Shingles Set with Pride Make for ‘Something Special’
Ironhead Roofing, LLC is a business built to serve
Andrew Barnes took a roundabout route getting to his role as President and Co-Owner of Ironhead Roofing, LLC (Ironhead) in Corvallis, Oregon. After nine years as a roofer for other employers, he thought that owning a roofing company would be better than working for one.
But, after starting up a roofing business, he and his partner had conflicting views on its direction. He left that business in 2017 to establish Ironhead Roofing with a commitment to paying skilled workers well, encouraging them to grow professionally and building a culture of pride in the quality of their work.
“I wanted to do something different,” he says. “It wasn’t about money but about creating something special, something that’s going to be here for a long time.”
Today, Ironhead employs 37 workers in all facets of commercial and residential roofing—new construction, roof replacements, finding and repairing leaks, renovations, gutter installation and repair. Andrew describes the company as a specialty roofing contractor, meaning that roofing is its total focus, not an add-on to general construction.
‘Just Having a Job Wasn’t Good Enough’
To be sure, Andrew got into the business not because he was enamored with working atop high buildings or aligning shingles, but because it seemed like a way to earn a reasonable living.
“After a few years, I got pretty good at it,” he says. “But,” he adds, “at some point I realized that just having a job wasn’t good enough.” He enrolled at Oregon State University to study construction engineering and management and, at the same time, launched that first company. Differing visions between partners followed.
While on a roofing job, he met Paul Spies, a Willamette, Oregon, real estate agent and businessman who eventually asked Andrew if he wouldn’t rather work with him than stay at his old company. They decided to establish Ironhead Roofing as co-owners. Paul is an investor in businesses, not a roofer. Besides his financial interest, his role in Ironhead generally involves marketing and big-picture thinking, Andrew says.
Andrew, an avid fly fisherman, says the name “Ironhead” is the common nickname for steelhead trout.
“For the first two years, I worked with Paul on other projects while we got Ironhead off the ground. By last year, the company was doing well enough for me to move over to it full time,” he says.
From its base in Corvallis, about an hour south of Portland, the company serves clients throughout the Willamette Valley, a region that’s home to some 70% of Oregon’s population. Ironhead serves customers as far north as Albany and Salem and as far south as Eugene.
Ask Andrew what projects he’s most proud of and he mentions The Corvallis Clinic, one of the valley’s largest multispecialty physician practices and Corvallis’ Chintimini Senior & Community Center, which underwent significant expansion and renovations in 2019. “They both are facilities that mean a lot to the community and we were proud to work on them,” Andrew says.
A Pitch for Flat Roofs
With its broad range of services, the company has crews involved in as many as 10 jobs at any given time. “We have at least one commercial job going at all times,” Andrew notes.
Commercial projects, including apartment and office buildings, warehouses, mini malls, hospitals and schools, account for some 40% of Ironhead’s business. Most commercial projects involve flat roofs (which actually have slight pitches to facilitate water runoff).
“Installing flat roofs has been made much more efficient with the development of single-ply synthetic membrane materials, usually PVC or TPO,” Andrew notes. “A membrane roof involves laying down a layer of insulation covered by a sheet of membrane material. It’s inexpensive, lightweight and reliably leak-proof, in the absence of external damage.” While it comes in thicknesses as small as 40 millimeters, Ironhead won’t install anything less than 60 millimeters for durability purposes.
Of the 60% of the company’s workload that’s residential, about 70% involves new roofs on existing homes and the remaining 30% entails working with builders on new homes.
Mostly, residential roofing involves asphalt shingles, the nation’s most popular roofing material due to its reasonable cost. Wood shingles are another option, but they’re more expensive and mostly suitable for roofs with steep pitches.
Metal roofs are more resilient, last longer and are less vulnerable to damage—but also cost more. Still, they’re relatively popular in the region, Andrew says. The materials used are not simply metal variations on shingles; rather, they are large panels that run vertically from the roof ridges to the edges. Metal roofing offers longer life spans, greater durability and improved energy efficiency.
Top Down, Bottom Up
While some homeowners try to hold down the costs of an asphalt-shingle roof replacement by overlaying—having the new layer of shingles laid down without removing the existing one—Andrew doesn’t agree with that practice.
“You need to see what’s underneath,” he says. “You need to be able to inspect the plywood sheathing for rotting or other rain damage, and to hammer down protruding nails. A professional crew can strip the old roof off pretty quickly, so the savings isn’t really significant.”
Depending on the structure’s size, putting a new roof on a house typically takes one to two days, possibly three. Specialty roofers, like those employed by Ironhead, work quickly and efficiently, peeling off the old shingles and barrier vapor, working down from the roof ridge to the edges, right to left. The process reflects the way the shingles overlap the rows below and adjacent to them.
With the roof stripped, the next step is to look for and replace damaged wood, then put down the vapor barrier (again, a synthetic felt-like material) and apply metal drip edges, flashing and ice dams to protect vulnerable seams.
A Passion for Sharing
If Ironhead Roofing’s owners feel passionately about the qualities their company represents, they also share a commitment to community service. For Paul, a former Marine who served in Afghanistan, it’s important that the company donates a portion of its proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project, supporting local events like an annual snowmobile rally.
For Andrew, who has two daughters and a son, it’s children. “We actively support Habitat for Humanity,” he says, “because the houses they build—and the roofs we put on them—are for families. I have a soft spot in my heart for kids.”
He’s a particular advocate for the Old Mill Center for Children and Families, a Corvallis-based nonprofit that provides services and support for children and their families, addressing educational, social, emotional and family needs.
At 35, Andrew feels a connection between the present and the future. That includes a sense of pride in his workforce that ranges in age from individuals in their 20s to one in his 60s. “I try to treat my guys right,” he says. “I truly believe that skilled workers ought to be paid properly, and we pay our roofers more than just about anybody else in the area.”
“If guys feel good about the company, about the quality it offers, they’re going to care about the roofs they’re putting on,” he adds.
And the future? “We’re a long way from where I want to be,” Andrew says. “What is that? I don’t know what it would look like. It could be statewide, it could be national, it could be franchises.”
“I like challenges—jobs that nobody else is willing to bid on. It’s not greed. It’s a drive to create something special,” he affirms.