The National Roofing Contractors Association's 113th Annual Convention & Exhibit took place in Atlanta this year. SCW invited six of the brightest roofing minds in the shopping center industry for a roundtable discussion. Associate editors Carol B. Padgett and Brannon Boswell moderated the event. Among the topics covered were roofing maintenance basics and emergency management. What follows is an edited version of that discussion.

SCW: What are the bare-bones components of a sound roof maintenance program for retailers?

Bill Baley: If there's one thing that seems to be common with all roof failures and all maintenance issues, it's that nobody's looked at the roof in a long time. If the owner would have someone from his company take a walk on his roof at least once a year or after every major storm, they'd find issues that they could deal with or have a contractor deal with in a timely fashion that could save major headaches down the road.

Dave Bailie: Knowing what I know about roofs over these many years, if I were an individual that owned a shopping center roofing system, and given the sizable investment I'd probably make in it, I'd hire a professional roofing contractor to come out on a quarterly basis.

I'd have an understanding of how much the charges would be and exactly what they were going to look for, what we would decide to fix and who would fix it, etc. I'd have them come out and take a look and walk my roof for me. I'm sure these guys have property managers, but people in charge of these facilities are busy, busy, busy, and sometimes it's all they can do to keep up with the tenants and the demands. So I think I'd turn it over to a professional and have him come out and walk the roof four times a year and give me a report.

Brad Burdic: I see a real disconnect sometimes between the lease agreements and who's responsible for what in terms of maintenance. Oftentimes, there's a manufacturer that has a guarantee on a roofing system, and then you have a new tenant come in that has additional requirements for HVAC or electrical, and they've not read through their agreement to understand who's liable for what.

You'll have electricians putting things through the roof that aren't sealed properly - and that can void manufacturers' guarantees. There really needs to be communication at that level so there's a clear understanding of putting additional conduits and HVAC items on the roof and who's responsible for what.

Jim Conner: Another thing that's a complement to that, and it falls along the lines of the maintenance component, is controlling access. I know a lot of building owners don't control access.

You've got the gentleman who rolls up behind the strip center and throws the ladder up, and maybe you've got 15 different HVAC guys working on that roof and there's no accountability. Somebody gets up there and damages it. By controlling the access and knowing who's on your roof and making them accountable for the actions up there, it can save a retailer a lot of money in the long run.

Peter Mehltretter: I think the roofing manufacturers have done themselves a disservice over the years in not educating the end users to maintain good service. Since I've been in the roofing industry, it has always been advertised to the user, and not the end user. And all these issues should be an educational process to the end user.

SCW: Can you give our readers some tips on emergency management. For instance, what should they do in the instance of roof collapse?

Jeff Canty: Building owners should pay real close attention when they're having a building re-roofed or adding extra insulation to the roof. That consequentially decreases the snow melt, so it's actually increasing the loads on their roofs.

In this country there are about 30,000 roof collapses per year, with more than 20 associated deaths. And they can all be avoided. There's a system out there that can monitor these building collapses to within 5,000the of an inch of accuracy. It's a very simple system to install, and uses lasers and fiber optics.

At Safe Roof Systems, We developed a system for monitoring buildings against collapse. We go in and install the system. We've been approved by factory mutual as a life-safety device. And we can pinpoint any location in a building that's having an overload condition.

Dave Bailie: How do you do that?

Jeff Canty: We set up a series of lasers and optic targets for permanent installation inside the building. We go in, do all the engineering, determine what the loads are for that building, design the system, install the system, and we can pinpoint exactly where there's an overload condition and the building owners warrant before they have a collapse. It works by monitoring deflection. It's a real simple device and it's tied back to a panel. We can do a third-party monitoring through a modem hook up tied to a facility management system, and we can notify you on your pager.

It will notify you if there's an added load on the roof due to snow or ice, or if somebody puts a huge piece of equipment up on the roof. It ties into an alarm panel, very similar to a fire alarm panel because we are factory mutual proven as a life-safety device. The panel has the capability, through third-party monitoring and modem hookup, to go back to a monitoring station to notify somebody, then an alarm goes off in the building.

