Whether you are a business or homeowner looking to install a new flat roof, you have a number of choices to consider: EPDM Rubber, PVC and TPO roofing systems. While all of these membranes are single-ply roofing systems, they are actually very different in their formulations, manufacturing process, durability, longevity and performance. This guide is a detailed comparison between EPDM Rubber which is the cheapest and therefore most commonly used flat roofing system and PVC roofing membrane, which is a premium product that costs more, but offers superior protection.
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EPDM ROOFING VS PVC ROOFING
What is an EPDM rubber roof?
An EPDM rubber roof is the most popular and economical single-ply roofing membrane that has been in wide use for over 40 years. EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) is a type of synthetic rubber. This rubber is made up mostly of oil (carbo-hydrate) based by-products with modifiers and stabilizers added to extend its service life. An adhesive is used to glue the roof to the roof deck and special tape is used to seal the seams.
An EPDM roof is designed to be UV stable and to withstand inclement weather, ozone and heat. The roof is also resistant to tear, puncture, impact, and normal roof traffic. An EPDM roof is able to accommodate structural movement and remains pliable under a wide range of temperature fluctuations. No special equipment is required to install an EPDM rubber roof.
What is a PVC roof?
A PVC roof was first manufactured in Europe in the 1960’s, but quickly made its way to the US. Initially, this membrane was designed to address the shortcomings of EPDM rubber roofs. PVC (polyvinyl chloride), typically called vinyl, is made up of ethylene and chlorine. In the manufacturing process, biocides, plasticizers, ultra-violet light inhibitors, heat-stabilizers, color pigments and polyester or fiberglass reinforcement are added to enhance stability and flexibility, as well as achieve high tearing and breaking strengths. A PVC membrane is made up of two plies of PVC material with a polyester reinforcement scrim in between. Distinctive to PVC membrane, making it more durable than EPDM are hot-air welded seams.
A PVC roof is a premium single-ply roofing membrane, with superior durability, longevity and performance, and therefore costs more than an EPDM rubber roof. Hot – air welded seams make the membrane pliable and watertight under a variety of extreme weather conditions. A PVC roofing membrane is highly resistant to constant dampness, ponding water, as well as high and low alkaline conditions. A PVC roof is also resistant to UV radiation, strong winds, fire and chemicals. Plant roots, fungi and bacteria have no negative effect on a PVC membrane.
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LONGEVITY OF EPDM VS PVC
An EPDM roof is designed to have a service life of 12-25 years when properly installed. However, EPDM rubber roofs often begin to leak and even fail prematurely way before the projected end of their service life for reasons outlined in the Second Part of the Comparison Guide. Black EPDM roofs carry a 20 year warranty on membrane only against weatherability and factory defects. White on black EPDM roofs have a 10 year warranty on membrane against weatherability and factory defects.
PERFORMANCE OF EPDM RUBBER VS PVC
EPDM: Residential Applications
One of the biggest problems with EPDM rubber roofs is that many of them begin to leak and fail much sooner than their expected service life ends. Most rubber roof failures occur as a result of a combination of inherently flawed membrane design and poor installation. Typically these failures occur at roof penetrations, flashing and seams.
An EPDM rubber roof is designed in a way that flashing material needs to be glued around the corners and around roof penetrations with a special adhesive. This presents a problem from the outset, because this adhesive will eventually fail and the seams will start coming apart. To prevent this issue from happening or to repair it, an EPDM rubber roof needs repair at the seams, process known as “reseaming”.
Another related issue is that many roofing contractors who install an EPDM rubber roof do not allow enough time for the flashing material to stretch during the installation. As a result, the flashing self -pulls, breaking the adhesive. This in turn creates areas where water and moisture can easily penetrate the roof and damage it, also requiring repair, or in worst cases roof replacement. Faulty installation may cause a rubber roof to leak rather unexpectedly and very shortly after the new roof has been installed.
Why do EPDM rubber roofs have these installation problems? The reason is simple: while proper installation does not require any special equipment, it does require specific technical knowledge and skills. However, despite the fact that an EPDM roof is a specialized type of roofing and therefore should be installed by expert flat roofing installers, it is instead usually installed by general roofing contractors who primarily have experience with asphalt shingles roofs. Ironically, general contractors are able to take on EPDM roofing installation and repair jobs, which they are not qualified to do, precisely because EPDM roofing does not require any special expensive equipment. This is a big issue in the residential flat roofing market, as all the expert installers typically deal with commercial and industrial installations, and do not take on small residential flat roofing jobs.
PVC: Residential Applications
By comparison, PVC roofing membranes are designed to be watertight and actually remain leak-free for decades of service. The reason for such durability is the hot -air welded seams used to bond together the membrane’s sheets. These seams create a super strong, permanent bond that does not allow any leaks to come through even in times when there has been ponding water sitting on the roof for many days. If at any point, problems with seams arise, it is very easy to fix them by simply rewelding the seams.
