Roofing professionals encourage shopping center owners and retailers to become enthusiastic partners in roof selection and management.

Knowledge is power. Yet when it comes to roofs, shopping center owners and retailers do not put themselves in a position of power, according to a group of top roofing industry professionals.

Recently, Shopping Center World hosted a group of roofing manufacturers and contractors for breakfast during the National Roofing Contractors Association annual convention to find out firsthand what was new in roofing and what the roofing industry thought of its retail jobs. Their comments, which follow, give building owners - retailers and shopping center owners - some good advice on how to get in tune with their roofing investment.

The discussion, which also covered materials selection and warranties, installation, and maintenance, was held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and moderated by Teresa DeFranks, the editor and associate publisher of Shopping Center World.

Shopping Center World: With re-roofing jobs, is there a reluctance among shopping center owners to change materials? Are single-ply membranes taking the place of built-up roof systems?

Russ Langill, Johns Manville: You are seeing a change for a couple of significant reasons. First, cost is a factor. The cost - per square footage installed - for single-ply systems is less than built-up.

Second, with the built-up roof, there are fumes, kettles, etc., that go on during the project, which could be an inconvenience to mall customers. With the EPDM or thermoplastic roofs, there is much less inconvenience on people at the shopping mall.

Plus, the improved technology of single-ply systems and their track records right now on performance have caused owners to examine this choice.

Judy Holleran, Henry Co.: But don't count built-up roofs out. In fact, you can make a case that people are going back to built-up roofing.

Single-ply manufacturers woke up built-up manufacturers. They told us that we would lose market share if we didn't clean up our act. So we're doing better warranties, better inspections, better installations and better approval methods for contractors.

And look, we are very cost effective. Depending on the market area, single-ply is not necessarily cheaper than built-up roofing. On the West Coast, built-up is still as cheap as you can get.

Jim Seeley, Stevens Roofing Systems: There was a major move away from built-up roofing in the 1970s and 1980s. However, with the experience in the marketplace with [poor] EPDM glue seams, there have been two things happening. One, a segment of the market is moving back to built-up as built-up improves its quality.

The other, there is a significant segment moving into the thermoplastic segment of the single-ply market. What we're seeing in the thermoplastic market (with double-digit growth rates well over 15 percent) is that buyers are saying: "I want to move beyond EPDM single-ply. I'm going to move to the next generation of technology instead of moving back one step."

Richard Parker, Atlas Roofing and Contracting: The choice of roof material comes down to the type of facility and roof traffic more than anything. The durability of the built-up roof is attractive for a heavily trafficked roof, like a restaurant and retail. However, the performance of all roof systems is based on the installation. If it's a good installation, then all roof systems will perform well.

Scott Bieber, Duro-Last Roofing Inc.: The one issue that's plaguing the whole roofing industry now - and I don't think that anyone here would argue - is the issue of labor. How do we find, train and keep good labor? drug-free labor? labor that is skilled and reliable?

Twenty years ago, single-ply had 0 percent of the market, and today it has 50 percent or more. One of the key reasons is that the manufacturer is able to bring a controlled product - which has been manufactured ahead of time rather than on the job site - assuring a high degree of reliability and installation quality.

Shopping Center World: You minimize the labor factor.

Bieber: You minimize the labor, and you minimize the risks and the judgments associated with labor when you have a product made in advance and under controlled conditions. I think that's one of the issues facing all of American industry - not just roofing.

Shopping Center World: Labor is a concern inside the stores, too.

Bieber: Absolutely.

Glenn Jones, Centimark Roof Systems: It's not so much minimizing the labor as it is controlling it.

Bill Baley, Pegnato & Pegnato Roof Management: We have a unique perspective in that we work nationwide talking with clients on all levels. We see everything from built-up, single-plies, metals, you name it. We see it all.

Interestingly enough, 65 to 70 percent of what we repair nationwide is built-up roofing. However, most of those roofs are old roofs, as you can imagine.

The big plus for the single-ply side is the single-ply membrane. The membranes themselves hold up real well. It's generally the details, the workmanship that needs repair.

As built-up systems age, we are seeing more problems that can't be attributed to workmanship as much as they can be attributed to just failure of the roof.

Shopping Center World: How do you advise your clients, then, when they ask about materials?

Baley: We really don't advise our clients on which to choose. We always tell them they should talk with the manufacturer. We tell them to sit down with the manufacturer, put a spec together and let the manufacturer oversee the project. These are the professionals. They know what to look for. They're going to put their best contractor base in front of you to choose from. Limit your liability.

