Understanding Single Ply Roofing for Commercial Buildings


Single ply roofing systems have become a popular choice for commercial buildings due to their cost-effectiveness, simplicity in installation, and performance under varying weather conditions. Ideal for covering large flat or low-slope rooftops, these systems are made from wide-width sheets of synthetic polymer that can be ballasted, mechanically attached, or chemically adhered to roofing substrates. This article delves into the advantages, types, installation processes, and maintenance considerations of single ply roofing, providing essential insights for building owners and managers considering this roofing option.

Types of Single Ply Roofing

Single ply membranes come in various materials, each with specific properties and benefits:

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): PVC roofing is known for its durability, resistance to water, fire, and chemicals. Its membranes are typically reinforced with polyester or fiberglass, making them particularly strong and resistant to tearing.

TPO (Thermoplastic Olefin): This is a highly reflective roofing membrane that helps reduce cooling costs by reflecting UV rays away from the building. TPO is favoured for its environmental performance and heat-welded seams, which provide excellent seam strength and leak resistance.

EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer): EPDM is essentially synthetic rubber. It’s extremely durable, flexible, and resistant to temperature extremes. It’s most recognized for its elongation properties and ability to handle thermal shock and cyclic fatigue.

Advantages of Single Ply Roofing

  • Lightweight: Single ply materials are lightweight compared to other roofing systems like built-up roofs, which means there’s less stress on the building’s structure.
  • Flexibility: These materials are highly flexible, making them suitable for rooftops with unusual shapes or configurations.
  • Installation Ease: Single ply roofing can be installed faster than many traditional materials due to its large sheet sizes and minimal seaming requirements.
  • Energy Efficiency: Most single ply roofing materials are excellent reflectors of UV radiation, helping to maintain lower building temperatures and reduce energy costs.
  • Durability: Designed to be long-lasting, single ply membranes are resistant to UV radiation, chemicals, and some are even puncture resistant.

Installation Process

The installation of single ply roofing involves several steps that should be performed by professional roofing contractors:

  1. Surface Preparation: The roof deck must be clean, dry, and free from debris. Any irregularities in the deck may need to be addressed before membrane installation
  2. Insulation Layer: Depending on the building’s needs, an insulation layer might be added. This layer provides thermal resistance and can act as a cover board.
  3. Membrane Installation: The single ply membrane can be installed in one of three ways:
  4.  Mechanically Fastened: The membrane is affixed to the roof deck using screws and barbed plates.
  5. Fully Adhered: The membrane is glued to the insulation or roof deck using adhesives.
  6. Ballasted: The membrane is laid loose over the roof, and a ballast (usually gravel, pavers, or vegetation for green roofs) is laid on top to hold it in place.
  7. Seaming: Overlaps between sheets are sealed using either adhesives or heat (hot-air welded), depending on the type of membrane.

Maintenance and Care

Maintenance is relatively straightforward for single ply roofing but is crucial for extending its lifespan:

  • Regular Inspections: Conduct bi-annual inspections and after major weather events to check for damage or wear.
  • Prompt Repairs: Address punctures, tears, or membrane shrinkage immediately to prevent leaks.
  • Keep it Clean: Remove debris and clean the surface regularly to prevent the accumulation, which can lead to standing water and degrade the material over time.


Single ply roofing offers a versatile, durable, and cost-effective solution for commercial buildings, particularly those with flat or low-slope roofs. Its variety of materials and installation options allow it to meet a wide range of building requirements and budgets. By understanding the specific characteristics and benefits of PVC, TPO, and EPDM membranes, building owners can make informed decisions that result in long-term, sustainable roofing solutions. Regular maintenance and professional installation are key to maximising the lifespan and effectiveness of a single ply roof, ensuring it remains a protective asset for the commercial property.

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