Shopping center owners are doing all they can to avoid costly re-roofing, and a variety of firms are stepping up to help in the effort. Roofing product manufacturers, maintenance specialists and even architects are assisting landlords in prolonging the lives of rooftops with improved products, application techniques, maintenance and enhanced roof design. "What we're finding is that systems are lasting longer based on better quality of materials and installation processes," says Bill Baley, vice president of operations at Pegnato & Pegnato Building Systems Services, a roofing maintenance and repair firm based in Marino del Ray, Calif.

Typically, most roof failures occur because of age and weathering, as well as roof penetrations. "One thing that has changed dramatically is that everyone seems to be pushing for maintenance and repair to extend the life of their roof system," Baley says. "When you look at it from a business expense, no one wants to tell the CEO that he needs to spend another $500,000 for a roof system. So the goal is to get every minute of life out of that roof system."

Roofs that are maintained on a regular basis typically last 12 to 15 years. However, owners who are aggressive in making sure installation is performed correctly, and who also follow a proactive maintenance program, are finding that they can stretch the life of the roof to nearly 20 years.

The focus on roof longevity is apparent regardless of what type of material is applied. The roofing industry is divided into two broad categories - single-ply membranes and built-up roofing.

Built-up roofs consist of layers of asphalt, while single-ply roofing products feature flexible, lightweight membranes. The membranes typically weigh about 1 pound per foot. "It's a very cost-effective system to install and, down the road, it's easy to inspect and maintain," says Mike Ducharme, EPDM marketing manager at Carlisle Syntec Inc. in Carlisle, Pa. EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) is the dominant player in the single-ply industry.

"It's very UV-stable, which means natural sunlight and weathering won't break it down at all," Ducharme says. The rubber EPDM membrane also maintains its physical properties over an extended period.

Manufacturers today are focusing on producing better roofing products, such as reinforced EPDMs and improved adhesives that are more reliable in sealing the seams. "We're seeing great improvements in EPDM systems," Baley agrees.

Another innovation in recent years has been the growing popularity of a new category of membrane, the TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) roofing membrane. Just about every manufacturer has turned to TPOs. Repair and maintenance-specific products also are improving. The industry is producing better caulking products and repair kits for all different roof types.

"Companies that have been making these products for years are beefing up their product lines," Baley says. "Some of the new coatings and cold-process repair products are sensational."