The most popular type of roofing for recreational vehicles might surprise you if this is your first time on an RV. You might think that the most common is either aluminum or tin but you are wrong. Although those materials work great when used in the home, they are too heavy for use in an RV.
The actual most popular type of RV roofing is the rubber roofing. The most popular choices here are the TPO and EPDM roofing systems. If you are thinking of changing the roof due to disrepair or because you can no longer breathe properly, then you might be asking yourself, “TPO vs. EPDM RV roof, what’s the difference?”.
You are in luck because that is what this article will tackle and educate you about these two RV roofing options. In the end, it will help you decide on what you should use on your RV.
Table of Contents
What is TPO?
TPO, which is short for Thermoplastic Polyolefin, came into the roofing market in the early 1990s as a viable alternative to PVC roofing materials. It instantly became very popular as it was economical and cost-efficient. TPO is the most popular RV roofing material today because of two reasons – it is cheap and it is already colored white.
This type of roofing material comes in the form of a rubber membrane. To attach the TPO membrane on your RV, you can either join it mechanically using heavy-duty screws or staples or glue it on the surface using specialized adhesives.
Advantages of Using TPO Roofs
Affordable – One of the reasons why TPO is the most popular choice in RV roofing is because it is priced reasonably and yet it can last for years. This is possible if it gets proper maintenance and care. Also, TPO has the same benefits that come with using PVC, like having hot-air weldable seams and being energy-efficient, at a vastly lower cost.
Stylish – There was a time when TPO roofing was still in its infancy that you might be forced to use other roof colors than black as they absorb light and heat. However, modern roofing technology now enables TPO roofs to be UV-resistant. This also allows it to keep cool. Now, you can choose whatever color of TPO you want. It will still work the same way.
Durable – Compared with other thermoplastic membranes, TPO is resistant to mold, does not accumulate dirt, and is highly resistant to impact and puncture. TPO is flexible, so it can adjust with every move of the RV. Furthermore, reinforced TPO can easily handle thermal expansion and contraction, so you can take your RV anywhere in the country.
Ease of installation – Usually, TPO roofing is produced in wide sheets, and it is lightweight. This makes installation on RVs much easier. Because of the width of the sheets, it is possible to not have any seams in your roof. Also, the fact that it is super lightweight makes it easy to maneuver into place. This means cheap installation costs.
Energy-efficient – TPO can help conserve energy by lowering your cooling and heating costs. The white variants of TPO even go beyond the EPA’s EnergyStar requirements, making it very adept at keeping the interior of your RV cool during the summers.
The other color variants are also great at reflecting UV rays, so you do not have to spend that much energy on air conditioning, thus reducing your carbon footprint.
Disadvantages of TPO
Does not last very long – One of the biggest drawbacks to using TPO is that it does not last that long. Seeing as it is still a relatively young technology, manufacturers are still trying to figure out the right chemical formula to make the product more durable and longer-lasting while remaining cheap to produce and manufacture.
Finding the right formula proves to be quite a challenge as different manufacturers have had numerous documented material failures like popping at the seams, membrane drying out and cracking, and many others. As of now, there is still no reliable way to accurately tell just how long TPO membranes will last.
If you choose to get TPO roofing for your RV, your best bet is to get it from a manufacturer who has been in business ever since the material was first produced. They will likely have the most proven formula for making TPO membranes in the market today.
Does not do well with high heat loads – Another huge issue regarding TPO roofing is that they tend to suffer from accelerated weathering when they are exposed to high thermal loads, otherwise known as being left under the blistering hot sun for hours.
This problem is particularly common in the Southern states where they tend to get a lot of sun for most of the year. If you will be subjecting your RV to outside temperatures that will exceed 160 degrees, ask the manufacturer of the TPO roofing if their product can withstand that amount of heat. If not then consider going to another manufacturer.
What is EPDM Roofing?
Commonly called rubber roofing, rolled rubber roofing, or rubber membrane roofing, EPDM, or ethylene propylene diene terpolymer, is one of the most popular RV roofing choices currently available. Most EPDM roofing options are made from a combination of recycled automotive tires, slate dust, and sawdust. It is cheap because it is made of recycled materials.
You can even snag deals for EPDM roofing for around 80 cents per square foot. If you are on a tight budget but you need to replace the roof of your RV so you can make it in time for the next camping season, EPDM is your best bet.
Advantages of Using EPDM Roofing
Affordable – One of the biggest advantages of EPDM roofing over the other types is its cost. You can never go wrong with roofing that only costs 80 cents per square foot. Even if you have a huge camper van or a motor home, you can afford to replace your entire roof with brand new EPDM sheets.
Easy to install – EPDM is so lightweight that you do not even need to put reinforcements on the roof deck. It is so easy to install. The best way to go about it is to simply strip off all of the remaining roofing material on the roof deck, spread adhesive on the bare metal, and then just roll out the EPDM sheets.
This means more savings for you because the installation will only take a couple of hours. You can also choose from different installation options – from gluing the sheets onto the RV or using fasteners for convenience in replacing the roof later.
Very durable – Because they are manufactured in wide sheets, it is very unlikely that you will get any seams on your RV’s new roof. This means that leaking will not be much of a problem. Also, if you get your EPDM roofing from a trusted source, it is possible that your new roof can last up to twenty years.
EPDM also does not scratch or scuff easily and if leaks do occur, you can easily patch them up in a few minutes by using RV roof sealants or coatings. Also, unlike TPO, EPDM can withstand high heat loads
Disadvantages of Using EPDM
It does not have curb appeal – The biggest drawback to using EPDM is that it is just plain unflattering to look at. The black EPDM has the same look and appeal as a rubber tire inner tube stretched out over your RV. EPDM does come in other colors, like white or tan, but they are a bit more expensive, like 30% pricier than the usual black.
It absorbs heat – Because EPDM comes mainly in black, it absorbs heat fast. It is so efficient at absorbing light and heat that it might even superheat the interior of your RV when you leave it under the sun for a couple of hours.
Again, you can get EPDM in lighter colors to reflect the light and heat in warmer climates but they are more expensive, which fails the purpose of choosing EPDM in the first place.
Which One is Better?
When it comes to looks and efficiency at reflecting UV rays, TPO roofing materials are much better. TPO roofing comes in a wide variety of colors, suiting the tastes of most RV enthusiasts. However, due to their questionable longevity, it is still a bit too early for TPO to become the top roofing material for RVs but it is getting there.
EPDM, on the other hand, is more durable and at just 80 cents a square foot, a much more affordable choice for RV roofing. However, since it is not as appealing and does not reflect UV rays that well, it is far from the perfect choice for your RV.
Also, considering that EPDM also comes in lighter colors that help reflect the light and heat of the sun, it makes it a better choice for your RV.
TPO and EPDM might look the same when they are installed but they are vastly different in terms of construction and features. TPO is much lighter and easier to install, but EPDM is a whole lot cheaper and lasts longer.
If you are thinking of getting a new roof for your RV, these two options are your best bet. There is no clear winner when it comes to TPO vs. EPDM RV roof: what’s the difference? It will depend on the manufacturer and the quality of the installation.
Hi, I am Dane Heldt, a full-time RVer since 2016. I am always passionate about building and joining an RV community where people share their love for RV lives. This blog is a dream of mine, as I can finally share my experiences to help people who want to start living differently. So, feel free to reach out to me!