In recent years, TPO roofing has been steadily gaining popularity in the flat roofing market.
People are increasingly choosing TPO membranes because they are advertised as being similar to PVC roofing in terms of the benefits and installation, but offering a more competitive price.
Lets take a close look at the differences and similarities between TPO vs PVC membranes.
Cost Of TPO vs PVC Roofing
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Many homeowners wonder: is TPO membrane really cheaper than PVC?
While PVC MEMBRANE is more expensive than TPO roofing, per square foot of same thickness material, the overall system costs is about the same, or even in favor of PVC roof membranes.
Therefor, we can answer the above question in two ways.
1) Cost of materials when you consider everything is about the same, as we explain in our TPO Prices guide.
2) Total installed cost may be in favor of TPO, because contractors just put more markup on PVC (extra profit).
Labor is the same for both systems, or even more intensive for TPO, because of glued seams, that were introduced by TPO manufacturers in the past 10-12 years (in leu of failures of welded TPO seams).
In the end – since materials and labor costs are the same (or should be the same), TPO does not have any price advantage over PVC membrane.
However, if you get different quotes, discuss with your roofer that their costs are the same, and why are they charging more for PVC roofing.
Similarities Between TPO And PVC Roofing
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Initially TPO roofing was designed to be an improved version of both PVC and EPDM rubber membranes, combing the benefits of both, but without the disadvantages.
The most obvious similarity is that TPO roofing (Thermoplastic Olefin) and PVC roofing ( Poly Vinyl Chloride) are both thermoplastic materials.
Both membranes are heat weldable, which makes them more resistant to leaks than EPDM, because of a reduced number of instances of seam failures.
Moreover, like PVC, a TPO membrane is considered a green roofing material, and can save you money on your electricity bills, because both membranes are white in color and possess reflective “cool” roof properties.
What makes them “cool” is the fact that they are both resistant to heat and sun’s ultraviolet rays and are able to keep the inside of your home or office space cooler, reducing the need for excessive AC usage.
Another major similarity between the two roofing systems is that the installation process is very similar, requiring similar tools, procedures and skills.
Both systems can be installed either as mechanically fastened or fully adhered.
Both materials share other important benefits, such as resistance to chemicals, grease and oil. They are puncture resistant and can be easily repaired.
Also, both TPO and PVC roofing are designed to be flexible to conform to the movement of the roof.
How TPO Membrane Was Intended To Be Better Than PVC And Did Not Measure Up
The most significant difference between PVC and TPO roofs is their chemical makeup. TPO membrane was designed to be a superior material to PVC.
However, because the goal was to make TPO roofing cheaper, the final formulation of the membrane turned out to be substandard.
Different chemical formulas
PVC roofing membranes maintain their flexibility because the formula contains plasticizers, as well as salt derived from chlorine.
The disadvantage of this formula is that with time these plasticizers tend to break down, weakening the membrane so that it requires maintenance and repair in order to remain in tact and resistant to leaks.
Moreover, PVC contains other chemical materials that also break down over time, causing tears in the membrane.
TPO roofing has a different formula that does not require the addition of plasticizers to remain flexible and also utilizes materials that are not supposed to break down over time, thus offering greater long term durability than PVC roofing.
However, the reality is that instead of being superior to PVC, TPO ‘s formula has provided very inconsistent and often disappointing results.
TPO Roofing Problems And Failures
Over the years, a number of issues have surfaced with TPO membranes, putting their promise of durability into question. For example, there have been many documented instances of seam and material failures, such as membrane curing and cracking, which even resulted in massive recalls of the product.
Additionally, particularly in the Southern states, which get intense heat and sun exposure throughout the year, TPO roofs have been documented to weather at an accelerated speed when subjected to high thermal or solar loading.
Also keep in mind that because currently there is a hot growing market for TPO, a lot of manufacturers are producing and selling their own formulations of the product.
However, not all formulations work equally well, and not all of them conform to the ASTM standards.
If you decide to go with a TPO roof, it is in your best interest to purchase one from a manufacturer who has been producing these membranes since their inception, another words, for at least 20 years.
You will not have to face these issues with a PVC membrane, as the formula has remained consistent for many decades and has a proven track record of durability as well as warranty to support it.
In fact, commercial and residential roofing industry in Europe continues to choose PVC for their flat roofing needs.