Inevitably, owners take it on themselves because of cost. And problems - costly problems - occur. Had they installed a system that one of the manufacturers here would probably have recommended, they probably would not have had the problems they are going to have.

Jim Conner, North American Roofing Systems: As a manufacturer, we ask people to take a larger interest in their roofs. It doesn't seem like they have the manpower or the people willing to take a walk up on the roof once every six months to pick up debris and check out the gutters or drains. As soon as water comes in, they call us and say it's a leak without any investigation on their part. It could be an HVAC system; it could be something other than the roof. These owners need to take a larger interest in their roofs.

Shopping Center World: Who is supposed to go on top of the roof to check these things?

Conner: It's not who really. It's controlling access and documenting access that will increase the roof's life. Without documentation, people will get up there and damage the roof and nobody is accountable for it.

Shopping Center World: What do you recommend to protect the roof from the HVAC service people who go up there?

Conner.: We offer protective mats, and we recommend that they be installed in high-traffic and high-service areas on any roofing system. It's just cheap insurance.

Holleran: Shopping centers have a unique problem in that they have a change of clients, creating different requirements on that roof. Sothey should have almost Gestapo-style restrictions for anyone who goes up and changes these units. HVAC people shouldn't be doing roofing, and roofing people shouldn't be doing HVAC.

Baley: When it comes to roof access, owners forget that they own the property. They can set any darn rule they want about who can walk the roof and how they can walk the roof and where they can walk the roof.

I am amazed at how timid they are with the professional contracting community. They just kind of roll over and say, "Okay, you go do that." It's similar to buying a new $80,000 BMW and taking it over to the Girl Scout car wash.

Bieber: Owners also forget that part of the housekeeping of the building includes removing debris from the roof, cleaning the drains and cleaning the gutters. In that respect, the roof is no different from the floor or the parking lot. You should keep it clean.

And it behooves the owner to look for products that not only can be protective (like a walk pad) but also can be easily repaired and modified.

Since the length of a lease is not as long as the life of the roof, new units may have to be installed halfway through the life of the roofing system. Now you have to flash in a new unit with old materials on the roof and new flashing being adhered or welded to it.

It pays to choose a roofing system that is easily repaired and easily modified. And the modification should be of the same integrity as the original products that were purchased. Recognizing that the roof will be changed and will be subjected to traffic is a very important component of building management today.

Holleran: Shopping centers are not built with good attitude toward design. They aren't adding in the platforms they know are going to be needed. There are a lot of things that are very predictable as far as what's going to be going up on that roof and the required maintenance.

Baley: I think the best weapon is information. People don't know or have the original design or as-built specs. God knows where those are. And when they inherit a building, it's like, "Okay, what do I have?" I think for a building owner the first question is "What do I have and how much life is left in it and what do I do with it?" A lot of them don't ask that question until the problems get out of hand, they've washed out two of their tenants, lawsuits are being threatened and property is being damaged. And then the question is "Well, who looked at the roof?"

Bieber: You'd think the lawyers designed the buildings.

Baley: So the information, especially for anyone who is a building owner, should be making sure they have an information system in front of them that is readily available that they can get to whenever they need to.

Shopping Center World: How do metal roofs figure into this discussion?

James Bush, Atas International: Metal roof manufacturers are in a bit different position because we're not doing such a large volume or massive roof area. Metal also has an aesthetic element that other roof materials do not.

One common area about the roof systems, however, is making sure the roof is installed correctly from day one.

Roger Wallace, AEP-Span: At AEP Span, typically 20 percent of our business has been the high slope roofing. In the last two years, we have been getting into the low-slope roofing: mansards, fascia, canopies to dress up the shopping center from multiple owners who turn them over every year.

Bush: It's very difficult to come in after the fact with a metal roof.

Wallace: That's the reason we have an in-house architect and an in-house engineer to address those needs. Every job for us is a custom-built design job. There's no vanilla in our business.

Shopping Center World: With shopping center owners and chain stores taking a longer-term approach with their buildings, are they becoming less price-sensitive when selecting roof systems?

Jones: Everyone is sensitive to pricing, but retail is particularly sensitive. And the most difficult companies to deal with are the purely management companies. They just put out fires.

We have found REIT people to be much more proactive in the approach of maintenance and the money spent on roofing. That's been a real plus for the industry in that sense.

