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The Basic Types of Commercial Roofing

If you are a commercial property owner or manager, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the most common types of commercial roofing. Below is an overview of some of the most types of roofing systems.

SPF (Spray Polyurethane Foam)

Referred to as SPF, this is a material that is sprayed into a foam, creating a solid layer across and existing roof. SPF roofing can be used in any climate and when properly installed, can last over 50 years.

SPF is also very energy efficient and can help reduce energy costs throughout your property or building. This material provides thermal, air and moisture barriers and delivers the highest value of any insulation available. It’s also easy to install, easy to maintain and is renewable and sustainable. Specialized contractors are required to install this material and there is a limited timeframe for installation. There is also the potential for overspray.

Single-Ply Membrane

These are sheets of rubber and other synthetics than can be ballasted, mechanically fastened and chemcially adhered to insulation, creating a firm and protective layer. Single-ply membranes are the most common type of roofing material used. There are two types of single-ply membrane roofing: TPO (Thermoplastic Polyolefin) and EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Terpolymer). Their chemical makeup is different, as well as the installation process.

This type of roofing has a proven track record and is the choice of reflective and retentive properties. It’s also lightweight and flexible, and has different options for insulation materials. Despite it’s many benefits, the membrane can be easily punctured and the seams can be vulnerable to leaks.

Built-Up Roofs

Also known as tar and gravel roofs, this roofing system has been used in the U.S. for over 100 years. This roof system is installed by alternating layers of bitumen and reinforced fabric. Property owners and managers can choose three, four or five ply roofs to meet their budget and specific needs.


This is one of the oldest types of commercial roofing used. These systems are made from corrugated and glavanized steel, although other materials like tin and aluminum can be used. After the roofing is installed, an acrylic or silicone coating can be added for waterproofing, rust protection and UV protection. Since it’s a lighter material, most of the time metal roofing can be installed on top of an existing roof. A contractor will install a frame, also called a substrate, with trusses and purlins to fasten it.


This type of roof is also available for commercial installation. Many buildings with a high slope roof will choose to install shingles rather than the other roofing types. Shingles are made of a base material, asphalt and top layer of granules. The most important layer of a shingle commercial roof is the underlay or insulation. This layer provides insulation while the shingles, sealants, flashings and edge metal provide protection against weather. Shingles are cost effective and last between 20-50 years. Regular maintenance is required and strong impact of weight can cause damage and crack the shingles.