The old expression “out of sight, out of mind” no longer applies to retailers and retail building owners as it once did. Today, both groups are more educated than ever about roofing. “Retail is getting smarter about roofing — smarter about specifications, about maintenance and repair — and they're hiring better,” says Bill Baley, vice president of operations for Pegnato & Pegnato Building Systems Services, a roofing inspection, repair and maintenance firm based in Marina Del Rey, Calif. “The education level is way up.”

SCW turned to some leading roofing professionals to help forecast the next important lessons in the ever-evolving topic of commercial roofing. What they say may save building owners and retailers headaches and dollars.

The future of roofing

What are the hottest retail roofing topics as 2002 begins? Energy savings and new materials are at the top of the list, says James R. Kirby, director of the technical services division for Rosemont, Ill.-based National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA).

Kirby points to a continuing interest by retail and shopping center building owners on new energy-saving products, such as the light-reflective thermopolyolefin (TPO).

“That's a material that's being heavily marketed to contractors. And we know there are some installation concerns with seaming methods and seaming installation instructions,” he says, adding that manufacturers and owners also report potential formulation and performance issues.

Kirby reports that while certain TPO products are working very well in retail applications, other products are running up against seaming problems a mere two months following initial installation.

Bob Lyons, executive vice president of New Millennium Roofing Inc., also has some concerns about the role of white roof membranes in the retail roofing industry. The Indianapolis-based firm specializes in industrial and commercial new roof construction, re-roofing and roof maintenance/management programs.

While Lyons sees the retail industry flocking toward the newer, reflective products (specifically TPO membranes, which have the largest market share growth), he is quick to note that white roof membranes are not a panacea for energy savings concerns. In certain geographic areas, “if you have enough insulation, it doesn't matter what color your roof is,” Lyons says. And if a retailer were located in a multi-story building, he adds, the color of the roof may only affect the top floor.

What to do?

So what's a retail building owner to do when deciding to try white, reflective roofing to decrease energy costs? “Be careful, especially in the TPO product area,” Lyons says. “See what system attributes would work best for your roofing needs.” Consulting an engineer, HVAC expert or roofing consultant might also prove worthwhile, Lyons notes.

Roofing expert John J. Cambruzzi, manager of preferred accounts for Denver-based manufacturer Johns Manville Roofing Systems, agrees with Lyons' recommendation. “Although the TPO membranes show great potential as the single-ply membrane of the future, building owners should proceed with caution as some significant issues have arisen on installations,” he says.

TPO & PVC

Other roofing professionals point out that retail building owners have other worthwhile options when it comes to choosing a white, reflective roofing membrane.

While Baley is quick to say there are some good TPO membranes on the market — ones that are more affordable than ever — retail building owners might consider other available light-reflective materials. “Over the past year or so, PVC (a PolyVinylChloride polymer and another white membrane option) has dropped dramatically in cost,” Baley says. “Now we're seeing contractors installing a new PVC system for about the same cost as a black EPDM system. So that's a big plus for retailers.”

Allen Blakey, director of public affairs for Arlington, Va.-based The Vinyl Institute, agrees vinyl materials such as PVC — touted for durability and light reflectivity — are an excellent retail roofing option that can cut energy costs, especially in the Sunbelt. “We have data showing vinyl reflective roofs can create significant reductions in the temperature between the ceiling and the roof, which can directly result in lower air conditioning costs,” Blakey says.

Vinyl also has decades of proven success. “Sixty-five percent to 75% of all vinyl goes into building and construction, so it's time-tested,” Blakey says.

Metal roofing advances

Metal is yet another option available for retail roofing today. According to Don Pratt, chairman of Kansas City, Mo.-based Butler Manufacturing Co., a pioneer in standing seam metal roofing systems, metal is an ideal choice for retail for several key reasons.

“First, from an architectural standpoint, there's significant retail demand for what I call high-pitched, colored, metal roofs,” Pratt says. Butler developed a metal architectural panel providing an alternative for designers who wish to use color and accents on retail facilities.

Pratt also says his company's metal roofing alternatives provide significant thermal performance — an important attribute for retailers concerned with today's fluctuating energy costs. “We have a whole series of alternatives that allow our clients to meet almost any energy code that has been defined in the United States and worldwide,” he says.

Butler is also hearing more retailer concern about a phenomenon known as wind uplift, which primarily affects retail buildings in and around coastal areas.

Pratt notes that Butler's metal roofing systems meet certain criteria demanded by insurance companies. “We're seeing some new criteria which suggests insurance companies will limit coverage they'll provide unless structures and roof systems can be certified to meet various wind uplift conditions,” he says.

“We have invested significant time and effort in developing materials and fasteners that will allow our standing seam roof systems to be used in hurricane areas,” he adds.

Pratt says in many applications, shopping centers with large roof areas are going to stay with the traditional built-up roofing (BUR), especially if roofs have multiple penetrations. But sometimes metal is a viable alternative, even for large retail centers. “We take a look at each project from the standpoint of long-term performance and recommend what's best,” whether BUR or metal system.

“A lot of the membrane roofs originally offered with 20-year warranties have actually failed in the five- to 10-year lifecycle range,” Pratt says. “So we've been asked to come back in and replace a number of those with our standing seam roofs on some very large roof areas in shopping centers, and they are performing very well.”

Other metal roof manufacturers report being called in to do retrofits of old shopping center roofs. Jim Robinson, general manager of Eufala, Ala.-based Architectural Metal Systems, a roofing systems company, reports this is true for his firm. “Retrofits of old roofs are probably 50% of our business. We have a solution for these shopping center owners,” Robinson says.

Architectural Metal Systems sells its product through a nationwide network of certified installers. As Robinson reports, “There are some pretty strong warranties we're able to pass along for weather-tightness and roof integrity.”

Robinson also says innovations in the paint systems applied to metal for roofing and fascias are making some real advances in energy savings, where colored metal systems such as red, blue or black can offer the same reflectivity as white.

As 2002 unfolds, SCW will query industry professionals again, bringing even more of the latest roofing updates and advice to retailers and building owners.

Carol B. Padgett is an Atlanta-based writer.