From Sacramento to Long Island, retail property managers remain on top of their building stock — literally — with year-round roof maintenance and inspection programs. Selecting proper roofing systems for shopping malls and strip centers requires familiarity with climate, design, technology, building codes and tenant needs.

“Roofing is important to property owners because it makes good economic sense to keep tenants dry. Tenants should concentrate on moving merchandise, not buckets. The owner's job is to maintain physical assets, and not spend more due to neglect or lack of maintenance,” says Jim Sheuchenko, director of property management for Kimco Realty Corp. of New Hyde Park, N.Y.

To follow his own advice, Sheuchenko walks most of Kimco's 72 million sq. ft. of roofing annually to keep tabs on changes and potential trouble spots. “Property managers should be trained to spot problems and understand basic construction elements such as assembly systems, flashing, insulation and various roofing types on the market,” Sheuchenko explains. He further recommends that owners take continuing education courses to understand roofing systems and maintenance requirements. A typical roofing course includes visual inspections, gradual deterioration in roof membranes, building details, regional climate concerns, building codes and environmental factors in its syllabus.

Whether or not you get your master's degree in the field, routine maintenance programs and visual inspections should include checking conditions at rooftop penetrations and mechanical equipment. Property managers should look for roof leaks, clear drains of debris, ensure copings and fasteners are in place and check conditions around rooftop equipment. Visual inspections are ideally performed in spring and fall, and after major storms or weather activities.

Keeping in mind that many shopping centers built 20 to 40 years ago lack proper drainage, be on the lookout for ponding. Ponding, which is defined as the standing water found after a rainfall, could be a sign of clogged drains. And it can lead to leaks as well as plant growth, which can wreak havoc on roofing materials. The most effective way to eliminate ponding is by designing a proper drainage system into the roofing assembly, or roof replacement. This solution is expensive, but worth it in the long run.

Benefits of white roofs over black roofs are the heat-welded seams and good insulation value, a key factor for Southern and Western locations, says Moore. Another benefit may be financial. Los Angeles and Sacramento, Calif. offer tax credits for white TPOs because they use less energy for cooling. Credits reportedly range from 15% in Los Angeles to 20% in Sacramento. Houston and other communities seeking energy savings may soon follow suit.

Owners can solve all of these dilemmas by working with an architect knowledgeable about local building codes and roofing design and technology, as well as with a reputable roofing contractor familiar with proper installation techniques. Roofer selection is important to ensure quality and to avoid potential liability problems. Property managers should ask for and check references for service, experience and longevity to know the reputation of the firm they hire. Many owners prefer working with a contractor that specializes in certain roofing types, has been in business for a while and has a good track record of satisfied clients.

Insurance liability

Roofer selection is just the tip of the liability iceberg. Roofs are the highest liability risk for architects and contractors, and often are the most litigated building trade, due to workmanship and safety issues. In 1998, a study by the DPIC Companies, a California insurance carrier servicing design professionals, found roofs to be the element most often cited in architects' claims. Ten percent of architectural claims from 1989 to 1995 involved roofing problems. Claims most often concerned venting, flashing, and gutters (noted in 50% of claims), though contractor installation, not architectural detailing, was the major culprit. Inadequate field observation, material degradation, and use of new, unproven technologies were also frequently mentioned.

But proper drainage is just one of the many considerations involved in the inevitable event of installing a new or replacement roof. Owners should first evaluate their choices by noting if a building will have multiple tenants; roof foot traffic increases with more tenants, along with potential damage to membrane systems. Moreover, should any of those tenants include restaurants, dry cleaners, food or printing establishments with discharge odors or effluent, a single roofing product may not be suitable for all areas on the roof. Some sections may need to remain separate from others, due to air change or tenant needs. Of similar concern is air conditioning: a central supply, rather than individual HVAC units in each tenant space, can reduce roof penetrations and higher maintenance foot traffic.

One final checklist item is whether or not a new or replacement roof should have an energy-efficient surface, which is also easier to maintain and observe than surfaces of gravel or stone. Within the roofing industry, white TPO roofs have sparked debate among those preferring the more tried and true EPDM system. Gary Kassem, president of SingleSource Roofing Corp. of McKees Rocks, Pa., advocates EPDM over white roofs because they have fewer seams and are proven systems with consistent formulations and quality. White membranes, he contends, get dirty quickly, overheat and are reformulated every two to three years, raising questions about reliability.

“Built-up roofs may not stay popular in retail environments because of environmental factors,” says Robert Moore, a roofing consultant to Houston-based Weingarten Realty Investors, which owns properties in 15 Southern and Western states. Asphalt tanks outside tenant spaces emit odors, dust and noise during reroofing. New systems, still in the experimental stages, are always underway and worth watching, he adds. TPOs can last between six to eight years.

“Insurance costs and claims are a major concern for property managers. Before September 11, a slip-and-fall claim could cost owners more than the cost of a new roof,” says Kassem.

Owners, architects, contractors and industry experts agree that roofing design, proper installation and year-round maintenance programs are the essential ingredients for a good roof and dry building. Importantly, these are also the elements that make, break or altogether preclude a lawsuit.

Different roofs for different centers

Two commonly used systems for large expanses of flat or low-sloped roofs are EPDM and the newer TPO white membranes, acronyms for their chemical components. According to a typical roofing manufacturer description (from GenFlex Roofing Systems), TPO membranes combine proven weathering resistance of rubber and the proven performance of hot-air welded seams. EPDM is a high-performance membrane with exceptional resistance to tears, punctures and normal roof traffic. Both systems are available ballasted, mechanically attached and fully adhered.

For example, EPDM is appropriate for “big-box” stores with 100,000-sq.-ft. roof areas, but may not be suitable for a small 30-tenant strip center, says Jim Sheuchenko, director of property management at New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Kimco. Different manufacturers offer variations of these systems and others, another reason why owners must be able to evaluate marketplace options and new technologies.

According to several owners and roofing experts, white TPO membranes are gaining in popularity, especially as replacements for 20- to 25-year-old roofs. White roofs have good reflectivity qualities, which are lacking in black roofs. Black EPDM systems accelerate aging because of greater absorption of damaging ultraviolet light, degrade over time, and tend to shrink over 10 years.