The History of TPO: How It Became a Popular Commercial Roof Option

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TPO is at times considered the new roofing system on the block, even though the material has been around for decades and has proven its worth in the industry. Here is a little background on how TPO came about, the history of its testing and development, and where it stands today.

Back in the 1970s, flexible sheet, for a variety of uses, was either EPDM or flexible PVC. EPDM was not weldable and flexible PVC contained liquid plasticizers. Those plasticizers led to hazing of automotive windshields and embrittlement of the PVC as they evaporated. Thermoplastic polyolefins (TPO) were developed to be inherently flexible, plasticizer and halogen free, and to heat-weld.

TPO membranes were first used for geomembrane applications such as pond liners. They also began to appear in the automobile industry to protect exterior surfaces and to be used as wire covers.

The first known TPO roofing membrane was installed in 1986 in Michigan. The TPO was produced by Montell specifically for the roofing market. Montell merged with two other companies in 2000 to become Basell. That company merged in 2007 with Lyondell to become Lyondell-Basell, which still supplies the majority of TPO to the roofing industry.

In the late 1980s, Versico, a division of Goodyear Tire and Rubber, started to promote VersiWeld®, a reinforced TPO roofing membrane. They were followed by JPS Elastomerics in the early 1990s which launched Hi Tuff EP. JPS eventually became Stevens Roofing Systems. In the early 1990s, concerns began to surface about the use of halogenated fire retardants in TPO and their effect on UV resistance. This caused manufacturers to alter their formulations, using magnesium hydroxide as the fire retardant. This remains the case today.

In the mid-1990s, Carlisle Syntec Systems acquired Versico and began marketing a TPO roofing membrane named SureWeld. In the late 1990s, Firestone and GAF also entered the market. It’s worth noting that a little-known company, Serrot International, based in Nevada, played a pivotal role. They toll produced membrane for several roofing companies, including GAF, prior to those companies adding their own plants. Serrot was eventually purchased by Firestone in 2002.

Beginning in the late 1990s, TPO began to gain significant market share. GAF, Firestone, and Carlisle added plants to keep up with demand. Since then, one of the early suppliers, Stevens Roofing Systems, has ceased to exist, and Johns Manville built their first plant in Alabama in 2008..

In 2003, the ASTM D6878 “Standard Specification for Thermoplastic Polyolefin Based Sheet Roofing” was first published. The specification covers physical properties, dimensions, and durability properties. The latter includes ozone resistance, heat aging, and weather resistance. Oven aging was tested at 240°F and went for 28 days. The ultraviolet light resistance is tested using a xenon arc apparatus and the exposure was doubled in 2006 to 10,080 kJ/m2. In 2011, the ASTM standard was revised again to address the heat aging protocol. This was raised to 240°F exposure for 224 days or 32 weeks, from 28 days.

In 2011, GAF introduced EverGuard Extreme® for the solar market and for any roof that may have severe exposure and/or long warranty requirements.

From 1998 to now, TPO membrane sales have grown annually at a double-digit rate, far outpacing any other single-ply, mod bit, BUR, or metal product.

However, the increasing popularity of TPO roofing systems has led to much confusion, exaggerated claims, and misinformation about TPO as a product class (and about which TPO brand performs the best). So in early 2015, GAF released the results of the largest-ever independent study of TPO, carried out by SRI. Read about the results and which brands performed the best.

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    • Thomas J Taylor, PhD

      Stevens was an early adopter of TPO for roofing. Stevens Roofing Systems was acquired by Dow Chemical in 2008. The business became Dow Roofing Systems, but that ceased to sell TPO and PVC membranes in early 2011 when Dow exited the roofing membrane business.

  1. Harvey Howells

    Liza; Several of your facts are incorrect.
    Carlisle did not by Versico. They bought Goodyears roofing business in 1993 and renamed it Versico.
    I am ex VP of little know Serrot who produced the original TPO membrane for Himont, who later became Montell. We also produced for Firestone, GAF and JM.
    Prior to Himont, we actually produced the original TPO type roof out of Monsanto Santoprene and has several in service before Himont got involved.

    • Thomas J Taylor, PhD

      Harvey – thanks for the information. I try to keep a record of the TPO industry and sometimes earlier “facts” can be confusing as memories fade. I have a copy of an early Goodyear TPO advertisement that refers to Versiweld – this implies that the Versico name originally belonged to Goodyear and not Carlisle. I am very familiar with Serrot and know that they (and you!) were very much involved in the development of TPO roofing. I often view the development of roofing membranes as much a story about processing technology as about membrane chemistry. Serrot proved that membranes could be made as laminated extruded sheet and the rest is history!

  2. Mark Andras

    I read Ms. Liza Barth article. At the end of the article, is stated GAF released the largest independent study on TPO. The link for does not work. How can I see and review this document.

    • Thomas J Taylor, PhD

      Bob – thanks for the comment. We think the TPO testing, done by independent lab SRI, really shows how well TPO is doing overall. Yes, there are differences between suppliers, but the category is performing very well. How many years the laboratory testing equates to is a frequent question. However, there are many assumptions that have to go into such an extrapolation. The actual longevity of any membrane, including TPO, is impacted by additional factors such as mechanical wear and tear, foot traffic, installation and attachment procedures, maintenance, and regional conditions. My guidance is to use the data to compare membranes along with your own experience in installing roofs.

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