Sustainable Industrial Roofing: How We Stay Sustainable when Roofing

2-PLY SBS modified bitumen roof replacement. sustainable industrial roofing concept.
33,970 square feet of 2-PLY SBS modified bitumen. High reflectivity ‘white’ IKO ARMOURCOOL SRI=82 cap sheet membrane with architectural specifications.

It’s no secret that constructing flat roofs for commercial and industrial buildings can have a negative impact on the environment so it is important to be mindful during the planning and execution stages to be more environmentally-friendly. Sustainable industrial roofing practices can be maintained by considering how to reduce landfill waste, use sustainable materials, use eco-friendly installation techniques, adhere to best waste management practices, and build in energy-efficiency. In its simplest terms, think of these three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

This article discusses challenges, benefits, and strategies roofers can use to reduce environmental impact, improve energy efficiency, and promote long-term durability.

Waste management and recycling for sustainable industrial roofing projects

One of the most significant factors contributing to the environmental impact of industrial flat roofing is poor waste management practices. Sustainable roofing practices reduce excess waste to reduce landfill emissions, save  energy, conserve resources, and minimize carbon emissions. 

Contractors can use proper waste management strategies during roof installation, replacement, and maintenance projects. Specific roofing options that increase sustainability include roof recovery and overlays. This reduces waste sent to landfills. Roof recovery defers the removal and disposal of materials to a landfill for up to 15 years.

Waste management begins by estimating the amount of waste and whether some of the materials can be either recycled or left in place. This is depending on client preferences and site conditions. Then by renting the right dumpster size for the estimated waste volume and weight. Other strategies include salvaging or repurposing lumber, metal, flashing, trims and other recyclable materials and components. Recycling calls for separating out recyclable materials, storing them properly to preserve their quality and sending them off to where they can be used once more. 

Sustainable Roofing Materials and Practices

Minimizing Waste

Roof replacement versus roof recovery

Roof Recovering is the installation a new roof membrane over top of an old one. Renovation or roof replacement means you tear off the old roof and install a new one. A roof recovery is the more eco-friendly option as it defers the removal and disposal of materials to a landfill for up to 15 years. As sustainability practices take further hold in the industry, the recovery option may become more popular.  A second method of roof recovery is to remove and dispose of the original roof membrane. Leave in place the original insulation layers. Only change out damaged or soiled panels before installing a new coverboard and roof membrane.

Ballasted Roofs

A ballasted roof, such as BUR (built up roofing), holds the roofing membrane in place using gravel, stones, or concrete pavers, or other heavy materials and acts as a weathering surface. An eco-friendly way to reduce waste is to remove ballast and separate it as clean fill, rather than disposing it as waste at an authorized dump site. The weight of ⅜” pea gravel on a BUR asphalt and gravel roof is 4-5 lbs per sft. The ballast of a single ply or inverted roof weighs much as 10-12 lbs per sft. The lesser weight of the BUR ballast reduces waste and removal and disposal costs when re-roofing. Sometimes larger ballast (such as ¾” limestone and 1” river stone) can be reused thereby improving sustainability. Membrane roofs eliminate the need for ballast altogether.

Metal Components

Using metal components adds to sustainability. Sheet metal copings and metal roof accessories for elements such as drains and vents are typically collected for recycling, rather than disposed of as waste at an authorized dump site.

Cool roofing systems for industrial buildings with flat roofs

New cool roofing technologies with reflective materials or coating can provide higher solar reflectance (SR) and thermal emittance (TE). These materials lower the roof surface temperature and reduce heat transfer into the building envelope. 

Green roofs

The benefits of covering part of a roof or the entire roof with vegetation, besides mandated green roof bylaw requirements that are already in force in the City of Toronto, include:

  • improved air and water quality
  • better drainage,
  • moderation of the urban island heat effect,
  • increased membrane durability,
  • reduced risk of fire and electromagnetic radiation,
  • and noise reduction.

At the same time, there are several challenges in designing and maintaining a green roof in industrial settings, including structural consideration, waterproofing, drainage, plant selection and maintenance, accessibility, and safety for maintenance crews, higher upfront costs, and integration with existing infrastructure.  Aerial view of a living roof in Toronto by Elite Roofing.

