Today's retail roofing is literally getting cooler all the time.

A retail establishment's roof is, quite aptly, its fifth wall. As such, the roof is vitally important to a business. It keeps out the elements and protects merchandise and shoppers. And today, it even reduces energy costs and promotes environmental soundness.

How can what was once thought of as a boring subject reincarnate itself into such a cool topic? Incorporating new materials and processes can help save retailer's crucial dollars, and avoid urban heat island effects.

New materials

The hottest material on the cool new roofing scene is thermopolyolefin (TPO). TPO is a white membrane that has received the Environmental Protection Agency's coveted Energy Star Rating for helping significantly reduce energy consumption, namely air conditioning costs.

Notable roofing companies are flocking toward the new substance when they approach retail roofing jobs. “The TPO membrane is a 10-foot wide sheet, 100-foot long, on a roll,” says Joe Carbine, director of national accounts for Carlisle, Pa.-based Carlisle SynTec Inc. Carlisle develops, manufactures and markets single-ply commercial roofing systems for retailers such as Staples, PetSmart and The Home Depot.

“TPO is what I'm using quite a bit on retail because we generally save owners at least 20% or more on their HVAC costs, energy costs and electrical costs,” Carbine says.

Carlisle SynTec has tested the white TPO systems in its laboratory weathering tests, and according to Carbine, it can last for 30 years or longer.

In addition to touting the merits of TPO, Carlisle SynTec is trying to make the TPO material more cost-effective to install by manufacturing 10-foot sheets. (Most sheets in the past were 6 feet wide.) With a wider membrane sheet, roofing contractors handle fewer rolls and fewer fasteners, which promotes a healthy labor savings for the building owner or retailer.

Tom Gallivan, marketing manager for Holyoke, Mass.-based Stevens Roofing Systems, purports that commercial roofing usage of white and light-colored materials is growing in double digits, while the rest of the materials used in the market are experiencing a decline. Stevens offers single-ply roofing membranes for clients such as Kmart. “Practically every major roofing company now has a TPO, and most of them are all-white,” Gallivan says, because light-colored roofing dramatically reduces the burden on air conditioning equipment, thereby saving money. That savings can be seen in every geography across the country, even in colder climates such as New England and Chicago. “Of course, your savings is more dramatic in Miami or Atlanta, for instance, but certainly you get a savings anywhere,” Gallivan says.

Pegnato & Pegnato Building Systems Services of Marina Del Ray, Calif., agrees that TPO is now among the most sought-after materials. Pegnato & Pegnato is a service organization that supplies roof inspection and repair services to retailers. “I don't see TPO's popularity slowing at all. That's also due to its price point, which is pretty much between EPDM and PVC,” says Bill Baley, Pegnato's VP of operations.

EPDM is roofing's black rubber material, while PVC is another light-reflective material that is experiencing a lot of growth in the roofing market. “PVC is the higher priced of the three, but its performance and proven track record have people very pleased with it,” Baley says.

But Baley is quick to point out that EPDM is seeing improvements such as in-seam tape systems and reinforced membranes, which are making it a better retail roofing choice. “People are using the reinforced EPDM sheets vs. just the standard rubber sheets,” he says. “It's eliminating a lot of the potential problems EPDM had with puncture and tears.”

John Cambruzzi, manager of preferred accounts for Denver-based Johns Manville Roofing Systems, a commercial roofing system manufacturer, touts the merits of PVC. “PVCs specifically have become popular because of their proven long-term performance, their white reflective surface and their ease of application,” Cambruzzi says.

Some companies are finding alternatives to TPO and PVC with other white roofing membranes. Simon Roofing of Boardman, Ohio, a roofing manufacturer, designer and installer, is one such company. “We service Hypalon roofs, a single-ply that's usually white, like TPO,” says Anthony Vross, Simon's vice president.

Whatever the chosen roofing material, it is clear that retailers are looking for more permanent roofing solutions to stretch their dollars a bit further. “The real trend we're seeing is that people are looking for long-term performance and maintainability,” Baley says.

Groundbreaking processes

Today, companies also are using new application processes to help retailers get longer, more affordable performance from their roofing systems. Simon Roofing, for example, offers a solution that falls between a repair and a replacement with roof extensions. “We call it a re-roof alternative. It's a way of taking an existing roof system, which is problematic, and extending its useful life,” Vross says.

Vross reports that the cost of an extension vs. a replacement is less than half. “On a large shopping center with, for example, a 100,000 sq. ft. smooth built-up roof (BUR), the price could be as low as $.80 a square foot. And on a gravel surface BUR, it could be as low as $1.20 per square foot. Then, people can expect the roof to last up to 10 years after their extension,” he adds.

Other roofing professionals point out that industry standard roofing materials, such as gravel BUR, are undergoing certain modifications to make them better retail performers.

John Cook, president of Orlando, Fla.-based CEI Florida Inc., a full-service contractor, says his company is seeing many mall owners going away from gravel-surfaced roofs and going to modified cap sheets, which are a heavy sheet with a shingle-type surface.

In terms of how roofing is installed, some companies see a trend toward more heat-welded membranes in general. “Heat-welded membranes are seamed together using heat, so it basically fuses the membranes to themselves and creates a monolithic membrane — whereas other systems, such as BUR, rely on glues or nails to hold them together,” Gallivan says.

