DESIGNING BEYOND LIMITATIONS

Our buildings become symbolic of the times we live in, reflecting the spirit of a given era, attending to different needs, lifestyles, functions… “Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness”, says one of the most prominent architects of our time, Frank Gehry. Exploration of the emerging technological possibilities and imagining how a new value can be created in people’s lives, have been the guiding principles of the architectural pioneers compelled to respond to the challenges of their time. Today’s key challenge - sustainability - is adding new dimensions to the debate, bringing together form, function, the responsible choice of materials and long-term thinking. Keeping up has never been more important.

Sustainability becomes a norm

The circular economy, the emergence of new materials and re-imagining urban landscapes in a sustainable way are some of the most important drivers of change in contemporary architecture. Seeking to minimize the negative environmental impact of buildings by achieving resource efficiency, waste reduction and moderation in the use of raw materials while improving the well-being of people, are trends that are here to stay. 

The choice of building materials within the sustainable architecture mindset is strongly influenced by a “reduce, reuse and recycle” approach. Natural and renewable materials have taken centre stage, together with durable products that offer a long-lasting solution, contributing to the reduction of construction waste and the need for natural resources.

The renovation of the existing building stock, especially through public schemes for energy-efficient refurbishment, is also gaining momentum. The European Union’s Green Deal initiative, which aims to have zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, has singled out the renovation of both public and private buildings as an essential measure to pave the way for a carbon-neutral and clean energy system in Europe. As part of the Green Deal, EU member states are expected to engage in a ‘renovation wave’ of public and private buildings, with the goal of at least doubling the current annual renovation rates.

All these challenges do not hinder the creativity of architects, but rather, they foster it. Designing (and building) creatively and sustainably requires a holistic approach to each aspect of a project, including rooftops. As one of the most important components of the total building envelope, roofs offer an empty canvas for all kinds of possibilities. Architects seize them, looking into ways of activating these surfaces (by including green roofs, installing solar panels, harvesting water) without giving up on the aesthetic side of their creations. Luckily, responsibility and imagination don’t have to be mutually exclusive. EPDM is one of those building materials that are both environmentally friendly and allow you to create and renovate beyond limitations.

Nothing flat about great design

Even though EPDM roofing membranes are mainly used on flat or low slope roofs, these are not the only shapes they can cover. In fact, EPDM offers total design freedom, even when the roof is not flat at all. Roofs with irregular shapes, wavy roofs, roofs that extend almost to the point of becoming part of the façade…they can all be waterproofed using EPDM. 

What gives the architect an enormous amount of design freedom when choosing EPDM is that these roofing membranes are single-ply. It means that one thin layer is enough to offer a durable and high-performance waterproofing solution, without adding significant weight to the building structure (unlike other traditional roofing membranes that need to be installed in several layers).

EPDM membranes are also extremely flexible, even at temperatures as low as -45 °C. They have excellent lay-flat characteristics and can adapt and conform to irregular shapes very easily, following the geometry of the support. This flexibility also enables EPDM membranes to cope with the building’s various expansions and retractions caused by temperature fluctuations, without ever saturating or breaking.

Both for new construction and renovation EPDM membranes can be installed directly on most substrates, with or without insulation. The installation method is chosen according to the requirements of each project: they can be fully adhered to the substrate using adhesives, fixed mechanically with plates and fasteners or simply ballasted in place using gravel or concrete pavers. All these methods have one thing in common: no flames are needed to install EPDM roofing membranes, which significantly adds to the safety of the jobsite. In addition, no large or heavy equipment or tools are required, which brings added flexibility during the installation process.

EPDM roofing membranes can be left exposed or can be covered with cladding panels. EPDM membranes allow the activation of the roof through a variety of environmentally friendly building practices such as green roofs, photovoltaic installations or blue roofs. In short, where the architect’s vision goes, EPDM can follow - provided the building structure can take it.

Do EPDM roofing membranes come in different colours?

EPDM roofing membranes are made of a fully cured synthetic rubber Ethylene-Propylene-Diene Terpolymer. The most common color is black, which is due to the carbon black present in the formulation.  Besides acting as a pigment, carbon black improves the UV resistance and tensile strength of EPDM membranes.

Black EPDM roofing membranes absorb and retain heat, something that is particularly beneficial in cold weather. However, if the project specifications require it, the EPDM membrane can be painted with a suitable acrylic-based coating. Although white is the most commonly used coating, there is, in principle, no limit to the colours that can be applied.

Future-proof

Buildings are in many ways living, breathing entities and, as such, they are bound to change over time. Their energy efficiency may need to be enhanced, they may need to be extended or completely repurposed... Changes in the function and form of a building in many cases require some form of adjustment to the roof as well. In such cases, having a roofing membrane that is able to adapt to future modifications with minimal hassle is crucial.

Roofs waterproofed with EPDM membranes can be renovated without having to remove the complete roof assembly. New roof vents and skylights can easily be added, even several years after the initial installation. The same goes for green roofs and solar panel systems, these can be added at a later stage in the life of the building without compromising the roof’s performance.

With a life expectancy of over 50 years, EPDM roofing membranes are ready to face the design challenges of today and those of the future.