SCW: Besides recommending or selecting an appropriate type of roofing system for your retailer customers, what would you say are the three most important things that need to be done to ensure that clients get long-term, performing roofing systems?

Jim Conner: First, you have to start with design. The system has to be properly designed. Then, obviously, it needs to be properly installed utilizing state-of-the-art procedures. Then you ought to be able to maintain the roof and be able to rely on someone that's going to take care of it for you if there's a problem.

Brad Burdic: I also think there are appropriate roofing materials for different locations throughout the country. Each location doesn't necessarily require the same material, it may be different.

Bill Baley: One thing I'd add in regard to the inspection process during the installation: Most manufacturers will provide that process if you team up with them as a retailer, or as a building owner.

If you team up with the manufacturer and request that or have that discussion to have a pre-start conference on the roof, and then some type of intermediate inspection somewhere half-way through the installation process so that the manufacturer's rep can say it's going down the way their specification requires, that would be a smart move. Then, of course, the final punch list - to be involved in that final punch list.

Every manufacturer does a final punch list with an installation, and, if I were a building owner, I'd want to either walk with the manufacturer's rep or talk to him after he's done to understand what was done up there - what he saw and what needs to be fixed. At least that way, on day one of the warranty, you've got everything completed per the spec. The manufacturer's saying, "Yep, I like the roof.' The owner understands fully what was done. And the contractor is fully aware of the things he has to correct. At least then it's starting off on the right foot.

Brad Burdic: Most major manufacturers welcome the opportunity to have a third-party consultant that's part of the team, too. If they're qualified and they understand the procedures, then we welcome the additional eyes and ears of a third-party consultant in addition to our own technical forces out there that are installing the roof or actually being a part of the team, not installing the roof, but doing the inspections.

Jeff Canty: The problem I always saw with the final inspection is that the manufacturers are only looking at the end product. All they're seeing is the finished result. They're not seeing the components that were made up going into that system.

Brad Burdic: But that's the last of the inspections, and that's not the only inspection that takes place. Most manufacturers - I'll speak for Johns Manville - we require usually a minimum of three inspections. There's a pre-job, middle inspection and a final, and an additional, if necessary, depending on the size of the job. I assume the other companies here have similar procedures. The days of just getting up at the end are pretty unusual.

Peter Mehltretter: At Atas we offer a water-tight guarantee, but we have to be in from the design stage. We monitor all components, all shop drawings, and there are three site inspections. We can reject a substrate if we care to reject a substrate. We want to be in from the design stage on up in order to issue that guarantee. And then we have to work with the Johns Manville and GAFs to tie into their systems properly.

Bill Baley: Again, I think that burden's on the owner. If owners don't look into it and require it, I think there are manufacturers out there who'll just do the final sign off and that's it, and shame on the owner for not looking into it too closely.

Brad Burdic: That tags along with the idea of the third-party consultant. That's a welcome addition as well as another pair of eyes. We think that's important.

Bill Baley: Especially in retail. They need to put the same amount of time into inspecting the roof as they do into inspecting the carpeting. After all, they're paying 10 times more for it.

Peter Mehltretter: That goes back to the education of the end user and the need for complete education programs.

Jeff Canty: The roof is out of sight, out of mind, so like Bill just said, sometimes people will pay $5 per sq. ft. for floor carpeting but only $2 per sq. ft. for the roof.

Peter Mehltretter: We've heard people say, "I'm not going to own it that long.'

(Laughter.)

Brad Burdic: From Johns Manville's point of view, we don't target the quick turnaround as our customer anymore. We go after a long-term relationship that makes some sense for those people that want to invest in a roof and maintain it.

The short roof cycle is something we play in, but we don't target.

Bill Baley: But what if you're a retailer and business is business and a dollar is a dollar, and you're only going to be in that location five years and you can care less what happens to it afterward. I'm with them. I don't know why they'd want to invest anything more than the bare minimum to get them through those five years. I totally understand that. Luckily for us, that's what keeps companies like us in business - there's lots of building done that way. Somebody else has to move in and now they've inherited these issues. If they're only going to be there another five years, they're certainly not going to make the investment, either.

