What Do All Those Letters Mean?
The term TPO stands for Thermoplastic Polyolefin. Believe it or not, TPO is actually in a broad family of rubber roofing materials. TPO is a blend of polypropylene and ethylene-propylene rubber.
EPDM stands for Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer. It is a synthetic rubber derived from oil and natural gas (ethylene propylene). When the ethylene propylene is combined with diene (an unsaturated hydrocarbon alkene containing two carbon-to-carbon double bonds), the flexible EPDM membrane is born.
The term PVC stands for Polyvinyl Chloride. PVC materials are produced by a chemical reaction, known as polymerization. (Polymers are a natural or synthetic compound that consist of large molecules made of many chemically-bonded smaller molecules, known as monomers.) PVC is produced by the gaseous reaction of ethylene with oxygen and hydrochloric acid.
Now if that wasn’t tedious and boring enough, there are several other roofing acronyms out there. For example, there’s CSPE, which stands for Chlorosulfonated Polyethylene; PIP for Polyisobutylene; and KEE for Ketone Ethylene Ester. Holy Cow, Batman! Do you really need to know all this stuff? No. But it is good to at least know that these letters mean something, that there is a chemically-designed manufacturing process to these different roofing membranes. I’m only covering TPO, EPDM, and PVC because, frankly, they are the most commonly used products in the roofing industry today. They are probably what you are going to encounter most often.
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