OWNER: Ken Vandehey
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 28
WHAT HE SELLS: Commercial and residential window cleaning, pressure washing, roof and gutter cleaning
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: For window, roof, and gutter cleaning done with care and respect for the health of people and the environment.
When Ken Vandehey talks about his work, it’s clear he’s given a lot of thought to the whole process – from how he gets around to what he uses to do the job. Whether he’s cleaning windows on a downtown Corvallis storefront or cleaning moss off the roof of a local residence, Ken makes work-related decisions with the Earth in mind. Keeping a low carbon footprint while providing quality work are hallmarks of Pane Relief Window Cleaning.
Ken, when and why did you decide to start your business? I’ve lived in the Willamette Valley all my life – from Salem to Eugene. I grew up in the country, mostly in Jefferson. I came from a low-income family, and my dad fixed everything. He fixed cars, bicycles, and appliances. So I learned from him. We were very hands-on. When I was younger, I did landscaping, farm work, and construction jobs. I’ve always been more outdoor-oriented. I’m not the kind of person who could sit in an office all day.
I started my business in 1987. I had been having a hard time finding work, so I went to work for someone in Corvallis who was doing window cleaning. Another person I knew had a son who was washing windows, and when he decided to move out of state, I bought his accounts from him.
I learned my trade from several different people, but a lot of them used nasty chemicals. So I got the idea that I wanted to do window cleaning with non-toxic cleaning products. Anyway, it’s really technique and proper tools that are the keys to effective window cleaning.
Tell us more about your services. What are your favorites? I started by cleaning windows for businesses. People would walk by and ask me if I’d do their windows at home. So that’s how I expanded from commercial to residential window cleaning. At first, I just did windows on single-story houses, but then, people started asking me to do second and third stories and skylights. When I’d be up on people’s roofs, they’d say, “While you’re up there, can you do my gutters and clean my roof?” So I eventually added gutters and roof cleaning to my services. I actually like heights.
What does being featured as the Local Business of the Week mean to you? It gives me an opportunity to educate people about why I choose to do my work the way I do.
Do you fill an unusual niche? What does your business do better than anyone else? Why should folks patronize your business? My cleaning techniques are non-toxic and a lot more respectful of the environment. For example, when I’m cleaning a roof, I start by removing leaves and branches using a broom and a 4-cycle leaf blower, which is a lot quieter and cleaner burning than a 2-cycle blower. After that, I sprinkle a non-toxic powder that reacts with water to make hydrogen peroxide. So when it rains, it kills the moss. The moss becomes hard and dry, and it comes off much more easily. Most people who clean roofs use a pressure washer, but that wears down the roof tiles. My technique is a lot less invasive – it’s a slower, gentler process.
What challenges have you faced as an independent local business owner? How have you met those challenges? I’ve been to a lot of business classes through the Small Business Development program offered at LBCC. That’s helped me a lot with planning, bookkeeping, and advertising. They emphasized focusing on existing clients, rather than always trying to get new business. So I always call people back to ask if they’re pleased with my work. I’ve done over 500 houses and, in all these years, I’ve only had one check bounce. People who hire me can afford it, and they like the work that I do.
What do you enjoy most about owning a local, independent business in Corvallis? Being self-employed allows me some independence and security. If I were an employee of someone else’s business, I’d receive certain benefits, but I’d also be totally dependent on that employer. By being self-employed and having a lot of different customers, I’m not dependent on any one person for my livelihood.
I like working outside, and I also really enjoy the diversity of places I work. I get to work for a lot of different kinds of businesses and homes. I’ve built relationships with a lot of businesses, and I do a trade with some of them – a chiropractor, a gym, a restaurant, and a person who sells glasses.
What is your relationship to the community? What organizations do you support and/or participate in? I’m part of the electric vehicle users group that meets once a month, and I’m a member of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition. I’ve also “adopted” a portion of the bike path that runs along Philomath Blvd. from Brooklane down to the skate park. I keep the path free of leaves and litter, and I clip the blackberry bushes so they don’t impede bicyclists. When people stop and thank me, I say, “If this keeps people on bikes and out of cars, I’ll keep doing it!”
How important is sustainability to you and/or your business? Have you taken steps to save energy, reduce your use of other resources, decrease your carbon footprint, or reduce waste? I’ve seen so much waste and abusing of nature and animals, I don’t want to be part of anything that’s unhealthy for people or the environment. When I found out that a gas-powered engine makes 75% waste heat, I was shocked. I use my bike for transport. I restrict my work to Corvallis and Philomath so I can just put my window cleaning equipment on my bike, and I can get around town. I have an old car, but I use it mainly for advertising since it has my business signage on it.
I buy my soap locally, and it’s biodegradable. I have a friend who’s a physical therapist, and he gives me his worn-out towels. I cut them up and re-use them. I always look for ways to repair my equipment so I can use it over and over, rather than simply throwing it away and replacing it with something new. I always do what I can to make things last longer.
My lifestyle is more locally-oriented, considerate of the environment and the natural ecosystem. Part of my concern for the environment and health came about by dealing with low blood sugar and low thyroid – an unusual metabolism combination. When I eat out, I choose locally made foods from local restaurants, such as Sunnyside Up, Nearly Normal’s, New Morning Bakery, and the Co-op Kitchen. Most of my diet is vegetarian, orgranic, and garden grown. At the age 60+ I’m still biking, climbing ladders, and being a part of my small, environmentally friendly community. I like to bike and hike; there are so many places around Corvallis to explore.
Please give us your one-sentence take-away message about your business. Pane Relief is an eco- friendly Corvallis-based business.
(Interview and article by Annette Mills – July 12, 2015)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Community Independent Business Alliance (CIBA).