Exploring Roofing Technologies in Commercial Real Estate

July 26, 2023 | By: CRE Insight Journal

Roof systems are essential components that influence a property’s longevity, aesthetics, and energy efficiency. As technology advances, a variety of roofing solutions have surfaced, providing a wide array of options for property owners and operators. Understanding each roofing option, how they are maintained, and the benefits each bring will help you decide which roof is the best fit for your property.


Built-Up Roofing (BUR) is a classic yet reliable roofing method that employs alternating layers of bitumen and reinforcing fabrics to create a durable membrane. BUR systems are known for their hardiness and exceptional waterproofing abilities. They typically last between 15-30 years before needing major repairs or replacements. The initial cost-effectiveness of BUR systems can be somewhat offset by higher maintenance costs over time due to the complexity of the layered structure.

Metal roofing systems have become increasingly popular in CRE, primarily due to their high durability and eco-friendliness. These systems, which can be made from various metals such as steel, aluminum, and copper, are known to last 30-40 years with proper care, and up to 70 years in specific instances. While metal roofs have a higher initial cost, their extended lifespan and lower maintenance needs make them a cost-effective choice in the long term.

Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer (EPDM) roofing is a single-ply synthetic rubber roofing material that offers a high durability to cost ratio. Renowned for their hardiness and cost-effectiveness, EPDM roofs typically last 20-30 years with proper maintenance. EPDM roofs offer a cost-effective solution, especially when considering the overall lifespan of this roofing technology.

A relatively modern introduction to the roofing industry, Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) roofs are single-ply roofing systems that have earned praise for their resistance to UV radiation, leading to reduced indoor heat and energy savings. Generally, TPO roofing systems can last between 15-20 years with proper maintenance. These systems are typically affordable and offer great cost effectiveness over their lifespan due to their durability and energy efficiency, though can be more challenging to install than EPDM systems.


Green roofs, also known as living roofs, incorporate vegetation layers grown over a waterproofing system and offer numerous benefits. Not only do green roofs improve the aesthetics of a building, but they also provide excellent insulation, mitigate urban heat island effect, manage stormwater, enhance building sustainability, and provide biodiversity for pollinators in the community. The lifespan of a green roof can vary significantly depending on maintenance, but with proper care, they can last up to 40 years or more.

The initial installation cost can be higher than traditional roofing systems, but the benefits in terms of energy savings, stormwater management, and extended roof life can make it a worthwhile investment. The U.S. General Service Administration has closely monitored and maintained numerous green roofs since the 1930s and has found that green roofs have a 6.2-year payback period on average in the U.S. and a 224% return on investment.

Photovoltaic solar panels are making a strong statement in CRE. These innovative roofing systems generate electricity, leading to significant energy cost reductions. Solar panels have a normal lifespan of 25-30 years, and commercial properties using this as part of their roofing system should employ another roofing system under the solar panels. While this may seem expensive, solar panels provide long-term energy savings and there are many options in lowering the cost to the owner and property.

Based on vendors in your area, your property may be able to partner with a third-party to reduce or even eliminate installations costs associated with this technology. Some vendors will partner with properties to divert a portion of the electricity generated to others to pay for these systems over the lifespan of the solar panel.

Additionally, your local government may offer rebates or savings on solar and other efficient technologies. For a list of local rebates, property operators can search the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE), a database managed by North Carolina State University that catalogues renewable incentives throughout the United States.


Routine inspection and maintenance can have a substantial impact on extending the life of a roof. Regular tasks like debris removal, checking for and repairing damages, applying sealants, and cleaning gutters are crucial components of effective roof maintenance. For some roofing types, such as TPO and EPDM, regular re-coating can help prolong their service life. For metal roofs, periodic painting or coating can protect against rust and enhance durability.

Eventually, your property will require a new roof. A few indicators that it may be time for a new roof include (but are not limited to) persistent leaks, widespread wear and tear, unusually high energy bills, and visible damage like blisters or cracks. Also, when the roof has reached or surpassed its typical lifespan, it is a good idea to consider a replacement.

Roof inspection should be a staple in the regular maintenance regimen at your building. Regular inspections can identify problems such as standing water, punctures, blisters, and loose or damaged flashings at an early stage, facilitating timely repairs. A professional roof inspection is recommended twice a year, preferably during spring and fall, and after significant weather events. Regular maintenance activities involve clearing debris, ensuring proper drainage, reapplying sealants, and making necessary repairs.

You can learn more about how about CRE inspection and repairs through CRE Insight Journal’s award-winning Structural Inspection and Repair Guide.


The choice of roofing technology can greatly impact a commercial real estate property. A deep understanding of the different options, coupled with knowledge about enhancing lifespan, following good maintenance practices, and when a roof requires replacement will help CRE owners and operators make informed decisions to maximize the value of your roofing system. A roof can do more than just keep the rain out of your building, it can make or break a tenant’s experience and perception of your property.

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