Options for Roof Membranes

Your roofer may recommend one of the following options based on the building’s occupancy and usage, location, roof characteristics, budget, or experience with these materials: 

Modified bitumen: Mod Bit roof membranes combine asphalt membranes with polymerized rubber or plastic reinforced with fiberglass. A reflective coating or granules can be applied to the membrane to reduce heat absorption and lower cooling costs.  Reflective granules and coatings are available to achieve a more highly reflective surface, as needed.

Single-ply membranes: Types of single-ply membranes include ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (EPDM), polyvinyl chloride or polymerized vinyl chloride (PVC), and thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO). Many manufacturers offer single-ply membranes in white or light-colored formulations with inherent reflective properties.  

An industrial property owner can best meet sustainability objectives by choosing a roofer with a reputation for technical knowledge, sustainable practices, and impeccable workmanship. This will enhance energy efficiency–such as precisely sealing all gaps, cracks, and penetrations to minimize air leakage.

Replacing or installing additional rigid insulation

Proper insulation materials and installation techniques will help lower energy consumption. This helps by reducing energy bills and decreasing the building’s overall carbon footprint. Choose materials with high thermal resistance (R-value) to minimize heat transfer, increase energy savings, and reduce heating/cooling costs. Depending on your circumstances and objectives, your roofer may recommend thicker rigid insulation to increase the Rvalue. Parapet heights and HVAC/mechanical issues need to be considered. Thicker roof insulation will typically require extra wood blocking to raise the parapet walls and possible modifications of HVAC curbs, roof drains, gas piping and other items to suit the new overall roof assembly thickness.

Energy-efficient design and renewable energy integration

Industrial facilities are significant consumers of energy. Designing an energy-efficient roof enhanced by multiple energy-saving techniques has benefits beyond sustainability. Despite potentially higher upfront costs, higher energy efficiency results in lower energy costs, and compliance with updated regulations. This also includes keeping up with industry best practices, greater indoor comfort, and higher employee productivity.

Here are some factors that will influence the design of your flat roof for energy efficiency:

  • Reducing reliance on artificial light: Your roofer can enhance energy efficiency by incorporating features like skylights.
  • Integration with HVAC: Coordination between roofing and HVAC contractors will  maximize efficiency, minimize energy loss, optimize energy performance, improve indoor comfort, and help protect the roof structure during HVAC installation. You can also consider passive ventilation or mechanical ventilation with heat recovery to ensure adequate indoor air quality while minimizing energy loss.
  • Ongoing monitoring: Comparing your month-to-month energy bills and using technology to monitor ongoing equipment performance allows for adjustments to maximize sustainability benefits and identify energy-saving opportunities. 
  • Coordination with solar installers: If a roof-mounted solar PV array is part of your sustainability plan, the roofing team and solar installer will need to coordinate equipment placement, insulation compatibility, and proper location of roof penetrations. Repairs on a roof with solar PV panels are often difficult and time-consuming. Costs rise exponentially if solar panels need to be removed and reinstalled as part of the repair process. You can avoid these issues by ensuring coordination between the roofing contractor and the solar installer. 

Industrial roofing expertise and technical knowledge for sustainability  

Industrial roofs have special requirements that differ from commercial, office and residential roofing. Hire an expert installer that prioritizes high-quality workmanship, understands your industry-specific roofing needs, effectively coordinates with other rooftop contractors. This also includes keeping up with current sustainability practices, and can meet your objectives, budget, and timeframe. 

Property owners can do their part to maximize the roof’s long-term performance and durability. Schedule twice-yearly inspections and handle repairs quickly so that small problems don’t become more serious.

It’s important to place greater emphasis on educating project managers and construction professionals about sustainability practices. By arming them with knowledge, tradespeople can better inform their customers about sustainable options and make practices such as recycling part of their regular company practices.

Hire a roofing contractor that offers a complete range of services as well as sustainable industrial roofing practices.

Select a trusting roofing partner that can provide top-notch services for installation, maintenance and repairs, inspection, and 24/7 emergency services for your industrial flat roof. The right choice will make your facility more sustainable and energy efficient, reduce energy costs, increase employee comfort and productivity, and avoid premature replacements and the associated environmental impacts. Adopt sustainability practices in your future roofing projects for a greener, more sustainably built environment. Call Elite Roofing for guidance on installing a new roof or replacing an existing roof that leverages sustainable industrial roofing materials and practices.