While PVC roofing requires a bigger financial investment, you are guaranteed the peace of mind of investing into a trusted and tested product.
TPO Membrane Improvements
As a result of the numerous reported problems and recalls of TPO roofing, manufacturers are continuing to work on improving its chemical formulation, and are releasing updated versions of the product.
It is highly likely that in a few years manufacturers will be able to achieve their goal of offering a high quality membrane comparable or even better than PVC, but at a more affordable price.
However, since currently the best formulation is still being experimented with, there are two issues associated with installing a TPO roof:
1) the goal is still to maintain a competitive price advantage over PVC, which makes the quality of TPO questionable.
2) Even if the new generations of TPO are in fact superior to PVC, there is no way to know this for sure, as the oldest working TPO membranes across the US are at best 15-20 years old.
Final Verdict: Should I Install A PVC Or A TPO Membrane?
While TPO and PVC roofs are both single-ply membranes for low slope and flat roofs that have heat-welded seams and are considered “cool”, there are important differences that you need to be aware of before making your purchasing decision.
The primary difference between TPO vs PVC roofing is that TPO has been on the market for only about 20 years and has a history of material failures, recalls and formula updates.
On the other hand, PVC roofing has enjoyed a solid reputation in the roofing industry for over 30 years.
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Great read about PVC and TPO roofing and how they both can be environmentally conscious materials since they are both reflecting heat that would reduce ac power usage. These material options are helpful for me to consider when I build my vacation house next year. I hope a good installation service can also suggest the best one for my budget and needs.
Y’all are either mis or under informed. TPO hit the market in ’83 or ’84 and PVC has been on roofs much, much longer. One name proves that, JP Stevens. Do a little more research…
I’ve been roofing over 35 years and repairing the failures for most of those. If I were putting a single ply on my roof I wouldn’t even consider 60 mil anything. 80 at a minimum and also consider a millage variation that is guaranteed at close to it’s rating. All manufacturer millage varies and some excessively!
In closing, I do need a roof and am considering a Sarnifil decor in lieu of standing seam metal. Downfall is I have an abundance of trees.
Carlisle started to make their own TPO in 1997. GAF around 2000 and Firestone bought the Serrot plant and business in 2002.
Firestone bought the TPO formulation that Serrot had used to produce for Carlisle, GAF, JM, and Firestone as well as the original line so Firestone actually has the oldest performing product.
I know, I was there.
PVC is not considered green, never will be.
All of the people here talking about how great a product PVC is are leaving out the fact there were millions of square feet of PVC failures in the 80’s, especially in the south.
With Elvaloy, PVC is a decent product. Without, using liquid plasticizers, you are asking for trouble in southern climates.
Liquid plasticizers migrate toward heat. Even running a welder on the seams of a liquid containing product can be an issue..
Correctly formulated, TPO is the superior product.
Ask the Europeans how stupid Americans are. They only apply PVC and FPO on roofs. Flexible Polyolfin. Imagine that. The stuffs crap. They use TPO for below grade Waterproofing. The sun destroys it
By nature of the product all TPO membranes manufacturers are using TPO pre compounded by manufacturer of the raw material. TPO is supplied in form of pellets, which are extruded or calendered into sheet. The only thing manufacturer can do is to add pigments, and UV stabilizers to the stream of TPO. However these ingredients are also supplied from outside in the form of colour and additives masterbatches manufactured by additives and pigments suppliers. Because nothing revolutionary new in the field of the UV and thermal stabilizers had appeared in the last 15-20 years at least, and there are 4-5 suppliers on the market, not counting Chinese copies, all manufacturers of the TPO membranes are offering products varying marginally. PVC membranes containing Elvaloy are expensive, because Elvaloy is a very expensive staff by itself, and it’s content is between 40 -50% of the formulation.
Carlisle and Firestone have been making their own TPO for about 17 years. Formulation changes are next to impossible to track, unless the manufacturer’s report them, but it is known Carlisle did reformulate in the mid-2000. GAF makes their own TPO, and JM makes there own (since 2009 or so).
JM sources their two PVC sheets from Cooley (elvaloy PVC) and i2M (plasticized PVC). Just to add clarity.
I used to live 2 miles from Cooley plant in Pawtucket RI … they actually make roofing for many other private labels, on and off … not just JM… They used to sell direct to Target … I don’t know if they still do.