Brad Burdic: An interesting point though, Bill, what we're seeing is those folks that want to turn around that building in five years are now faced with a smarter owner that comes in saying, "I demand a 10-year guarantee or a 15-year guarantee beyond that.' Those days of just spinning the roof real quick are starting to slow down.

Jim Conner: It becomes a negotiated item when the building goes up for sale and they're bringing in experts to see what that asset is really worth today. And many times it can reflect in the selling price of the building.

Bill Baley: Well, you're seeing that the big retailers right now have gotten established specs. And they're not messing around for exactly the reason you guys brought up. They don't want the lawsuits afterward. They don't need them, and I don't blame them a bit.

Jim Conner: When you look at a lot of these roofs, the majority installed are specified by the contractor. If the contractor comes out and gets the comfort and the confidence of the customer, they're relying on him. If you marry that up with an unscrupulous contractor that has some intentions of taking some shortcuts, and you don't have that inspection process taking place, the customer- the retailer - really is at risk for having a roof that's doomed to premature failure.

SCW: What can retailers do to limit the amount of damage to their roofs by other trades that may be working there from time to time (i.e., HVAC, electrical, lighting, security and signage contractors)?

Dave Bailie: It didn't take long for those of us in the single-ply business to realize that problem existed. I can remember back in the early days at Firestone, it wasn't a great creative leap of faith to say, "Maybe we ought to put a sign on the roof telling them that this roof is warranted and that they'd better be careful,' - along with some threat that if there's damage they're going to pay for it.

We started sending out these big stick-on signs that you could put on roof hatches or affix to an HVAC unit, clearly stating that information on behalf of the owner. It really gives owners an easy way to notify their subcontractors, whoever they may be in the future, that if you damage this roof then you're going to be liable for it.

Brad Burdic: You might want to pre-qualify your trades so you have an ongoing relationships with these folks. If you have a history with these folks and they u nderstand your needs, then you can train them over time as to what's acceptable and what's not on the roofing system.

That's going back to getting sources from other people - finding out who's getting good work from other people, and who leaves the roof intact when they get off. I think that can be done. There are very good, qualified subs in all the trades out there that really do know now that roofing is expensive to replace and that they can't afford to be up there cutting it up.

Dave Bailie: There's another simple answer to it. It's called walkway pads. For a little extra money, you can, as the owner of the building, try to assure yourself that you've done something to minimize damage from roof traffic.

Brad Burdic: The problem with those is that usually the architect, and I can say this because I am one, will draw up walkways in a straight line, very geometric in shape. The units are usually diagonal, so the guy just walks across the roof and forgets about the walk pad. I'd encourage the guy to put the walk pads in after the roof's down to understand what the cow trail is.

Bill Bailie: One of the best systems I've seen was a retailer's roof log program that required any vendor who accessed the roof to sign in and out. The way, the program worked - if you were caught up on the roof without signing the log, or hadn't checked in, you were immediately told to leave the property. You were not allowed back until your company paid for a roof inspection to make sure you hadn't damaged the roof. And that stopped anybody from going up on that roof who hadn't signed the log.

It was real simple. If they had an issue with the roof after someone was up there, whoever the last person was up there was responsible for any damage done to the roof, if the retailer could prove there was negligent damage.

Great system. It kept everybody on the up and up. And you never had to worry about anybody climbing around on that roof unannounced.

PARTICIPANTS: * Bill Baley, vice president of operations, Pegnato & Pegnato Building Systems Services

* David Bailie, business director, specialty products commercial roofing products division, GAF Materials Corp.

* Brad Burdic, national manager, preferred accounts roofing systems group, Johns Manville

* Jeffrey Canty, president, Safe Roof Systems Inc.

* Jim Conner, president, sales and marketing division, corporate executive vice president, North American Roofing Systems Inc.

* Peter Mehltretter, national accounts, Atas International Inc.

SCW STAFF: * Carol B. Padgett, special advertising editor, event moderator

* Brannon Boswell, associate editor, event co-moderator

* Michael Glennon, east coast account executive