What is a Single Ply Roofing System?

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What is EPDM roofing?

In Ohio, the winters can be brutal, and the summers can get blistering hot. Businesses do as much as they can to make their structures energy efficient, typically starting with the single ply roofing. Since there are several different single ply roofing types, which one is the best is always the first question: EPDM, PVC, or TPO. 

Ethylene Propylene Diene Terpolymer, referred to as EPDM, is an exceptionally durable membrane made from synthetic rubber. This roofing membrane has been popular to use on low-slope roof buildings for decades. 

There are two key ingredients in EPDM roofing membrane, both are oil and natural gas based, ethylene and propylene. EPDM roofing is either black and white, and sold in either 45 mils or 60 mils thickness, off of rolls in various widths. It is installed by single ply roofing contractors and attached to the sub roofing by one of the following three methods: 


  • Fully adhered – using a specialized roofing glued to the insulation.
  • Mechanically attached – fastened with screws through the insulation boards, into the metal deck below.
  • Ballasted – loose-laid, fastened in sporadic areas then topped with gravel.

What is single ply TPO roofing?

Thermoplastic polyolefin, commonly referred to as TPO single-ply roofing. Because of the advantages it offers for installation, roofing contractors love it.  TPO is flexible and pliable, making it easy to work with to adhered to ethe roofing, even in cold weather. Customers love it for the durability and performance it offers by meeting their biggest demands with six key features: 

  • Heat-reflective
  • Energy efficient roofing
  • UV resistant
  • Ozone resistant
  • Chemical resistant
  • Environmentally friendly

What is the difference between TPO and PVC roofing?

PVC and TPO are both a quality single ply roofing membrane, both are used on flat and low sloped roofs. Both are installed with heat welded seams and both are considered a ‘cool’ roofing choice. 

TPO single ply roofing was designed with the intention of combing and improving EPDM single ply roofing rubber membrane and PVC single ply roofing rubber membrane, without any of the disadvantages of both. 

So while TPO single ply roofing has many of the similarities of PVC single ply roofing there are two big differences: 

  • TPO has a 20 year history that includes formula updates, material failures, and recalls. 
  • PVC has a had solid reputation for over 30 years.

Those are two major differences, but they have more similarities that can make it hard for a client to decide which is best for their structure. Both offer the following: 

  • Both are a thermoplastic material.
  • Both are heat weldable membranes.
  • Leak resistant. 
  • Both have few seam failures.
  • Both are considered to be eco-friendly, green roofing material.
  • Energy efficient.
  • UV ray resistant. 
  • Both are installed in similar process with similar skills and tools.
  • Both can be installed fully adhered or mechanically fastened.
  • Both are chemical, grease, and oil resistant.
  • Both are flexible and easy to conform to various roof movements.

Is TPO better than EPDM?

Okay, so we know what is bad/good/different/same about PVC single ply roofing versus TPO single ply roofing.  What can TPO do that EPDM can’t in addition to taking over 50% of the single-ply roofing market?  Let’s take a look:

  • ENERGY EFFICIENCY: In Ohio, as anywhere in the country, commercial buildings may be heated by electric or gas and cooled by electricity. TPO single ply roofing will help cut back energy costs by reflecting the hot sun UV rays in the summer but absorbing the warmth in the winter. 
  • PUNCTURE RESISTANCE: When single ply roofing gets punctured, it often leads to leaking. TPO is three times more puncture resistant than EPDM.  
  • INSTALLATION CONVENIENT: TPO single ply roofing membrane is versatile membrane that can be installed fully adhered or mechanically attached, which means it can be installed in cold temperatures. 
  • DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: TPO single ply roofing offer dimensional stability, less likely to shrink like EPDM. 
  • SEAM STRENGTH: TPO single ply roofing has welded seams, making them stronger than EPDM seams. 

What are the single ply roofing pros and cons to concerned about? 

With the economy of today, a property owner and property manager need to make the right decision when choosing the roofing material for their building. They should review the differences between single ply roofing vs built up  and if single ply roofing is their choice, know the pros and cons can help determine which is better, EPDM, PVC or TPO single ply roofing. 


  • Proven Track Record: EPDM single ply roofing has been around for more than  60 years, PVC for more than 30, and TPO for 20 years. 
  • Insulation Materials: Single-ply roofing membranes do not include insulation, which gives you options in choosing your preferred insulation material. Choose from Polyisocyanurate, Expanded Polystyrene, or Extruded Polystyrene. 
  • Reflective or Retentive: TPO, the white roof, is quickly gaining popularity for commercial single ply roofing because it reflects the hot UV rays. EPDM is the black roofing which has a history for being a high-performance material for heat retention.  
  • Easy Installation: TPO Installation has relatively simple installation process that can be attached with 3 different methods, one need a hot-air gun to melt the membrane seams. EPDM uses a seam tape to join the seams. 
  • Flexible and Lightweight: Because single ply roofing comes in multiple layers, the thickness can be chosen for budget purpose. It also makes the roofing material easier to install because it is lighter weight.


  • Easily Punctured: The thin single ply roofing material can be easily punctured, leading to leaking roof. 
  • Roofing Accessories: A commercial roof typically has accessories like the A/C unit, air vents, skylights, plumbing vents and more that can make rolling out single ply roofing material difficult. 
  • Vulnerable to Leaks: Because single ply roofing has seams, they are vulnerable to leaking. 
  • UV Rays: The adhesive used to install single ply roofing membrane is degraded quickly from UV rays. 
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How much does single ply roofing cost?

There are a couple of important factors that will determine the cost of a single ply roofing. One is the size of the roof and the other is the condition of the existing roof.  Rough estimates for single ply roofing based on a 20,000 square foot commercial roof can cost as little as 3.50 per SF and as much as $7.50 per SF, for materials and labor. If the exiting roofing and deck needs to be replaced, those prices can increase up to as much as $14 per SF. Need single ply roofing in Cincinnati, OH? Call (740) 495-6629 today.

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