I’m in the process of building a new house with a flat roof. We’ve been planning on using TPO the entire time but we just lost our original roofer and our new roofer wants to use PVC. All the research I’ve done so far confirms that PVC is a superior or more proven roofing material. From what I can tell so far there’s no real disadvantage to using PVC, except for cost. My new roofer says he can do PVC (60ml) roof for the same cost as the TPO (65ml) roof so this seems like a no brainer. Better roof, longer warranty same cost
I don’t understand why none of the other roofers I had spoken with ever mentioned PVC. The only conversations were about TPO or EPDM. EPDM always got nixed early in the conversation since the seams weren’t welded.
QUOTE: “I don’t understand why none of the other roofers I had spoken with ever mentioned PVC. The only conversations were about TPO or EPDM”
This is because when roofer comes to a supplier, this happens:
A) many suppliers don’t carry PVC at all
B) if supplier does sell PVC, it’s usually 20% more expensive (per sq. ft.), BEFORE roofers think of the cost of other accessories. So they think – “aha, i can get TPO for $0.67 vs PVC at $0.82 per square foot. It will be easier for me to sell TPO”.
But reality is, when you calculate all the extra nonsense items that you MUST use with most TPO products, they actually cost the same, and PVC is EASIER to install.
Here is why: Many TPOs, especially those from Firestone / GenFlex / RPI (all 3 brands are made and owned by Firestone) require installer to us PEEL & STICK flashing tape / primer around roof perimeter, which adds about $3.50 per linear foot of roof edge in materials.
So if your roof has 200 feet of drip-edge, material cost goes up by $750 … that’s equivalent to 1000 sq.ft. of roofing membrane!!! On PVC, all you need is clad metal (coated with PVC) and a 6″ wide roll of material, which you can just trim off a big roll, and weld them together. The cost per linear foot is about $0.41
And I do think labor on these is about the same (TPO you glue, PVC you weld)…
I explained this in my TPO roof prices guide, where I provide actual supplier quotes, that show how much accessories really cost, and why TPO is not less expensive than PVC.
Now when you look at large commercial projects – TPO is less expensive, because you have 100000s of of square feet, where $0.20 per foot difference makes a huge impact on bottom line, and these roofs usually have parapets, so roofers don’t need to bother with Peel & Stick on roof edge.
Good luck with your project!
What would you use on a deck roof over finish room. I want to use 80mil PVC and cover it with something other than outdoor carpet. Is 80mil Pvc good to use?
If they’re only talking about TPO and EPDM, they’re not as educated as most roofers in California. I install IB Roof Systems only. 50 mil PVC over 2” iso bullet proof. I don’t install TPO and EPDM isn’t really out west.
Well, I can think of one disadvantage of PVC: When it burns it forms dioxins. They are highly toxic, can cause cancer, accumulate in the food chain and harm the immune and reproductive system.
For this reason alone (in it’s use PVC is unfortunately very useful) many Architectural firms try hard not to use PVC at all. Which is hard because right now electrical cabling uses PVC. But there are solutions showing up.
As for the roofing we have a fairly good alternative with TPO so I would choose that.
PVC only burns when there is a source of fire. It WILL NOT burn by itself. If your roof is burning, you got INSULATION that will give off a lot more harmful chemicals than PVC.
Besides, a proper installation of PVC, using DensDeck (preferred) or FireSheet as fire barrier will mitigate 99% of possible PVC roof fires.
Neither JM nor Firestone have been making and selling their own TPO for 20 years. Carlisle made JM’s TPO until JM opened their factory in 2007.
Ryan, what about firestone? who’s been making their TPO for last 20 years? what about all the factories they have, putting out TPO?
JM is a known private label and does not make ANY of their own products … but firestone is a historical Carlisle rival and has been making their ons stuff for many years … unless I don’t know something
Are you saying JM doesn’t make their own TPO?
David, no they don’t. They private label Cooley TPO/PVC (to the best of my knowledge).
Cooley is a manufacturer in Pawtucket, RI… I used to live like a mile from their plant.
Johns Manville or Firestone, I’ve had a lot of success with these manufacturers.
Glad to read your comments.
Am thinking that TPO manufactured by a company doing this for 20 years could be a good investment, a good purchase.
My question is how to find the companies with this 20 year history of manufacturing TPO. Your assistance will be greatly appreciated.
Do you know which companies work on perfecting TPO? How do they judge their formulations?!