DIY House Addition: Making Hard Decisions

The Story:
In the last couple of weeks a few things happened in succession which made the two of us take a long hard look at what we wanted, and what made sense.

What we want is to have the money from the bank in our pockets. To have the foundation poured and the framing started. To get the house closed in before Winter, so we can spend the cold months working on the interior.

What we’ve got is a closing date in another week. Less that 10 weeks to put in the foundation, take the roof off the existing house, frame in the addition, and roof the entire house. 48 man-hours a week to devote to construction. (Less than half of what we need.)

And we decided what makes sense, is to take a week off work and go stay with some friends in Texas.

Groundbreaking starts in Spring.

The Project:

I don’t know how it goes for those of you in the South– in the land of sun and year-round construction– but up here the seasons go like this: Stuck in the mud, slammed, and fucking frozen.

You have to take into account that it takes about all of the “building season” to take a structure from groundbreaking to weatherproofed. Unless you’re Amish.

(c) Ian Adams.
Amish barn raising near Mount Hope in Holmes County. © Ian Adams*

The Amish can raise an entire barn in one day, and I think there’s a couple of lessons we can learn from that.

1.) Anything is possible.

2.) We are not Amish.

There is a kind of mental exercise we do at work, particularly on big, complicated projects where a lot of decisions need to be made. We write down the goal of the project on the wall, and then we come up with ideas… they might be cool, different, functional, easy, or something we just want to try, but every time we make a decision we go back to that goal on the wall. If it doesn’t bring us closer to that goal, “because I want to” isn’t a good enough reason to do it.

You need a similar mentality when you’re DIYing a project of this size. If you hire a contractor and builders, eh? They’ll probably keep you in line. But doing it yourself? There’s no one there to check you when you start going off into left field. Unless you talk about your crazy projects all over the internet. But I’d just like to point out that not one of you said, “STARTING AN ADDITION 7 WEEKS BEFORE IT STARTS TO SNOW IS INSANE.”

So instead of relying on all of you to be my DIY sanity, I adopted this model of thinking about the house:

Goal 1: To build the best possible house we can.
Goal 2: To DIY as much of the construction as we can, insofar as it doesn’t conflict with Goal 1.

And you know, when you measure questions like “Should we hire a plumber?” (The answer is, dear god, yes.) or “Should we start construction now, or in Spring?” The hard decisions start getting a lot easier.

We’ll have more time to do more things the right way, on our own, if we wait until Spring. If we start now the learning curve is steeper, we’ll have to hire in more people to help us get started, we’ll have to make decisions faster, and the end result probably won’t be as good. Even though I really don’t want to be sitting on my butt for the next six months.

(Hey Look! MysteryMan’s jaw just hit the table! I can see him ticking off on his fingers “finish framing Station,” “drywall Station,” “trench for water lines,” “build donkey pasture,” and “SELL YOUR HOUSE”. Oh. Right. I guess there won’t be any sitting on my butt this winter.)

So I guess the DIY lesson for today is: When you put things in context, all decisions become easy.

*I saw one of Ian Adam’s barn raising pictures in a book and I think it’s one of the most compelling photographs I’ve ever seen. The Amish know a thing or two about teamwork, and that’s the truth. Check out the rest of Ian Adam’s work on his website.

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