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Manufacturing an RV isn’t easy, given just how much you have to contend with. From the elements to road conditions, finding an RV that is both durable and easy to maintain is nearly impossible! That’s why you may be wondering what the differences are between a TPO vs EPDM RV roof.
Which might be better between a TPO vs EPDM RV roof?
Choosing a TPO or EPDM roof depends on budget, and where you plan on camping. While EPDM is less expensive compared to TPO, TPO has a far greater resistance to hot temperatures. Likewise, EPDM performs much better in cold temperatures. However, both materials do well in an average climate and need similar levels of maintenance.
In this article, we will address everything you need to know about TPO and EPDM materials and how they work in an RV setting. We’ll go over what both of these materials are as well as which option might work well for you and your camping adventures.
Whether you are replacing the roof of your RV and need some options or plan on purchasing an RV with roof knowledge in mind, you’re in the right place! Let’s get started.
Only seeking specific knowledge or information surrounding TPO and EPDM? Use our table of contents to navigate to what you want to know!
What Is TPO?
Technically standing for thermoplastic polyolefin, TPO is a popular roofing material, both in the RV and standard residential roof world. Thermoplastic polyolefin is the chemical used to form these types of roofs, and they are always single-layer membranes when used for RV roofs.
While TPO can be combined with fibers and other materials to enhance its strength, the basic chemicals used to manufacture TPO keep it flexible. This makes it ideal when used in an RV capacity, as the roof of your rig is constantly shifting while driving or during times of inclement weather.
Speaking of inclement weather, TPO is extremely valuable to RV manufacturers given its overall elasticity in varying temperatures. TPO is highly resistant to UV rays given its white color, allowing RVers to stay cool inside their rig despite the hottest of temperatures. Plus, RVs are constantly experiencing temperature changes, which makes TPO a good choice for RV roofs.
When Did RV Manufacturers Start Using TPO?
TPO is a fairly recent development in RV manufacturing, and it came to the US in the late 80s. It was revolutionary when it was introduced, as it is an inexpensive material that comes in a white color naturally. This means that there are no additional costs for altering the color of TPO for an RV roof.
Originally, TPO was designed for residential roofs that are flat and in need of weather resistance. The flexible material and natural UV resistance of TPO suited RV manufacturing perfectly! It was a no-brainer to use it in this capacity and TPO materials have only improved with RV performance in mind.
What Is EPDM?
The RV roof standard since the 1960s, EPDM is an affordable rubber-based material. It is black from the get-go, which as you can no doubt guess isn’t ideal for RVing in the heat of summer. However, EPDM is incredibly easy to work with and highly customizable given that you can cure EPDM into roofing sheets as well as utilize it in a flexible capacity, similar to TPO.
For the most part, EPDM roofs are simple to install and boast a lower cost compared to other roof materials, including TPO. It also has a decent amount of cold weather resistance and overall durability. This is easily demonstrated by EPDM being the industry standard for RV roofs since the beginning.
While EPDM stands for ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber, it is indeed a similar product to TPO in many ways. However, it has a longer track record compared to the new-on-the-market TPO, making EPDM a standard to many RV manufacturers and consumers.
Do RV Manufacturers Still Use EPDM?
While TPO is all the rage, there are still a number of RV manufacturers that use EPDM for their RV roofs. Many top names such as Jayco, Forest River, and Coachmen continue to use EPDM in their travel trailers, fifth wheels, and much more. However, this isn’t to say that TPO doesn’t have its place or merit.
In fact, many RV manufacturers are working on their own TPO roofs that are just as reliable and durable as EPDM, if not more so. By combining TPO with other materials, its overall durability and flexibility can be customized for all sorts of types of RVs. However, this does typically mean that TPO will make an RV more expensive, something that likely won’t appeal to both an RV manufacturer and the average RV customer!
What Climate Is Best for TPO vs EPDM?
The largest argument when it comes to choosing a material for your RV roof has to lie in climate. There are pros and cons for both TPO and EPDM, but these divisions are largely based on average temperature and the climate you will typically be keeping your RV in.
For example, TPO works best in hot climates, especially in locations where your RV will be sitting in direct sunlight often. TPO maintains its flexibility and is less likely to be harmed by UV rays compared to EPDM. Given its naturally white shade, TPO reflects sunlight away from your rig, helping your rooftop AC units work more efficiently!
In contrast, EPDM will not reflect sunlight nearly as well as TPO, given its rubber materials. Plus, EPDM is typically black to begin with, needing additional materials and money to refinish it in a more reflective color. This often makes EPDM not worth the cost, despite its durability and resistance to damage.
