TPO and PVC Systems

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TPO and PVC Roof Systems

In the world of membrane roofing there are two groups that you will find. There are guys that believe PVC is the best membrane roofing material available, and conversely there are roofers that will tell you that TPO is the superior membrane. In reality, there are applications that are better suited for one or the other. What material you ultimately decide to use depends on several factors.

While it isn’t all about cost for some, for others it is. While it can be fun to work on a project with a limitless budget, we all know that most of the time this isn’t the case. TPO is much less expensive than PVC, and wins hands down in the cost category.

While TPO is generally a less expensive material, there are a lot of guys who still prefer PVC because they feel it’s easier to install. Roofers often complain that TPO is prone to “cold welds”. I’ve found that this is often due to installers who are unfamiliar with TPO or learned to weld using PVC first. These materials have different chemical make ups and do not behave in the same way. While PVC will show a larger bleed out when welding, TPO will not. TPO also has a heating limit that PVC does not. If you heat TPO beyond this point, it will no longer bond (more is not always better when it comes to heat). In short, TPO is like Goldilocks, it can’t be welded too hot or too cold, it has to be just right. PVC is more forgiving to the novice welder and is easier to confirm good welds with a more visible bleed-out. For these reasons, PVC edges out TPO on install.

TPO is more puncture resistant and tear resistant than PVC. This may not seem like a huge benefit at first, but I have seen the damage that can happen to membrane after it’s walked on and left to the elements of nature. Believe it or not, birds can do a lot of damage to a roof with their beaks. This can be especially true in areas with seagulls. They are known to drop crabs and other shellfish onto roofs and peck them open. I have seen where they’ve punctured softer PVC membranes and caused leaks. If you take your car keys and attempt to push them through PVC, then TPO, it will be immediately evident that TPO is the tougher of the two. However, if you are installing a new roof on a restaurant or any other building that has grease traps or any other oils being stored on the roof, DO NOT USE TPO! The oils will eat away at the chemicals in TPO and you will have problems. In this instance PVC is definitely the better choice. In the durability category, PVC and TPO each present their own unique benefits.

So what does this all mean? One roof does not fit all. The right membrane for your project will depend on your budget, skill level, and application. If you have never worked with TPO before, you may want to spend some time doing some practice welds before jumping into that big project. If you are getting ready to bid a flat roof for a restaurant, you will want to be sure that it is for PVC. The point is, what works for one person may not be the best fit for the next guy. Make sure you talk with your sales rep about all the details of your job before you decide on your next membrane roof.

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