Shopping Center World: On a scale of 1 to 10 - where 10 would be most difficult - where do retail/shopping center roof installations fall?

Jones: We do a very even balance of industrial and commercial and retail. I would put retail at the high end of difficulty.

Holleran: They have such a unique situation in that they need to stay open and not disturb the customer. They have to be sensitive to a lot of other factors that have nothing to do with roof performance.

Dwight Marwede, North American Roofing Systems: I would agree that retail rates up there in the 8, 9, 10 range. In the re-roofing application, you are dealing with all the penny-pinching and building access concerns - in addition to accommodating the greater amount of projections and building penetrations in the typical roofing system per square in a shopping center environment. The only job more challenging would be a high-profile high-rise where you may have helicopters involved.

Bieber: I'd say the retail/shopping center sector is one of the more difficult, with restaurants being No. 10.

Langill: Is there an 11?

Bieber: Since the responsibility for the roof belongs to multiple tenants in addition to central management, you've got a problem with who's responsible for what. It's often the joint areas between different roofing systems that can be the most problematic.

Conner: What you're describing is so true. Because of multiple responsibilities, you may be doing an inappropriate detail where you are going to be tying in. You're not going in from terminations to terminations, etc., because you're just covering a specific tenant.

Jones: One of the realities of dealing with retail is that oftentimes we are not dealing with the owners - the people who have the ultimate financial responsibility. Often, you're dealing with management firms, and their priorities may be very different from the owners'. So it's awfully hard to sell someone a concept of taking a proactive approach when it's really not their money they're spending.

Shopping Center World: What protection do warranties provide?

Holleran: Too many times, owners think the warranty dispenses maintenance as well. It doesn't. They're still required to check their drains and make sure they're maintaining traffic paths and inspecting base flashings, etc. They have to truly understand what they are getting from that warranty.

Bush: When we are called about a "roof leak," the cause could be improper workmanship from day one or lack of maintenance over the years. I can only imagine the cost of proving that the material is not the problem.

Holleran: At Henry Co., we now are going to have the owner sign off on the guarantee. If they have to sign this thing, then maybe they will understand what the maintenance requirements are.

Langill: "Warranties" is a very difficult discussion. One of the more important things that the owner/buyer/purchaser has to remember is that those warranties are written by the manufacturer to protect the manufacturer. They are not written to protect the owner.

Holleran: I understand that aspect, but as a result people will say, " I don't want the warranty." When they don't want the warranty, they open the floodgates. Without the warranty, the owner isn't getting the inspections or input of the manufacturer.

Langill: The warranty is a necessary evil, don't get me wrong. We all know that some of the manufacturers out there now offer 31 1/2-year and 35-year warranties, etc., and everybody here knows what I'm talking about. The owner has to realize who is writing these and whose interest they primarily focus on.

Baley: But the owners also have to know that the bulk of the warranty doesn't guarantee that the roof will never leak.

Conner: It establishes parameters.

Baley: Owners assume that because they have a warranty, they have a blanket legal document that says no matter what happens, the manufacturer is responsible. And that's not true.

Bieber: The warranty should reflect how much control the manufacturer has over its product. If you are selling a product that is a raw material and is going into a manufacturing process on site, then your warranty should not reflect anything greater than the control you had while it was at your factory.

If you are selling a product, as we are, which is manufactured and pre-fabricated under controlled, factory conditions, then the warranty can and should be stronger.

Another aspect of the warranty is the relationship it creates between manufacturer and building owner. In the past, there never was one. It was always between the building owner and the roofing contractor. Today, there is a triangular relationship where the contract is between the contractor and the owner, but the long-term liability is between the manufacturer and the owner. The warranty outlines responsibility, and it gives the opportunity for a discussion as to who is responsible for what and who needs to do what to prolong the roof.

At one time, I would have agreed that warranties were used too much as marketing devices, but I think today they have become more realistic and people have a much better understanding of what they represent.

Parker: A lot of the property managers know that the warranties are really useless in many cases. As a contractor, we develop a relationship with the customer and they get to know us and trust our workmanship and recommendations. Then, we will write our own company warranties to them with the stipulation that every three to four years we come to button things up due to expansion/contraction of the different materials (concrete, wood, metal). We tell them up front what we're going to do and what the charge is. That's worked for us with existing customers.

Jones: At Centimark, we underwrite the warranty ourselves. There are horror stories in abundance of people who have a warranty through a manufacturer and a contractor, and then the manufacturer and contractor are pointing fingers in terms of whose responsibility the problem really is.