However, EPDM works extremely well in colder climates. It is often thicker compared to TPO roofs, which means it is more likely to soak up the sunshine and maintain that heat as the day progresses. While this will likely help you save money on your heating bill in winter, this isn’t going to help you in the summertime!
When it comes to the seasons and temperatures alone, TPO works best in the sunshine and hot weather, while EPDM works best in winter. However, both materials should have enough flexibility and adaptability to temperature changes, both large and small. This should help your RV’s roof from cracking or otherwise wearing down, season after season.
Which Is Better: TPO or EPDM?
As with most things in the RV world, there is no clear choice between TPO and EPDM. In fact, it largely depends on what you plan on doing with your RV, where you plan on going, and the seasons you plan on camping in. There are a few other factors to consider; let’s discuss those now!
When it comes to cost, an EPDM roof is typically more affordable compared to a TPO roof. The application and manufacturing process of TPO is much more involved compared to EPDM, especially as TPO technology advances. Plus, the flexibility of EPDM makes it much faster and cheaper to install compared to TPO.
Looking closer at durability, both EPDM and TPO are tied, for various reasons. Both of these materials are proven to last upwards of 15-30 years, depending on how thick of a roof you get initially and how well the roofs are maintained. However, EPDM has a longer record of reliability compared to TPO, given the fact that TPO was only introduced in this capacity quite recently.
There is one other factor to consider when deciding between TPO or EPDM, and that’s the style or aesthetic of your roof. While you are unlikely to be staring at the roof of your RV day in and day out, TPO is much more seamless and stylish compared to EPDM. This is because of the materials used, as EPDM often ends up textured rather than smooth.
However, with this in mind, TPO is much more susceptible to scratches and dings, while EPDM is more likely to hide those marks. While TPO can get dinged up, it has a natural UV resistance and can easily be made into all sorts of colors, while EPDM is often black and difficult or expensive to alter.
So, TPO or EPDM?
At the end of the day, you likely won’t know which roof material is best for you without considering a number of factors. If you aren’t worried about UV reflecting and aesthetics, an EPDM roof will be durable and affordable.
However, if you plan on camping in hot locations often and need something to keep you cool, TPO will provide that while still being durable though it will cost more!
If you want to learn more about RV roof materials this video does a great job explaining TPO, EPDM, as well as PVC!
How to Maintain an RV Roof
As with most things related to an RV, maintenance is everything. In fact, an RV roof is one of the first and most important things that you should be maintaining as you learn about your rig. If your roof isn’t checked on and maintained frequently, you risk ample unseen damage, including the potential for delamination in the walls of your RV!
Let’s take a closer look at how to best maintain the roof of your RV, whether it be TPO or EPDM.
How to Maintain a TPO RV Roof
While you should always keep up on the seams of your RV’s roofline and windows, a TPO roof is fairly simple to maintain. Keep an eye out for any and all scratches or dents in your roof, as these could mean disaster should it rain and you don’t know whether or not you have a leak! Once you have inspected your TPO roof, cleaning it is your next step.
Depending on how often you camp, you should plan on cleaning your TPO roof every quarter or so. You can use a variety of cleaning products on TPO, as it is highly resistant to chemicals and other substances. Clean your TPO roof thoroughly, making sure to remove any grime and potentially harmful twigs or branches.
You may also consider purchasing a TPO sealant or other type of product designed to extend the life of your TPO roof. No matter what, cleaning your roof is likely necessary to maintain the warranty on your TPO materials, so keep this in mind!
How to Maintain an EPDM RV Roof
An EPDM roof needs to be cared for a bit more than a TPO roof. You need to pay special attention to the types of products you are using, as the rubber of your EPDM roof can suffer damage or discoloration if you use chemicals that are too harsh. However, cleaning your EPDM roof every few months, like TPO roofs, is recommended.
While TPO roofs may also need resealing every so often, it is likely that your EPDM roof will need resealing every 3-5 years. This of course depends largely on how often you use your RV and whether or not you are keeping it protected with a cover when not in use. Resealing is an involved process that you may not be able to accomplish on your own.
However, with practice and careful attention, cleaning your EPDM roof is often all you need to maintain it. Resealing is a necessary process for all RVers, regardless of what type of roof you have. There are also plenty of EPDM roof sealants and coatings you can apply to extend the life of your RV’s roof!
While there’s no clear answer, having either a TPO or an EPDM roof on your RV means a reliable RV roof. Depending on your budget, climate, and the type of RV you are hoping to purchase, you may have strong opinions for either one roof material over the other.
Regardless of which one you end up with, both TPO and EPDM roofs need to be maintained and cared for over time! As with all things RV, maintenance and careful attention are key to keeping your RV on the road, season after season.