The Pros and Cons of Popular Commercial Roofing Systems

Thinking about putting a new commercial roofing system on your building? There are so many types to choose from. It would be easy for a building owner to get overwhelmed wading through them all.

You’ve got several factors to consider. First off, what are your needs? Is your building in an area that’s susceptible to extreme weather?

Will the businesses it houses have any special risks? Will your commercial roofing system be flat or sloped?

Second, what is your budget? You can’t build something you can’t afford.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of commercial roofing systems. We’ll break down the pros and cons of each so that you can choose the roof that’s right for your building.

Here are the three most popular types of commercial roofing systems.

Spray Polyurethane Foam Roofing (SPF)

At AFE, we’ve been spraying foam commercial roofing contractors for three generations, so you might have guessed that this is our favorite type of roof. Let us count the ways.

commercial flat roofing system


  • Easy installation: The application of the spray foam is so quick and easy, we can do it without interrupting the building’s operations. And it can be applied over any type of existing roof, so your old roof doesn’t have to be torn off.

  • Energy efficient: SPF is a commercial roofing system and insulation barrier in one. That means lower energy costs.

  • Waterproof: Spray foam roofing is completely seamless. There are no overlapping shingles or panels of material. Just one, solid sheet of foam that will not let a drop of water through. It will even fill any gaps or cracks in your substrate or existing roof.

  • Low maintenance: Most other commercial roofing systems need to be cleaned and sealed often or checked for wear. Not so with SPF. You should inspect your foam roof twice a year to ensure it hasn’t been punctured by flying tree branches or animals. But aside from that, it will need a recoating after the first 5 years, and again every 15-20 years. Do that, and your SPF roof could last you 50 years or longer!

  • Competitive pricing: The cost of installation for other types of commercial roofing systems has gone up in recent years. Why? It’s expensive to dispose of all those petroleum-based materials. When you combine that with the energy savings, the foam roof is one of the least expensive options available.

  • 100% green application: Not only will we apply your SPF roof with no emissions, but the fully formed foam roof is also inert and nontoxic. And since you’ll never have to tear the roof off, it will never get dumped in a landfill either.

  • Durable and light in weight: SPF is strong enough to withstand weather, critters, and all of our Timberlands. We use different types of closed cell foam ranging from 2-6 pounds.


  • You need a specialized commercial roofing contractor: Not all commercial roofing companies are created equal. Installing a foam roof takes a high degree of technical expertise. A wonky SPF application can cause big problems for your building, so be sure to hire an expert installer.

  • Limited installation window: Spray foam can only be installed under certain weather conditions. We need a reasonable amount of sunshine, so we prefer to install between late spring and early fall. There should also be no ice, frost, or moisture on the existing roof during installation.

Built-Up Roofing (BUR)

Built-up roofing, or BUR, is basically your standard tar and gravel roof. They call it “build up” because it’s installed with multiple layers that are piled on top of one another until you reach the desired level of thickness.


  • Low maintenance: Like spray foam roofs, BUR is extremely durable. You won’t have to inspect it regularly or do any kind of interim maintenance.

  • Strong enough for heavy traffic: Some other roofing materials are not compatible with human feet. They’ll get damaged easily if your contractor isn’t careful up there. But BUR commercial roofing systems are strong enough for frequent foot traffic. If you want to build a rooftop deck, or you need to have frequent repairs to a satellite system or something else on your roof, this type of system might make sense for you.


  • It’s difficult to identify the source of a leak: With other types of roofs, you usually only have one layer. A crack or tear in the material would be visible from the outside. But with BUR, there are multiple layers and any one of them could have a crack. So if you have water entering your building through the roof, it might be harder to find the source.

  • Short lifespan: Even though BUR is often less expensive to install than other commercial roofing systems, it ends up costing you more in the long run. Why? You have to replace it after only 10-15 years.

Metal Roofing

Metal roofing systems are popular on commercial buildings. In fact, when we say “metal roofing,” we could be talking about a number of different materials. Metal roofs could be made from copper, aluminum, tin, stainless steel, corrugated galvanized steel, or metal tile aggregates of zinc, aluminum, and steel.

commercial roofing system


  • Durable and long lasting: A metal roof can last 40-70 years. And it can withstand weather, high winds, and just about anything nature can throw at it.

  • Environmentally friendly: Most metal roofs contain at least 25 percent recycled materials and are recyclable themselves. You can sometimes install them over top of asphalt shingles as well, which keeps all that petroleum out of the landfills.

  • Energy efficient: Metal roofs reflect heat from the sun instead of absorbing it. In the summer, that can reduce your cooling costs by up to 25 percent. Some specialized metal roofing comes coated with reflective pigments, which will keep the building even cooler.

  • Aesthetically pleasing: Many people love the look of metal roofing. It comes in more than 100 different colors, some of which will increase the price. You can also have them painted, as steel and aluminum are both designed to hold paint finishes.


  • Expensive: Though they last a long time, you’ll pay a premium price for a metal commercial roofing system. Some higher-end metals can cost three times as much as a spray foam roof.

  • Metal can dent: Metal roofs are pretty durable, but they can still be dented by heavy objects or foot traffic. You might not be able to walk on them to make repairs.

  • Rust: Metal roofs have a protective coating to prevent rust. But if there are any dents or divots, water can pond and cause rust to form.

  • Seams: These types of commercial roofing systems are installed in panels. This creates seams where water can leak.

  • Full replacement: As we noted above, metal roofs last a long time. But if you do ever replace it, you’ll have to tear off the entire roof and install a new one.

  • Noise: Rain, hail, and wind can rattle your metal roof and cause a lot of noise inside the building.

We hope these tips are helpful. If you’re thinking about installing a new commercial roofing system, give us a call today. We’d love to talk to you!