Single-ply roofing membranes offer retailers or building owners an important cost advantage. With built-up systems, often the cost of the roofing goes toward the labor. “With the single-ply membrane, the cost is in the roofing system that remains on the roof after the contractor leaves,” Gallivan says.

Georgia Pacific manufactures the Dens-Deck component for commercial roofing for shopping malls or retail centers, selling through commercial distributors around the country. “Dens-Deck increases the fire resistance and hail resistance of the roofing assembly, making it safer. It also increases the strength of the assembly and protects the insulation board, which is the investment made to save energy,” says Reinhard Schneider, product manager for Georgia Pacific's Dens-Deck.

Dens-Deck goes underneath membranes, such as single-ply, thermoplastic, built-up or tar, they are installed. “Use of Dens-Deck also minimizes the need for some of the adhesives that are very environmentally aggressive,” Schneider says.

Maintenance

So, new materials are making roofing more energy-efficient and long lasting, but what about maintenance on the new breeds of coverings? The roofing experts report that the new materials require very little maintenance, and the roof systems themselves necessitate only the standard basics.

“Another beauty of the single-ply membranes, such as TPO, is that they're basically maintenance-free. They don't require re-saturants, and they don't become brittle with age or exposure to the sun,” Gallivan says. “The building owner should perform just normal maintenance, such as cleaning the drains and checking for debris on the roof.” Someone also should check the roof after HVAC work is performed, making sure all doors on HVAC units have been fastened shut. Inspections twice a year should suffice.

According to Georgia Pacific's Schneider, some of the new roofing materials can be relatively fragile on their own, such as the single-ply rubber or single-ply TPO and PVC materials. These roofing membranes can benefit from application of a hard, firm substrate such as Dens-Deck.

When it comes to roof life extension, such as those offered by Simon Roofing, most maintenance is strictly preventive, Vross reports. At the 10th year of an extension's life, Simon goes out and installs another membrane on top of the existing one. “A lot of systems have to be retrofitted at the 10th year, meaning you separate them with insulation and such, and that's very costly,” Vross says.

From the repair side of the roofing business, Baley reports that Pegnato & Pegnato stresses the importance of eliminating big concerns, such as seam failure, by checking for anything that might pop open.

On older roofing systems, many of the roof systems can be restored to nearly new condition by stripping in new seams, according to Baley. In some cases, only seams need reinforcement, while the original membranes are still in excellent condition. “You're taking a roof that potentially would need to be re-roofed, and helping the owner turn it back into what he originally bought. Then he can get another five to 10 years out of it,” Baley says.

When it comes to modified cap sheet roofing, Cook of CEI Florida reports that the material is relatively maintenance-free for the first four to five years. “The standard items should be checked out on a yearly basis — pitch pins, caulkings, drains cleaned, flashings,” Cook says. “The sun down in Florida isn't like being covered in snow six months a year, so our average age of a roof is in the eight-to nine-year category for a BUR. But with maintenance, this roof will easily last 10 to 15 years.”

Snow and ice protection

For northern climates beyond the warm Florida sun, roofing may last longer, but it still has special requirements thanks to snow and ice.

Sno-Gem Inc. of McHenry, Ill., manufactures roofing snow guards for clients such as The Home Depot and Best Buy. These guards are made to minimize snow and ice slides off roofs, enhancing shopper safety. They also protect roofing systems and gutters. “We design a free estimate and layout of the snow guards based upon the geographics and characteristics of a building,” says Jim Carpenter, Sno-Gem's director of sales and marketing.

Carpenter notes that architectural sheet metal roofing has gained in popularity as a retail roofing choice, mainly due to its durability and appearance. Yet, such roofing is prime for snow problems and ice slides.

“It's very easy to have snow and ice slides from your roof if you build in snow and ice country, but today that can be as far south as the southern states — Arkansas and even parts of Northern Texas,” Carpenter says. Not only do snow guards protect roofing systems and gutters from the elements, they protect all manner of traffic beneath.

“In shopping centers and strip malls, our product protects pedestrian traffic on the ground, cars and drive-through areas, and even landscaping and mechanical equipment on the ground,” Carpenter adds.

When it comes to maintenance, snow guards require none. “It's not like a downspout or a gutter where you may have to go up and replace them every so often,” Carpenter says. “These are on the roof, as a system, to create locks around snow and ice and allow it to melt naturally, rather than just falling and sliding straight off the roof.”

Carol Badaracco Padgett is an Atlanta-based writer.

California cool roof rebates

Do you qualify for a roofing rebate from the government? If you're in California, you do, but only if you install a cool roof system.

According to Bill Baley, vice president of operations for Marina Del Ray, Calif.-based Pegnato & Pegnato Building Systems Services, white elastometric roofing is catching on like wild fire in California, in response to the state's burgeoning energy crisis. “The reason it's gaining so much popularity right now in California is because of the rebate state government is giving on it,” Baley says. “This has everyone sitting up and taking notice.”

When building owners replace their dark-colored roofing with light-colored products, by coating the old with white elastomerics, the government is providing compensation. “They're kicking back $.10 to $.15 a foot on the cost, which is pretty good. So it's well worth considering by building owners,” Baley says.

Roofing companies that offer repair services, such as Pegnato & Pegnato, install the cool roof systems by cleaning, repairing and coating the roof. By changing the roof's reflectivity with a new white coating, roofs act much cooler and therefore provide considerable savings on electrical costs. “The government is especially interested in anything that's large, so the largest roof — say 100,000 sq. ft. or more — gets the biggest rebate,” Baley adds.