Rooftop Safety

Understanding Different Types of Commercial Roofing Materials

Understanding Different Types of Commercial Roofing Materials

Understanding different types of commercial roofing materials can be a challenging endeavour. However, taking the time to fully appreciate the differences between them can help building managers and commercial building owners make an informed decision – not only on cost and ease of installation, but also on the levels of safety they provide. In the latest learning resource from Skyline, we help you make an informed decision.

An Introduction to Commercial Roofing Materials

As an architect, building manager or property owner, your choice of roofing material could be one of the most important commercial building decisions you’ll make. The decision will depend on a number of factors, with a huge range of choices engineered according to where you are located within Canada.

With all of the choices out there, it is important to understand each material’s unique characteristics, advantages and limitations. However, before you address these points, it is crucial that you ask yourself the following questions…

  1. How do different roofing materials impact your building’s energy efficiency?
  2. How should climate and building usage influence your choice of roofing material?
  3. How could my choice of building materials impact maintenance operations and costs over time?
  4. Will my decision allow my building to qualify as a sustainable building?

These are just some of the many questions you should consider before making a large purchasing decision. Next, check out our overview of the most common commercial roofing materials, which can help you answer these important questions.

An Overview of Commercial Roofing Materials

While the market continues to innovate with new commercial roofing materials, we typically deal with clients who are using one of the following top 5 options: Built-Up Roofing, Single-Ply Membrane Roofing, Modified Bitumen Roofing, Metal Roofing and Green Roofing. Let’s look at those in a little more detail.

1. Built-Up Roofing (BUR)

Built-Up Roofing, commonly referred to as BUR, is perhaps the most common kind of roofing material we see in our day-to-day work. Also known as ‘tar and gravel’ roofing, this comprises multiple layers of asphalt-saturated felts. These layers alternate with bitumen and are covered with mineral or gravel granules. Here are some of the reasons that make this option so popular:

  • Impressive durability compared to other materials
  • Strong waterproofing properties
  • Enhanced grip for improved worker safety
  • Strong ability to withstand high levels of foot traffic

This material is most commonly used in flat roofing or low-slope protection, and also provides strong protection against general weathering and UV radiation.

2. Metal Roofing

In the vast majority of cases, metal roofing systems are simply standing seam metal roofs or metal panels. Naturally, metal is a primary choice where durability, longevity and aesthetic appeal are priorities. Aside from that, this commercial roofing material opens up a world of choice, particularly in the range of finishes available including copper, aluminum and steel. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of metal roofing:
 
  • Low maintenance requirements compared to alternative materials
  • Coated finishes can improve overall durability and energy efficiency 
  • A recyclable option, adding to the green credentials of a building 
  • Strong fire, wind and hail resistance, improving general levels of structural safety
Highly popular in both steep-slope and low-slope applications, this is a top choice for the aesthetic and sustainability benefits it offers.

 

3. Single-Ply Membrane Roofing 

Lightweight, flexible and easy to install, single-ply membrane roofing is among the most popular and safest options available on today’s market. Under this category are three key types:

  • TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin)
  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
  • EPDM (ethylene propylene diene terpolymer)

While TPO and PVC membranes must be heat-welded or adhered to the surface of your commercial roof, EPDM membranes can be easily installed using mechanical fasteners or an adhesive. Flexible, weather resistant and offering superb UV protection, EPDM in particular can provide a safer installation process, given that no heat-welding is required.

4. Green Roofing

Green roofing has emerged as one of the biggest roofing trends of the decade, and with the range of benefits this commercial roofing material offers, it’s not hard to see why. Stormwater management, energy efficiency, aesthetics – the benefits are endless when considering a green roof solution. Here are some of the key advantages:
 
  • Strong aesthetic appeal
  • Provision of habitats for local wildlife
  • Potential green tax incentives
  • Building efficiency & energy savings
Whilst there are many benefits, green roofing does come with its caveats, particularly around safety. Due to their vegetative nature, these systems demand a highly specialized design, with proper routine maintenance, drainage and irrigation to ensure the safety of workers at height and the integrity of the building as a whole. 
 

5. Modified Bitumen Roofing

Asphalt-based, modified bitumen waterproofing utilizes modifiers such as APP (atactic polypropylene) or SBS (styrene-butadiene-styrene) in order to improve weather resistance, flexibility and durability. 

As with green roofing, this particular choice of roofing material does come with added safety concerns, primarily due to the fact that torching or hot asphalt is used during installation.

The Significance of Choosing the Right Roofing Material

Your choice of roofing material shouldn’t depend on aesthetics alone. As a building manager or commercial building owner, it is important that your decision also takes into consideration worker safety, as well as your business’s bottom line. Below we have outlined some of the key concerns you should consider for improved worker safety:

  • Safe passage: Slips, trips and falls are among the most common workplace accidents in Canada. When deciding on a material, consider how maintenance teams and workers at height can journey across your rooftop safely. The level of grip on the roofing material and slip protection are crucial to bear in mind.
  • Installation processes: If you’re using your own team to install a roofing material, always consider how that job can be done safely. Where hot works are required, ensure that your staff are adequately trained and prepared.
  • Durability: Over the years, we’ve seen many safety incidents that have arised due to wear and tear – falling structures, weak structures and more can lead to potentially fatal falls. When deciding on a material, be sure to make durability a priority.
  • Design: Simply adjusting the design and layout of the rooftop can help in reducing the chance of injury. For example, placing HVAC units away from the edge of the roof will make a safer maintenance process. A high parapet wall can also act as a safety guardrail, creating a perimeter while on the rooftop. But this can also make it challenging to remove snow during the winter months.
  • Non-Penetrating: If you are looking to install a safety solution like a guardrail or crossover stepladder, with a new roof membrane do you opt for a non-penetrating solution? This will ensure compliance and safety, while also keeping your new rooftop intact, and free from potential leaks when compared to a penetrating solution. OR are you opting for a steel roof, resulting in the requirement of a clamping-based solution in order to create a levelled walkway system.

Making an Informed Decision

When it comes to making an informed decision about creating a safe, and secure environment on your new commercial or industrial rooftop, don’t fall victim to guessing. Only by consulting with a qualified roofing and safety expert can you be sure that your decision has been made with all due considerations. With that in mind, our safety experts are on standby to share their experiences and expertise.

Elevated Work. Elevated Safety.

Here at Skyline, we use decades of experience to protect people, companies and brands. For further advice on improving the levels of safety in your elevated work area, reach out to one of our safety experts. Alternatively, browse our full selection of rooftop safety solutions.

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