Roof condition surveys should be a part of any shopping center purchase arrangement.

Potential buyers of shopping centers seek advice from a laundry list of consultants: real estate agents, lawyers and accountants. But all too often, buyers miss important information about the facility -- specifically the roof -- that cannot be provided by this typical advisory group.

When roofing gets glossed over, the omission can have devastating effects on the final cost. This out-of-sight/out-of-mind building component has consistently been one of the top three most costly areas of building maintenance -- both capital and expense dollars -- for the past 20 years.

But roofing decisions should not be left to the untrained eye. For instance, the number of roof leaks present in a building and the inherent quality of the roofing system have absolutely no relationship. A roof with a lot of leaks does not necessarily mean a bad roof; conversely, a roof with no leaks does not necessarily mean a good roof.

Buyers should have a thorough roof condition survey performed on the facility before any property transfer. This survey should be done by a competent technical roofing person -- either an independent roofing consultant or an experienced roof contracting firm or material manufacturer.

This survey should include, but not be limited to, the following elements:

* Find out who designed and installed the last roofing systems(s) on the building. Who were the architect/engineer-of-record and installing contractor(s)? Are there any warranties currently in effect?

* Research what types of roof deck, insulation, membrane, flashings and accessory components were used. Get manufacturer names, product names, specification and detail references.

* Interview current building occupants to determine recent leak history and overall roof performance.

* Conduct a visual roof survey over the entire roof. Look at membrane, peri-meter flashings, wall flashings, penetration flashings, roof-mounted equipment details, drains, drainage, gutters, sheet metal details, environmental exposure, spillages or stains, etc.

* With approval of the current owner -- and without voiding any current warranties -- take a few core samples to determine "as built" roof assembly construction.

Note membrane type and thickness (or number of piles). Note bitumen type for built-up roofs and polymer type for single-ply roofs. Note insulation type, thickness and relative moisture condition. Note number of insulation layers and method of attachment (adhered vs. mechanically fastened). These types of surveys typically cost 1 cent per sq. ft. to 5 cents per sq. ft., depending on size, location and complexity of the roof.

* If you're suspicious about excessive entrapped moisture within the roof insulation, consider a non-destructive moisture survey.

The infrared method is the preferred choice for this survey, and these usually cost 2 cents per sq. ft. to 10 cents per sq. ft., with fixed costs for mobilization, etc.

* If you're concerned that the flashings or membrane could be asbestos-containing materials, have a certified technician take samples and have them tested in an approved laboratory.

* Photographs should be taken inside the building to document any water-damaged areas or areas of structural concern.

Photos also should be taken on the roof to document overall, and specific, roof conditions. And photos should be taken from the ground around the perimeter of the building to document conditions there.

* After all the field interviews and survey work is completed, a written report and detailed roof plans should be compiled to document the condition of the roof.

The report should give estimates of remaining life expectancy, as well as cost estimates of the following action items:

a. Emergency leak repairs b. Remedial roof maintenance c. Preventive roof maintenance d. Localized roof replacement e. Localized reroofing f. Total reroofing g. Total roof replacement h. Miscellaneous costs for deck replacement, metalwork replacement, gutter replacement, additional drains, equipment demolition, traffic protection, etc.

Buyers who have a clear understanding of what they have and what it will actually cost to fix will eliminate any surprises later relative to their roofing obligations. Also, this detailed and unbiased information can be used in final negotiations of purchase price or lease terms, usually giving buyers an advantage in the process.

Because it could save you a lot of money by summer. Most building owners and managers do not think about their roofs during winter months. Traditionally, this time after the New Year holiday is reserved for business planning, budgeting, reviewing the past year and implementing new strategies.

Winter's bad weather keeps us inside and off the roofs, especially this year, with El Nino dumping record blizzards in the North and flooding (1) rains in the South. Apart from emergency leak repairs, the most common reaction is: "The roofs will have to wait till summer.(2) We have other priorities to worry about now."

This approach may be fine for the building owner who has a (3) good roof in place. But for the growing majority of building owners with problem roofs, this is a potentially disastrous formula. Not only is this an accident waiting to happen, but the potential for higher roofing-related costs increases dramatically.

Consider these three cost issues: 1) Consequential roof leak damages: Damage to ceiling tiles, floors, carpets, furnishings, equipment and inventory; lost production; and lost revenue. 2) Structural damages: Damage to wet roof insulation, wood nailers, structural support and walls, and deck corrosion or decomposition. 3) Premium roofing costs: Emergency roof repairs cost more: You will always pay a premium to have a contractor respond to crisis leak problems. This is especially true in winter months, when preparation work is time-consuming and the process of making repairs is most difficult and often temporary in nature.

Supply and demand dictate pricing: Although the roofing industry is not known for its "January white sales," you may want to think about the advantages of locking in your roofing contracts in the off season. That way, you can get better pricing and first priority for installation in the early spring or summer months, as weather permits. This rationale also applies to late fall months, too.

It is possible to perform roofing work 12 months out of the year, depending on your facility's location and the type of roofing system being repaired or installed. Excluding rain, snow, ice and freezing conditions, some of the new-technology roofing systems can be successfully installed all year long.