It's a highly effective and marketable tool for us to be able to take single-source responsibility. None of that nonsense. We put the roof down, we underwrite the material and everything that goes with it. I'm not saying that's the answer because I know there are advantages to having a third party and the objectivity it involves.

Baley: Sometimes the owners forget that. A guy who owns two or three shopping centers is an attractive target for manufacturers. Most manufacturers will go out of their way to take care of their client - a client that's producing a lot of dollars for them overall.

I think owners need to be cognizant of that and sit down with the manufacturer and bring up warranties and what their expectations are on the roofing system. The manufacturer is going to be as frank as possible about what he's going to do with them and what he won't. And if the owner is not hearing what he wants from that manufacturer, there's a lot of good manufacturers out there.

Langill: Owners should take advantage of speaking with the people that have the warranty on their roof and are the manufacturers of the materials, as well as speaking with the contractor that puts in the materials. It's a three-legged stool.

Shopping Center World: Does the manufacturer only recommend certain authorized contractors?

Holleran: If it's a warranted project, it's going through authorized contractors.

Langill: I'd say 90 percent of all manufacturers go through authorized contractors. Different ones have different standards.

Shopping Center World: So what if the owner buys your product but uses his own contractor. Is the warranty different than if he doesn't use your people?

Bieber: Some roofing systems simply will not be sold through any source other than authorized contractors. I think that's the best way.

Baley: The manufacturer needs that. They open themselves up to so much liability a lot of times. There would be no way to control the program. It's a necessity that I don't think will ever change.

Conner: But within that list of authorized contractors, the owner should further qualify the contractor. Has he done your type of job in terms of difficulty or size? Does he have the manpower to do the job?

Parker: Owners should take advantage of manufacturers to help put a uniform set of specs together so that the contractors are bidding apples to apples.

Bieber: There is a logic to bid management, and even the most experienced roofing contractors can make mistakes in their bids. First, owners need to know what is being proposed in the bid. Second, if you are taking three or four bids from a group of contractors and one is outrageously low or high, as owner you may want to evaluate whether you want to contract with that contractor. There's a common sense to it.

You don't want to be under contract with a contractor that underbids something, left something out, forgot it, and has extras that will be coming in after the fact. Many owners forget that they have a part in this decision as well. They need to educate themselves as to what exactly they're deciding.

Langill: There are three very important things that go into a roofing decision. First and foremost is the design, which includes the pre-bid conferences and job walks. A lot of things come up at those pre-bid conferences and job walks that have to be changed.

The second thing is installation. Check on the contractor. Call some of his references. Call some of the manufacturer's references.

Third is maintenance and taking care of the roof. Ask what needs to be done before you purchase the roof. Have an aggressive maintenance strategy. The most important thing is to look at the roof as an asset, not as a liability. And don't let the bottom-line price compromise any of those three things.

* Bill Baley, vice president of operations for Pegnato & Pegnato Roof Management, a Marina del Rey, Calif.-based roof repair and maintenance firm.

* Roger A. Wallace, district sales manager for AEP-Span, a Dallas-based metal roofing products manufacturer. Also, Kathy Andresen, customer service manager for AEP-Span.

* James I. Seeley, marketing manager for Stevens Roofing Systems (a division of JPS Elastomerics Corp.). Holyoke, Mass.-based Stevens manufactures single-ply roofing systems.

* Glenn Jones, vice president of the national accounts division for Centimark Roof Systems, an Arlington Heights, Ill.-based commercial roofing products and services company.

* Richard Parker of Atlas Roofing and Contracting, a Charlotte, N.C.-based roofing contractor.

* Judy Holleran, regional manager for Henry Co., a Huntington Park, Calif.-based manufacturer of cold process roof systems.

* Scott Bieber, vice president of sales for Duro-Last Roofing Inc., a Saginaw, Mich.-based manufacturer of a pre-fabricated, thermoplastic roofing system.

* James E. Bush, director of sales and marketing for Atas International Inc., an Allentown, Pa.-based metal roof system manufacturer.

* Jim Conner, senior vice president and director of marketing for North American Roofing Systems, an Arden, N.C.-based manufacturer of single-ply roof systems. Also, Dwight Marwede, senior vice president and director of operations for North American Roofing Systems.

* Russ Langill Jr., manager of national accounts for the roofing systems group at Johns Manville, a Denver-based manufacturer of built-up and single-ply roof systems and other roofing products.