Learning from Habitat

2011-11-11 by . 0 comments

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Back in 2001, I entered the life of home ownership (wow, has it really been that long). While I had helped around the house while growing up, my entire tool set consisted of a small power drill, flashlight, and a tool box with a hammer, some screw drivers, and a few other odds and ends.

Knowing that I was over my head, and that every contractor around would try to overcharge for the simplest things, I figured I’d learn by doing. And rather than doing things to my own place, it seemed a lot easier to learn on someone else’s place, which is how I came to work with my local Habitat for Humanity chapter. I figured I’d learn a bit from them while giving back to the community and then I’d tackle all the projects around my own home, but Habitat quickly turned into a habit.

Since starting with them, I’ve been involved with 45 new homes and one renovation. Of the new homes, 9 were town houses that were almost done when I started, 3 single family, and thee condominium projects resulted in the bulk of the homes. I’ve seen the projects from top to bottom. Planting sod, drilling for earthquake bolts into the foundation, and painting the yellow lines for the fire lanes (apparently the big box stores sell fire lane yellow) would round out the bottom. Installing insulation in the attic and standing on a step ladder that’s on top of 3 stories of scaffolding to put the last piece of siding on the top of the gable would be the highlights of the highs. From beginning to end, I’ve seen the first walls raised to the last bit of touch up paint applied.

The experience has been unbelievably helpful for understanding what I can and can’t do on my own home. It changes how I see the walls from “that’s a nice shade of paint” to “it looks like they bumped this out to run an air return here.” In other words, it’s trained me to see the structure, to understand where the utilities are run, to know what walls are load bearing, and to understand all the layers of an outside wall. And since I’ve been there so many years, it’s also taught me how to pass this knowledge on to others quickly so we can get a fresh set of volunteers productive when they may have never swung a hammer before in their life.

There are, however, some things that this experience hasn’t taught me. We outsource the pouring of the foundation, all of the utility work (electrical, plumbing, hvac, and wiring), and we bring in the pros for the entire roof. A few detail steps are also outsourced, like mudding the drywall and installing carpeting, since they are easy to get wrong and the mistakes are very visible. For safety, we’ve also cut back on having volunteers high up on ladders. We have a professional handling the permits and dealing with the contractors. And finally, there’s a big difference from building a home vs maintaining a home. So despite how much I’ve learned from Habitat, there’s a significant amount that I’ve had to learn elsewhere, especially from Stack Exchange.

For now, I’ll leave you with a quick progression of one of our builds:

profile for BMitch at Home Improvement, Q&A for contractors and serious DIYers

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