Part III: Advanced Roofing Material Options – Roofing in the Tropics: Picking Out the Right Roof

While older, proven materials can be made to work in a tropical climate, in recent years certain innovations have been shown to provide interesting new approaches to roofing in a tropical setting. These innovations serve to address one or more of the factors particular to living in a tropical environment.


EPDM, (ethylene propylene diene monomer), is a strong, weather-resistant thermoplastic similar to a synthetic rubber. EPDM comes in single-ply rolls or sheets that can be used to cover large areas quickly; it is also available in thermoset form, as a pre-molded or “set” material.

It may seem counter-intuitive to use a rubber roof in a warm climate, but in this case, it is surprisingly effective. EPDM, colored white, serves as a cool roofing option with a good amount of thermal reflectivity. Whether as thermoset or in its sheet form, EPDM is weatherproof and durable. The non-thermoset form is ideal for use on a sloped surface.

Because EPDM can be applied almost seamlessly to any surface, it makes for an exceptional waterproof barrier, protecting the surface underneath from water penetration. This is a particularly important consideration in tropical areas.

Green roofs

One of the more radical options for roofing in a tropical climate is a green roof. Green roofs, also called living roofs, are so called because they incorporate living vegetation into the roof itself.

Green roofs offset the urban heat island effect in many ways. Instead of painting the roof white or some other reflective color, the radiant light is instead used to fuel the growth of plants on the very roof itself.

By incorporating a waterproof membrane (such as a rubber roof), green roofs cool the area naturally via the temperature of the soil and the growth of greenery. Additionally, the incorporation of living plants into the roof allows them to release oxygen into the air, reducing atmospheric toxicity. Water runoff from a green roof serves to cool the building underneath, and the entirety of the green roof system serves to protect the actual roof of the building, making the roof last longer.