Often found inspecting asphalt shingle damage by looking down the barrel of a microscope, Heather Estes, materials staff scientist at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), keeps herself busy while analyzing various hail, wildfire, high wind and wind-driven rain tests at the IBHS Research Center.
Estes also makes time to assist women in the roofing industry through National Women in Roofing (NWiR), a national volunteer-based organization that provides networking, recruiting, mentoring and educational opportunities for women roofing professionals.
Launched just this year, the organization recently named Estes secretary of its Education Committee. We recently caught up with her to see what she hopes to accomplish with NWiR.
Why did you choose a profession in chemistry and roofing research?
I have always been fascinated with how things work and what makes them tick. I took as many classes in biology and chemistry as I could. Now, I get to put my interests and expertise to good use making roofs better.
My earliest memories of the sciences were when I was five. I remember placing bread and seeds on the window sill of our kitchen to observe how fast the mold and seedlings would grow. Soon after that, I was making rock candy in the kitchen to observe how crystals formed. Without sounding like too much of a nerd, I would stay in at recess in fourth and fifth grade to learn about acids/base reactions, phase changes, and separation techniques. I have always been fascinated with small things and how they change over time. I enjoy all of the sciences, but chemistry is the field that has really inspired me to become an expert and to try and make change.
Enjoying the Job: Heather Estes demonstrating the elastic properties of asphalt at the IBHS Research Center.
Quick Facts About Heather Estes
Heather has visited 22 countries.
Her dog Drogo (Jack Russell) is named after a character in the show Game of Thrones.
A Real Brainiac
Heather is currently getting her master’s in chemistry at UNC Wilmington.
She Can Run
She’s currently training for a half-marathon.
Full of Jokes
Her favorite joke? Of course it’s a chemistry joke…
“Want to hear a chemistry joke?”
“Na” (Get it? Think sodium.)
Why do you enjoy the roofing industry so much?
The roofing community is a small, but specialized group of people that are always working to improve the products and the roofing message/image. It’s an interesting range of experts from roofers to scientists, working on something that most people use every day (the roof over their head!). I actually started in pavement, which has a lot of cross-over to the roofing industry. They say that if you work in asphalt for four years, you are stuck (pun intended). I guess there is no turning back now for me! I find asphalt so interesting because it is a complex molecule that is always changing. The chemistry behind it is fascinating and the industry is always finding out new information.
How did you get involved with NWiR?
I first heard about the organization while attending the 2016 International Roofing Expo when NWiR was officially launched. The National Roof Contractors Association (NRCA) was promoting the organization and I expressed my interest. In just a short time, I was invited to a kickoff meeting and then invited to be on the NWiR Education Committee.
Roofing is predominantly a male industry, but it does provide a great opportunity for women who are looking for secure employment. The roofing industry struggles to find people to come into it and I like teaching people why I enjoy the industry so much. This organization provides me the opportunity to do that and talk about IBHS’ research.
What will NWiR be doing for women in the industry or looking to join?
Initially, I will be working with NWiR’s educational committee to put together presentations and webinars that will show women what they need to know about how and where to get involved in the roofing industry. I’m really looking forward to working with everyone at NWiR and getting more people interested. I can’t wait to pass on what kind of changes are possible and get people involved in making those changes.
What opportunities does the roofing industry provide women?
There’s a huge list of careers women can take advantage of in the roofing industry. This list includes laborers, project managers, inventory, research/testing, insurance, finance and various other jobs.
What advice do you have for women interested in the roofing industry?
I would encourage women to take advantage of every opportunity they can and work hard, it will pay off. It’s also important for women to join organizations such as NWiR and get to know people within the industry because those relationships will lead to more personal and professional opportunities; once you get into it it’s hard to leave.
Want to know more about Heather Estes? Follow her on Twitter at @SommersHeather.