10 Things I Learned Building A House

Back when Obama was transitioning from a state Senator into the POTUS and 20th Century Fox tried to pass off Liam Neeson as Hannibal, my wife and I donned our tool belts and safety gloves to build our own tiny house on wheels. Before the undertaking I vaguely remember cobbling together a bird house in Cub Scouts and I think my wife had changed out a commode or fixed a dryer or something that resembled construction. Otherwise, we were green in our ambition(s). The endeavor took just over two years and the lessons we came away with have shaped who we are even today; how we consume, how we live, how we manage our time, how we stay encouraged, and how we call in the professionals before things get comedic! I’ve decided to share the 10 things I learned (actually the TOP 10 things) building a house. Let me ask pardons now for getting long winded. Some of these stories just have details that must be shared!

  • Know What You’re Getting Into. This is easier said that done, to be sure. But before you dig that footer or prep that trailer, try to understand just what you are about to start. Don’t be scared. Don’t decided NOT to build just because the task seems daunting. Just know that once you start you are essentially taking on another full-time job. If you are already in the midst of a couple of projects or you have a demanding full-time job or even if you are married with a kid or two, perhaps you should reconsider the undertaking. During our build date night ended up being trips to Lowe’s and movie nights with pizza (if you consider YouTube videos on king studs and framing techniques to be a movie). Building a home can be stressful on a relationship so know that too. If you and your partner are quick to argue and slow to forgive you may want to think about whether or not this build is good for the homefront. Fortunately my wife is the living embodiment of The Lion King and practically oozes Hukuna Matata.
  • Call For Help. There is a reason professionals are called professionals. They are the ones that specialize in a particular trade or skill. There is no shame in calling a few in to make sure a job is done correctly and to code (if applicable). In our case our home was 85% DIY. But when it came to electric and roofing both, we didn’t hesitate to admit our weaknesses (and overall lack of desire) and seek help. But do your homework first. Seek out someone who has a good reputation doing just what you intend on hiring him/her to do. Send them an email or call them and rate their response time. Ask to see a sample or two of their previous jobs. Remember, this is your home. Be respectful of a professional but also remember that it is you and your family that will be living in the finished product, not the laborer.

Professionals Working

  • Learn To Take A Break. Rome was not built in a day (in fact, it took at least a thousand years to reach its’ apogee) and neither will your home be. Learn to enjoy the process and to take your time to pay attention to details. As the old adage advises: Measure Twice, Cut Once. No truer words could be spoken. There will be times during the build that you will be fatigued or even exhausted. It is at those times that you should lay down the hammer, take a warm shower, and find something completely unrelated to do. I remember on one particular day I had been planing wood with my dad and after about 5 hours of being the one starting the wood through (and standing in the Georgia summer sun, mind you) I was sunburned on my neck (save the jokes, please), my arms were getting stiff, and my feet were hurting. Overall, I was just tired. I looked at my Pop and said, “You know what? I’m over it today. Let’s stop.” He agreed and we ended up spending the rest of the day eating Fudge Ripple ice cream and watching a Charles Bronson marathon on television.
  • Think About Layout Sooner Than Later. Tiny housers for the most part are known for “taping off” their house long before they even have a trailer. We like to make cardboard furniture and take long visit to IKEA to understand more about what we want in our homes and where they will go. I would argue that more than any other group of home-owners, we have a unique understanding of furniture placement in the home. That said, before beginning your build, know where your bed will go, how big the cabinets will be, how many shelves you’ll have, and even where you’ll likely hang your coat in the colder months. It is hard to make adjustments once you have dried in your home.
  • Plan. No, seriously. Plan. Because we built our THOW so early in the trend we didn’t have much to go by. There were, in fact, only two blogs we could find dealing with tiny houses and there were none for us to visit or walk through. We had to just figure it out. Because of such (and likely because of my overall structured nature) no week started without a written plan. When things started going and activities started whirring around us, our schedule saved the day a number of times. It allowed us to keep on task, not get ahead of ourselves, and even stay encouraged by seeing how much we had gotten accomplished.

Taped Floor

  • Be Patient. It’s hard, I know. Once you start building you want to just keep flying through the steps. But lack of patience will oftentimes cause you to see things that just aren’t there. When we had put the windows in I stood back and almost immediately announced we weren’t going to have enough natural light. I panicked that the house would be too dark and we would grow claustrophobic on night one. I was convinced we needed more windows and we needed them soon. What didn’t factor in though was the rigidity of the walls and the structural integrity of the house. I know now (some 6 years later) that had we added more windows we would have compromised the strength and the windshear of the entire house. Besides, once we had put up our utility ply walls, primed, and painted, the house glowed with lightness and openness.
  • Mistakes Are Inevitable. Who knew that a house should have a three-stud corner on all four corners? I mean, why can’t one corner have just two studs kind of butted up to each other? That is just one of the many mistakes I made during the building process. Luckily it was caught early and really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I wish, however, I could say the same for the electrical wire I did not put behind metal safety plates and subsequently put a finish nail through. That was not such an easy fix but certainly a, well, teachable moment!
  • Everyone Is An Experienced Contractor. Not a single person came to our build site without bringing along their opinion (some stronger than others) and contracting experience. Their visit was always welcome but their take on things….well, not so much. I’ve never been to the dentist office and suggested to her how to put in a filling. Why then should she come to our build site and offer me advice on how she would position an electrical outlet? Eventually we learned to just kind of smile and tune them out. Everyone is an experienced contractor and that will probably always be.

Everyone Is

  • Don’t Assume. My wife and I have two different styles of communication. Mine is clear. Hers is not. (I hope she doesn’t read this particular post!) We were both guilty during our build of assuming the other knew just what we were talking about. Whether it be on window placement, morning start times, or even paint colors, both of us assumed we had told the other just what we were thinking. Sometimes it caused some heated moments while other times it just caused confusion and double-work. Furthermore, when hiring professionals (see #2) be clear on what you want in a finished product, what kind of timeline you are hoping for, and what your budget restrictions are. Leave nothing to chance. Be respectful but be forthcoming.
  • Learn To Say Thank You. Whether it be aimed at a family member who gave a few hours to help paint your siding and trim, a professional who spent a few extra minutes explaining something to you even if he didn’t have to, a visitor to your site who told you what an inspiration you were and how good things were looking, or your spouse, who put up with you day in and day out, learn to say thank you…and mean it! No schedule can ever get so busy that you can’t stop to let others know how much you appreciate them and their efforts. No situation should ever consume you to the point that you don’t properly recognize the people around you who are investing of themselves to help make your dream come true!

Thank You

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

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neil lopez - June 8, 2016 Reply

Whatever your time estimate is: it will take at least four times longer than you think. likely ten times longer. Whatever your cost estimate is: it will cost at least four times as much money as you think. likely ten times as much.

    alice h - June 8, 2016 Reply

    Yup. And no matter how well you plan, something is going to go sideways and knock you into Plan B, maybe even further along the alphabet.

Jade Brunet - October 12, 2016 Reply

I am happy that you shared your experience of the things you learned while building a house. It is good to know that one should think about layout sooner than later. It would be wise to know where the cabinets go before starting construction to save time with decision making. Something else to consider would be to plan out exact details of the closets. This would be beneficial to know for room sizes.

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