Unlike EPDM rubber roofing, PVC roofs are typically installed by professional contractors who have knowledge and experience with PVC roofing membranes. This difference is due to the fact that installation and repair of PVC roofs requires specialized equipment, which is very expensive. Only specialty contractors who are in the business of installing PVC roofs are willing to invest money into all the necessary equipment. Consequently, these contractors are also trained to have all the technical skills required for installation and repair of PVC membranes. This means you can be a lot more confident that a PVC roof has been correctly installed on your home and will provide you with many years of leak-free service life.
When it comes to commercial applications, and especially restaurants, EPDM rubber roofs are vulnerable to all kinds of chemicals, solvents and oils. These may cause irreparable damage to an EPDM membrane, which means that it is best not to install it over buildings that are likely to have chemicals, grease and oils on the roof.
By contrast, PVC roofing membranes are specifically designed to be highly resistant to damage from chemicals, solvents and oils. This feature makes PVC roofs ideal for restaurants, and any commercial and industrial facilities that deal with chemicals and solvents.
An EPDM rubber roof is not considered to be an environmentally – friendly roofing material. It is primarily composed of ethylene, propylene and carbohydrate byproducts of oil refining. Therefore, EPDM rubber roofing directly contributes to our dependence on oil, and green-house gas emissions. Moreover, an EPDM rubber roof cannot be recycled and has to be disposed as waste in a landfill.
On the other hand, while PVC roofing is not a truly “green” roofing material, it is more eco-friendly than EPDM rubber. While fossil fuel is also involved in the manufacturing of PVC, less of it is required (only 50%) while the rest is derived from salt. PVC is designed to be a cool roofing system, reflecting up to 90% of sun’s UV rays, thereby helping to reduce energy waste from HVAC systems used to cool buildings, and to decrease the “heat island” effect. Also, PVC can actually be recycled, and is used over again in production of new PVC membranes as material for the bottom ply.
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the comments are fair enough in part ,but as said the main failure is untrained fitters,i have been fitting firestone epdm for 5 years approx 35 roofs and have had no failures on the rubber sheet ,joints or outlets .i also go back and inspect all roofs installed after about 1 year and have had no complaints or combacks at all.
EPDM is a good product, the jobs you show have negligent contractor laying faults, not material faults. To be fair some of the roofs shown in your photos are really large and you pick one small fault that does not amount to o. 002% of the total job, and thats unfair. I concende you did show 3 jobs which needed a total relay but this was because the material was laid incorrectly (the layer could have done a better job ) not EPDM fault. On the whole I like your job better, it looks better, smarter and more attractive, so thats your best selling point.
I agree with Bob…whether you use EPDM or PVC or any other roofing material, the true performance is always dependent on the installation of the product itself!
dont get complacent, there are plenty of incompetent pvc roofing contractors out there – even the ones with factory certs and awards – no really, its true. A good flat roofer needs a comprehensive skillset that goes beyond the mere waterproofing aspect. Substrates, decking, insulation all play critical roles in achieving a quality solution. What good is a superior membrane if the decking rots away in 5 years? Get an independent roof expert to plan and spec a roof who is not the contractor who would likely place his profit margins ahead of whats actually the right choices for the job.
You can the author of this is a pvc installer. I installed every single on the market and worked for a major manufacturer. PVC has it purpose when it comes to chemicals and ponding water but other then that I could justify offering a product to someone where life span is only 15-20 years. Too many times I have seen pvc roof cracks do to plasticizer migration. The average life span of EPDM membrane itself is 30 years. Sure there are bad contractors but pvc manufacturers are so anxiety to sell their product they sign up hacks to I even see them sign up guys who never laid a roof in there life.
Would have liked to hear about tpo a little more. I would have appreciated a material cost per squre foot. Even approximate price variable. Pvc is “more” expensive. That doesn’t tell me shit. I like the fancy heat gun, it is very expensive, you said. So is my hyundai accent. How much is the heat gun in dollars? Not for me to try to compete with the licensed roofing contractors, but I have an ant problem in my back yard. Can I rent that damn machine or do I need to purchase it? I don’t trust monsanto. My neighbor pours used car coolant on them, I don’t believe that to be good, but he swears by it. Now all the ants have moved to my place, and I am tired of getting out the corded heat gun to scorch them. I want to borrow that machine. If I can’t, well maybe I will call the pvc roof installer to pvc my tin shed and bribe him so I can drive the heat gun machine.
Just a little fun. But for real I would like to know a dollar amount, please email me
Heat gun costs about $500
PVC (material) costs $.8 – $1.9 per sq. ft. TPO is 20% less
You can rent a heat gun if there is a roofing tool rental place nearby
How are you going to fight ants with PVC? Scare them with heat gun?
