Saturday, March 28, 2009

Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters...

Today I did something I've wanted to do for a long, long, time: I helped build a Habitat House for Humanity. This is an annual volunteer project at the company where I work, and this year I decided I'd do it. I invited Chris and Stephanie to join me, and they accepted, and were as excited as I was about doing this. They were at my door at 6:30 this morning. After loading our gear into my car (we brought our own gloves and Chris brought knee pads; everything else was provided), we made a quick stop at Starbuck's for some necessary sustenance before starting on the hour long drive to Fort Worth.

We arrived at the site at 7:45. It was overcast and bitterly cold; in fact, there were snowflakes in the air when we arrived. The house was framed in one day (yesterday), and looked like this when we arrived:
house BEFORE IMG_1537

Stephanie was amused that we could see through all the walls when we arrived. We've had a lot of rain recently, and the site got very muddy so the ground was covered in straw to keep us from having to slip and slide in the mud. Our job today was to sheath the house in OSB (oriented strand board). To warm us up, one of the crew chiefs set us to work unloading lumber from the storage shed as soon as we arrived:

Next, several of us we were given carpenter's pencils and assigned the task of marking the center of every stud in the entire house on the foundation (the vertical mark beneath the "X" in the photo below).

Doing this enabled us to locate the studs behind the 4' x 8' sheets of OSB that we were fastening onto them. Nail guns aren't allowed on Habitat sites, but the sound of a dozen or more hammers pounding away was sufficently loud that some of us used the provided earplugs:

Work progressed surprisingly quickly, and eventually we broke for lunch.

Then the sun came out, it warmed up, and it was time to go back to work. It was a lot of work to fasten the OSB to the center of every stud every six inches or so with #8 nails. Some people worked the top of the house, on ladders, and others did the lower work. That's Chris up on the ladder on the far right in this photo:
finishing up the sheathing  IMG_1604
After the house was sheathed in OSB, it began to be wrapped in Tyvek, which was fastened to the OSB with staples:
Everyone who works on a Habitat House is invited to sign their good wishes for the homeowner on studs that are used in constructing the house:

Eventually, we were done for the day. We cleaned the site, putting away all tools and lumber, and then posed for a pic in front of the house, now sheathed and partially wrapped:
the motley crew IMG_1617

Was this a cool way to spend a Saturday, or what? A few facts about Habitat (taken from the website):

It was founded in 1976 by Millard Fuller and his wife, Linda. Since then, Habitat has built more than 300,000 houses around the world, providing safe, affordable housing for more than one and one half million people in more than 3,000 communities worldwide. Habitat offers a hand up, not a hand out. The houses are not given away, they are purchased. The cost of houses varies from around $800 in some developing countries to an average of $60,000 in the United States. Average time from start to finish in the US is 10 working days, which usually takes about 6 weeks to accomplish, as the work is done mostly by volunteers, who average 2 days a week. For obvious reasons, electrical work, plumbing, and sheetrock is subcontracted to professionals. In addition to a down payment and monthly mortgage payments (mortgages range from seven to thirty years), Habitat homeowners are also required to pitch in and put sweat equity into not only their own house, but other Habitat homes.The house we worked on today is for a single, childless woman who has worked for the probation department in Fort Worth for five years. She was there today, working with the rest of us. She said without Habitat, she'd never be able to own her own home.

At the end of the day today, we were exhausted, but Chris and Stephanie and I loved doing this. If you have the opportunity to do this, I recommend it. The only thing you need is willingness to participate. For more information, click on the Habitat for Humanity website.


Lisa :-] said...

We volunteered at a Habitat site once. It was kind of a weird and not very rewarding experience. Very disorganized and nobody knew what they were doing. Kind of freaked me out, and we never went back.

But it looks like you had an awesome experience. What a great way to spend an afternoon.

emmapeelDallas said...

This was very well organized. There was a core crew assigned to our site consisting of 5 local volunteers with lots of Habitat experience as well as a general contractor/overseer who travels from site to site to ensure ducks are in a row, so to speak.

Kathy said...

Nice post (and pictures). Glad you shared the experience. :) Habitat is a volunteer experience I haven't tried, but would be willing to (try).

Anonymous said...

I was having a good Sunday morning anyway, but this post brightened it further. I was happily treasurer of my local Habitat in the 90s, and also worked on the sites or provided lunch many Saturdays. It was a fantastic experience. People used to talk about a sense of "community" on AOL journals, ha, well, if you want to experience a sense of community, work on a Habitat site.
I am so glad you had such a great experience. ~Mary

emmapeelDallas said...


I agree with you, this is an experience that really fosters a sense of community: a bunch of strangers coming together to build a house for/with another stranger. And I loved that my son and his sweetheart stepped right up and joined me. It reminded me of what I imagine barn raisings must have been like. It's a very rewarding, worthwhile experience. Everyone benefits from doing this.

TJ said...

Way cool! Lets just hope the family can maintain the bills: taxes, insurance and otherwise.
So often we give to much...I know this first hand.
Not any fault of the givers...just a fact of life.