Hours At The Site: 7
Fingers I Smashed: 3
Nails I Hammered: LOTS
Times I Used The Porta-Potty: 0
Fun I Had: Equal To The Amount Of Nails I Hammered
So I like totally helped build a house today. No, really. I hammered nails and constructed and sweated and got dirt under my fingernails and everything. Swear. I’m like practically a professional builder. You could pretty much call me and say, “Hello, I would like a house,” and BAM! I could show up and build you one.
OK, maybe not quite. But I did work a Habitat for Humanity home build project today. If you haven’t ever heard of Habitat for Humanity (you clearly live under a rock) check out their website for the details. Basically it’s a non-profit organization that uses volunteers and donations to construct homes for people who need them. I don’t know how a someone goes about qualifying to own one of these homes, but I did learn today that the ‘Future Homeowner’ will actually have a mortgage after the home is complete. The mortgage will not, however, include interest (which I find, punnily enough, interesting).
Another real estate agent I know through my father (Realtor Ken!) puts together a group of volunteers every year who spend a Saturday helping to build a house. This was the first year I got wind of it (through Facebook, of course. Gotta love FB.) and because the build date was far enough out that my schedule was not yet devoured by the gods of chaos, I decided to put my name on the list. It’s obviously a really great charity, but I also thought it could potentially be fun and informative for my work. I was not wrong.
This is the South Phoenix house I worked on today. It’s in that transitional area West of the I-10 along the Baseline corridor. It has stunning views of South Mountain at the end of the street:
Each crew has a general task they are assigned to. My Realtor Ken crew was slated to roof. Which…. was pretty awesome. We are talking about climbing up scaffolding to get to the top roof (which was plywood when we got there) of a two-story house and like pretty much learning from A to Z how a shingle roof is put on a house.
At 7:30 AM we nervously scaled the scaffolding to perch shakily on the roof and just marveled at the planes taking off at Sky Harbor, the domey baseball stadium and the rolling mountains. It didn’t take us long to get used to the height, but I don’t think anyone got bored with the view.
I basically showed up at the build site with negative amounts of construction skills. We were given hard hats, tool aprons and a hammer, and told to have at it. It wasn’t until the first time I attempted to hammer in a nail today that I realized I haven’t ever hammered a nail into anything but drywall before; which I now know is vastly different from nailing metal L-flashing to the corner of a roof.
So the first thing I learned was how to hammer a nail. Apparently, as my dad said several times today, you should ‘swing the hammer like you’re not going to miss the nail’; which means with some force behind it. I tended, however, to ‘swing the hammer like I just saw that woman miss the nail and hit her finger so hard it caused the tip to split and blood to spray everywhere’, which, you know, is less effective and takes considerably longer. Eventually, though, after probably 100 or 200 nails today, I actually kind of get it. You sort of have to take a breath before you swing the hammer, shoot for straight on and just let it all go. The guy who was helping me compared it to swinging golf club and shooting a gun (neither of which I’ve done) before giving up on the analogies.
I really did learn a lot. I would absolutely go back. I will also recommend to all of my first time buyers that they do this at least once. I feel like it did an equal job of comfortingly demystifying the home construction process and at the same time showing how disturbingly imperfect the whole thing is. As a home owner, I think it helps to get that your house is not flawless, but when a problem with it does eventually occur, it can be fixed with some general knowledge of how it was put together in the first place.
Specific examples of the demystification:
1. Roof shingles hang over the edge of the actual roof the amount of one width of a construction pencil. As-in they actually carry around a construction pencil simply for measuring how much it should hang over.
2. L-flashing on a roof needs to be two shingle thicknesses off of the roof. So when you are installing it, you stack up two shingles and stuff them underneath and then nail it to the side of the roof.
3. There are tin-snips call mickey mouse shears. Because they have giant round handles that look like Mickey’s ears.
Examples of scary imperfection that makes me wonder what my house looks like underneath all the prettification of the exterior:
1. Before we started shingles we stood on the roof we were working on and looked to the right and saw a house with a pretty, straight roof shingle pattern and looked to the left and saw a house with a wavy, yucky, terrible roof shingle pattern and our team leader said, ‘We’re going for the house to the right.’
2. At 2pm when we were standing in the blindingly hot sun, exhausted and shaky from exertion our team leader realized that we should not nail the L-flashing to the bottom of the roof, just to the side…. AFTER we’d nailed half of it to the roof (BY HAND. The nail gun was being used elsewhere. Which is roughly 13 times harder, by the way), so we just removed the nails and he said it was cool that it had all those holes in it.
But yes, all in all it was a great experience and it really feels like a worthwhile cause. The big, giant bummer of the day was at lunch when they too us down to the end of the street and showed us the two houses that were burned down a few days before Christmas. The fire department hasn’t finished their investigation but the theory is arson by vandals.
These were some of the Brownies who brought us lunch (a Chandler troop who not only provided some topnotch sandwiches, but also sang to us while we ate) getting their first look at the wreckage. We tied green ribbons to the fence to symbolize hope. The two houses are a total loss and will have to be completely torn down and newly constructed. Even the port-a-potty that had been left to service the site was burnt to nothing but a pile of blue dust. I have no doubt these houses will rise again out of the ash the like the namesake of their city, but it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the cruelty someone has to possess to commit an act like this.
And just to end on a less sour note, doesn’t my dad look like a real construction worker in his outfit?