building, as well as a quick overview of the types of roofing systems you’re likely to encounter.


No single factor on this list will determine the perfect roofing system for your building by itself. Since the different systems’ beneficial features often overlap, there may be multiple options that would meet your building’s needs based on just one factor. That is why it’s important to look at all the factors together and choose the type of commercial roof that best meets your building’s complete needs.


Here’s everything you should consider about your building when choosing a commercial roof:


The current state of your commercial roof is the first thing to look at. The type of roof, any existing structures it houses (HVAC or fire mitigation systems for example), protrusions, and accessibility requirements should all be taken into account.


Some commercial roofing systems can be applied directly on top of an existing roof, saving you the time and cost of tearing off the first roof. But reroofing (layering one roof directly on top of another) isn’t always possible. PVC for example, cannot be applied over an existing asphalt roof. In that situation, PVC’s incompatibility with asphalt would require a complete replacement (tearing off the first roof before applying the new one).


Existing structures and protrusions like AC units, vents, and skylights should also be taken into consideration since they can affect the installation and maintenance of different commercial roofing systems.


Ideally, no one should really be walking around on a commercial roof except for roofing professionals. But since this is often unrealistic, it’s important to take foot traffic into consideration for both the safety of your employees as well as your roof.


Single-ply systems that are vulnerable to puncture, like EPDM, can be easily damaged when walked on, resulting in damaging leaks. Metal roofing systems, on the other hand, are unlikely to be punctured by foot traffic but are slippery and can pose a safety risk to the people walking on them. How often your roof will need to be accessed outside of professional maintenance is an important factor to consider when choosing a commercial roofing system.


A building’s physical location is another significant factor in choosing the right type of roof. Local building codes, nearby hazards like overhanging trees or wildlife, and extreme weather expected for that climate should all be taken into consideration.


Commercial buildings in different climates may require different types of roofs. Buildings that see a lot of snow and hail might require the durability of a metal roof, while buildings in a desert climate would need the extreme energy-efficiency of a reflective system like Flexion, and buildings in climates with both extreme heat and cold may see the most benefit from a flexible material like EPDM that can easily adapt to temperature fluctuations.


Or two buildings in vastly different settings may benefit from the same type of roofing system for different reasons. A building surrounded by trees with low-hanging branches may benefit from TPO’s tensile strength and puncture resistance, while a building in an urban setting may benefit from TPO’s energy-efficient properties, limiting their contribution to the heat island effect.


Commercial roofing systems are designed to function in a variety of climates so environmental conditions won’t greatly limit your options. But it’s still something to consider carefully.


The third factor to consider is the type of business conducted within your building. A storage warehouse will have vastly different heating and cooling needs than a retail clothing store. In the case of a retail store, where customers are expecting a moderate and comfortable temperature, an energy-efficient system like Flexion or TPO may be worth the higher upfront cost. While a warehouse that stores non-temperature-sensitive inventory may opt for a less energy-efficient but more affordable roofing system, like EPDM.


Buildings housing restaurants or manufacturers require a roofing system that can accommodate ventilation and exhaust systems, as well as withstand damage from chemicals and oils, like PVC. Roofing materials that can be degraded by exposure to these substances, like EPDM and TPO, would be a poor choice for these types of businesses.


The environmental impact of commercial roofing systems is another important factor to take into consideration.. Whether a system is made from recycled material, can be recycled at the end of its life, is highly reflective, or whether it can accommodate additional insulation or photovoltaic panels are all “green” features commercial building owners may want to watch for.


Beyond the obvious energy efficiency (and subsequently lower utility costs) these features provide, certifications like LEED® and ENERGY STAR® may offer significant incentives for building owners to “go green” for their new roof.


With a significant purchase like a commercial roof, it can be easy to let the budget rule your decision. However, it’s important to remember that your roof is an investment and you need to consider more than the initial price tag to truly understand its value.


You’ll want to take into account the true lifetime cost of the roof by considering factors like future maintenance, repairs, longevity, and available warranties. Roofing materials that are less expensive upfront often come with a shorter lifespan, requiring repairs or even complete replacement much sooner than materials that are more expensive to start with.


Roofing systems with added benefits like the ability to be recoated, extreme energy efficiency, or stellar warranties,could end up paying for themselves when you compare your initial investment to what you will save over time.


The longevity of different roofing systems is an important factor to consider, especially in relation to your future plans. With proper care and maintenance, different commercial roofs can offer life spans ranging from 10 years up to 50 or more. A roofing system with a long life expectancy is great for clients who plan to own their commercial buildings for decades. Meanwhile, an owner who is planning to sell their property in the near future may not want to invest in a longer-lasting but more expensive system.


Considering these 6 important factors should help you get a clearer picture of what you’re looking for in a commercial roofing system. It’s also important to be somewhat familiar with the different types of commercial roofing systems on the market. This way you can be prepared to ask questions when your commercial roofing professional makes their recommendation.


Here are the 5 types of commercial roofing systems your contractor is most likely to recommend:


Metal: Typically made of corrugated, galvanized steel, these roofing systems offer great energy efficiency and outstanding longevity.


Ethylene Propylene Diene Terpolymer (EPDM): A synthetic rubber membrane often made from recycled materials and completely recyclable at the end of its life. EPDM’s best features are its light weight, high tensile strength, and affordability.


Click here to learn more about EPDM roofs.


Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO): A single-ply reflective membrane composed of polypropylene and ethylene-propylene rubber polymerized together. TPO offers outstanding durability and energy efficiency, along with quick installation times.


Click here to learn more about TPO roofs.


Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): A single-ply reflective membrane made from ethylene and chlorine, PVC is environmentally friendly and extremely durable. Its ability to withstand exposure to chemicals, grease, and animal fats makes it a top choice for restaurants and manufacturers.


Click here to learn more about PVC roofs.


Flexion®: Conklin’s groundbreaking advanced PVC membrane offers excellent durability and efficiency, as well as low maintenance requirements over its lifetime.


Click here to learn more about Flexion® roofs.


Now you’re all set to have an informed and knowledgeable discussion with your commercial roofing professional about selecting the best roofing system for your commercial building. If your building happens to be in Lancaster County or one of its surrounding areas, contact River Run today. We’d be happy to assess your roof and share our expert recommendation!