The only way to get out of this crisis-management approach to roofing is to become more active, by solving roofing problems rather than simply chasing roof leaks. And serious roofing problems require attention today, not later.

Robert W. Lyons has 22 years of roofing industry experience, serving as consultant, contractor and manufacturer. Currently, he is president of Rooging Intelligence Inc., Kingwood, Texas, which offers training programs as well as consulting and management services. Lyons is the founder and former president of the Roof Consultants Institute, a faculty member of the roofing Industry Educational Institute, and a member of the board of directors of Professional Retail Store Maintenance.

The following are definitions of terms pertinent to the roofing and waterproofing industry and are not necessarily those found in standard dictionaries. Some of the terms are colloquial in nature, their meanings applying only to the roofing trade.

ACM -- Asbestos-containing material; any material or product that contains more than 1 percent asbestos.

Amosite -- Brown asbestos; the second most commonly used form of asbestos in the United States.

Asbestos -- Generic name given to a number of naturally occurring hydrated mineral silicates that possess a unique crystalline structure, are incombustible in air and are separable into fibers.

Batten -- A narrow reinforcing strip, usually made of metal, used to secure a single-ply roofing membrane at parapet walls, curbs and other locations where the membrane terminates or turns up at an angle. Battens are also used in some mechanically fastened single-ply roofing installations to secure the membrane in the field area.

Bitumen -- Asphalt or coal-tar pitch.

Blister -- A swelling and separating of the top layer of roofing from the underlayment. A bladderlike air pocket.

Buckles -- Bends, crumples or curls in roofing.

Built-up roof -- Roof formed by a number of layers of roofing mopped together with hot asphalt or pitch.

Chrysotile -- White asbestos; the most common form of asbestos used in buildings.

Coal-tar pitch -- A thick, dark liquid obtained by distillation of soft coal; used for roofing and waterproofing.

Core sheet -- Reinforcing sheet of polyethylene plastic sandwiched between the bitumen layers in some modified bitumen single-ply membrane materials; also called a carrier sheet.

Dead load -- The load imposed on a roof structure by air-conditioning units and other permanent rooftop equipment, the roof system and the roof deck.

Deck -- Structural surface on which the roofing or waterproofing system is applied.

Eaves trough -- A gutter along the eaves of a roof for carrying off rain water.

Felt -- General term for all ply materials used in built-up roofing and waterproofing systems. Felts are manufactured from organic materials, such as vegetable fibers; from mineral fibers, such as asbestos; or from glass fibers. They may be saturated (with soft bitumen) or unsaturated; coated (with harder bitumen) or uncoated; or impregnated with resin.

Flashing -- System used to seal the edges of a roofing or waterproofing membrane at walls, curbs, expansion joints, gravel stops, drains, pipes and other projections, and wherever else the membrane is interrupted or terminated. Base flashing covers the edge of the membrane at walls, curbs and other vertical intersections; cap flashing or counterflashing protects the turned-up edge of the base flashing.

Floating membrane -- A single-ply roofing membrane that is fastened to a flat or low-slope deck only at the perimeter and other terminations and is held down by rock or gravel ballast; also called a loose-laid membrane.

Live load -- The load imposed on a roof by workers and their equipment; may also include wind, rain, snow and ice loads.

Mastic -- A thick adhesive mixture of preparations such as asphalt; used for repairing roofs.

Membrane -- An asphalt-impregnated fabric; a material used for flashing.

Mil -- One-thousandth of an inch (0.03 millimeters).

Modified bitumen -- Asphalt or coal-tar pitch compounded with a synthetic polymer to produce a bituminous material with superior toughness, elasticity, weathering ability and resistance to temperature extremes.

Nailer -- A length of treated lumber installed at the edge of a deck and around projections to provide anchorage for the roofing membrane. In a poured concrete deck or wall, the nailers may be embedded in the concrete.

Pitch -- The slope of a roof, indicated by the relation of the rise to the span; also, a coal-tar roofing material.

Pitch pan -- A metal pan filled with pitch or mastic set in hot pitch to waterproof under sign supports, angle irons or plumbing pipes.

Ponding -- Accumulation of water on a flat or low-slope roof; usually due to plugged drains or excessive deflection of the deck.

Roof system -- A system of interacting roof components (not including the deck) designed to weatherproof and normally to insulate the top surface of a building.

Square -- A roof area of 100 sq. ft. (9.3 sq. meters).

Substrate -- Surface on which the roofing or waterproofing membrane is placed (i.e., the deck or insulation).

Tear off -- To remove completely an existing roofing membrane.

Water stop -- A temporary waterproofing strip, often just an extension of the installed roofing membrane, carried over the exposed edge of the last-laid course of insulation and sealed to the deck at the end of the workday. Temporary water stops are cut off when work resumes. Permanent water stops may also be included in a roof system to confine possible leaks to a relatively small area.

Winch -- A hoist used for hauling or hoisting materials to the top of a roof.

Definitions courtesy of Roofing Intelligence Inc., Kingwood, Texas.