Repair & maintenance The most important step in prolonging the life of a roof is for owners to be proactive from the early design stages and continue that strategy as the roof ages. Subtle changes in roof design can help prevent roof damage. In the old days, architects designed perfectly flat roofs. "Now the focus is on incorporating a good slope to prevent water from gathering," Ducharme says. Although the puddles don't do any harm unless there is a puncture, the slope helps to avoid the stresses by promoting water runoff.

Like other aspects of the industry, the roof installation process is seeing its own advancements. One significant effort under way is the development of installation techniques that help reduce labor. For example, the heat welder used to seal TPO requires fewer people to operate. Corresponding changes on the EPDM side are taking advantage of special tools to put on fasteners that help automate and speed up the process. "We're all looking at ways to reduce labor when we're installing," Burdic confirms.

Ongoing maintenance is another key issue. Owners should inspect their rooftops at least twice a year, as recommended by the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA). Either a staff member or a professional maintenance contractor should inspect the roof's high-stress areas, such as penetration areas, base flashing and drains to make sure there are no problems. "The inspections need to include cleaning debris off the roof, making sure all drains are free-flowing, and ensuring that there is no loose equipment that can move around during a storm and cause roof damage," Baley says.

Owners also should try to secure effective warranties on their rooftops.

Shopping centers are unique in that tenants often come and go. For example, a new restaurant might require a mall to add rooftop units. Oftentimes, a manufacturer or contractor won't guarantee a roof if it has undergone changes since installation.

"You want a manufacturer who will be a partner with you in that situation," Ducharme says. "You need to have an ability to change rooftop units and keep the warranty intact. It's also important to get a warranty that can be transferred to a new owner."