Op-Ed

PVC Better than TPO

I read your article entitled “Plastics in Construction: Performance and Affordability at What Cost?” (

Vol. 10, No. 7/8) with much interest. As a manufacturer of both PVC and FPO (called TPO here in the U.S.) roofing membranes, we are concerned with your conclusion that TPO is a “greener alternative” to PVC roofing.

We would be anxious to work with you or others to do a life-cycle assessment (LCA) on a durable PVC roofing membrane like Sarnafil. TPO is an unproven product in the roofing industry. As you may know, the advertised leading producer of TPO roof membranes has decided to sell a PVC membrane. Another major manufacturer had a recall of their TPO membrane and will continue to sell PVC. Are manufacturers realizing that they are not ready with TPO? How can TPO roofs that are failing in 3–5 years be more environmentally friendly than a PVC roof that lasts 20–30 years?

As you know, we have been a leader in promoting recyclability of roofing. Unfortunately, we do not see many owners or specifiers asking about recycling of roof membranes.

We think that your group should be recommending white, reflective, durable roof membranes. Studies show that white roofs save energy. A long-lasting roof is critical to the environmental profile. We also would suggest that your group recommend more education and promote a recycling initiative in roofing.

Brian J. Whelan

VP of Sales and Marketing

Sarnafil, Inc.

Canton, Massachusetts

Editor’s Response:

We concur that a roof membrane that lasts only 3–5 years should not be considered green. If TPOs have such poor performance across-the-board, then they clearly aren’t ready for prime-time. We suspect, however, that like PVC membranes of 20 years ago, there are good products and bad ones. (Some roofing professionals remain skeptical of PVC roof membranes because of problems they had 20 years ago—because not all manufacturers had the same high standards as Sarnafil.) We maintain our concerns about PVC, due to its chlorine content and risk of dioxin generation, but perhaps viable TPO roof membranes will have to await the development, testing, and commercialization of metallocene-catalyzed TPOs for that application. In the meantime, as I have suggested to your company in the past, one way for your PVC roof membrane to gain recognition as a “green product” would be for Sarnafil to begin leasing—rather than selling—the product, thereby maintaining responsibility for its entire life cycle and ensuring the recycling of it. Thank you for your comments.

Published September 1, 2001

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