I’m looking to replace the roof on my 35′ fifth wheel trailer. Which is better? EDPM or PVC? Which is easier to install? Can I do it myself, with a little help from my friends? Any helpful info is appreciated.
My flat roof is covered with EPDM. The newels for the new railing are bolted to the underlying roof structure, creating holes in the EPDM. My roofer patched around the newels to create a water-tight bond, but the result is not too attractive. He suggested I put a PVC patch around the railing and over the EPDM patches, and glue them down.
My questions are:
1) Would it have been equally acceptable (and sturdy) to glue the newels on top of the EPDM to maintain its integrity instead of bolting them to the roof below?
2) Where can I buy a square yard (or so) of PVC material, preferably black, to create patches around my 5 porch newels? and
3) What kind of glue should I use?
Thanks in advance.
Probably copper pitch pockets filled three quarters of the way with concrete then topped off neatly with pourable sealer would be the way to go or fabricate a sheetmetal base and flash base with one piece.
I need a new roof replacement for my 38 ft. fifth wheel. All I read is that PVC is better than the rubber roofs, easier maintained. Then I read the above and now worry that a PVC roof might crack. I also read that Rhino Echo is a great product for roofs on a RV. I am leaning toward the PVC roof. Does anyone have input on a PVC roof on a RV how long they last? The Rhino roof, is difficult to fine a dealer to apply the application, being that it is new to the rv roofing.
I myself have an RV, and here is what I know for a fact: RV industry uses some of the worst roofing materials they can get their hands on, and then RV dealers (your friendly Camping-Worlds) sell you the worst stuff to repair RV roof.
I first hand witnessed a girl at camping world “highly recommending” the only roof caulk they sell (Dicor), without having a clue that Dicor is total garbage, and having never been on the roof. I even asked her why she recommends it – she said it’s a store policy 🙁
Now to answer your questions:
1) Most PVCs are excellent, and do not crack (the only cracking PVC was over 20 years ago, and that product is long gone from the market).
2) PVC is by far better than rubber. Also, PVC is very easy to repair, if need-be
3) What you most likely have on your roof is TPO, not rubber …
4) Rhino Echo is a coating (thick paint) – not a roof. It will peel and chip after 2-4 years, at which point you will not be able to properly repair your roof, and will need a complete replacement. Pretty much any coating for flat roof, is not a great product (except for specialized coatings that cost over $13-20 per square foot).
Basically, stay away form coatings. Also stay away from rubber. You can find a regular FLAT roofer, to do a PVC on your camper. Where do you live?
The only thing about replacing an RV roof, is that all ACs and satellite dome will need to come off, so it will cost a bit more, for extra work.
If you go to camping world, they will probably quote you about $4-5K for the job using TPO or Rubber … I’s say you can get a regular roof to do it for $3K or slightly more.
If you do go to Camping World for a roof quote, let me know how much it was.
Good luck from fellow RVer
There has been a PVC roofing product in the RV market for the past 11 years called XTRM PLY. If you need a new roof replaced the PVC roof in the market, is more tear resistant, puncture resistant and reflective than any other RV roofing product in the market. And it carries the only 15 year warranty available for RV’s.
Please i have a question,
I have a vertical EPDM and Horozontal APP.
How i can make this joint?
Can i fix the EPDM at APP by adhesive.
I had my skills leak and repaired last year. I just cleaned my pvc roof And found the decking under the roof near were the legs where to be separating. Is iyer possible to cur about 8 foot of the pvc out, repair the decking and then add a ne piece of pvc material over the damaged area,? Or do I beef to replace the whole roof?
It was my skylights that leaked.
There are important differences that one needs to be aware of to figure out which roofing material is right for your RV. When making your decision, consider factors such as cost, longevity, durability, maintenance, ease of installation. EPDM roofs are tends to be more economical and durable. However, make an informed decision based on your camping needs and budgetary requirements.
I have a house with 2 flat roofs in Miami Beach. The roofs are over living area, and there are sliding doors to the roofs from the second floor. I need to replace the tailing and decking on top of the roof when I re-roof, and codes have gotten tougher regarding lift since originally done. I have had many leaks on the flat roof over the years and am looking for the best design to minimize that risk in the future. There is also a pitched tile roof next to the flat roof, but it is in good shape. I currently have a level of insulation u see the roof to reduce puddling ( the roofer addded it after the first roof had puddling. I was told to use pvc roof- looking for provider in Miami Beach and best tips on attaching railing. Do I do railing first or second- I’m guessing second. Looking for an expert at such things or expert advice. Previous decks mad railings. Have caused leaks with cheaper roofs.