History lessons


Looking back on it……..

I didn’t do a lot right when building the house.  Couldn’t.  Didn’t know what was right or how to do it.  We did as we learned.  We were just too amateurish to be good or fast or pretty (in the final iteration).  So we settled for being structurally right-and-then-some, following the books as best as we could and having everything we needed.  Of those three things, having everything needed on site before it was needed was, far and away, the best way to be efficient.

Think of it this way: Jack, the expert carpenter who can build anything fast, strong and ‘lookin’ good shows up at the site and there is no wood.  Jack can’t work and you just paid for wasted time.  On the other hand, take Dave (please!).  He is a goofball.  But he not only has all the tools, all the books, all the hardware and all the wood, he has three times the stuff that is needed.  (Plus he has Sal-the-Amazon).  So Dave can get to work.  Even if he is slower, stupider and uses more materials than he should (by doing things twice or doubling up when in doubt), Dave will eventually get the job done.

This may seem apparent.  But it is not.  I have seen a lot of good, skilled workers (out here) who simply say, “Well, we gotta stop.  The windows aren’t here.  The lumber isn’t here.  And we can’t do anything on the roof until all that stuff comes and you find a long ladder.  See ya in a week.  Our suggestion?  Get that stuff in before you call us!”   And they walk off the job.

Once a worker walks off the job, getting them back is like resisting gravity.  They get other commitments, other jobs……..get frustrated with the owner/contractor……whatever.

“Geez, I had no idea I was the one who was supposed to get all the materials.  I thought the contractor did that”. 

Yeah.  That often happens but I wouldn’t put that responsibility in the hands of the contractor myself.  Especially on a remote site.  Usually they have more than one job going and robbing Peter to finish Paul is ‘part of being’ a contractor so long as they get the stuff back to Peter in time.  I’d rather not chance it.

Plus, when the contractor does it, he/she doesn’t do it to excess, doesn’t do it until the contract is signed, doesn’t ‘shop around’ and, basically, expects to use the hardware store as their inventory.  They expect to make runs for materials.

And that is hugely expensive when building remote.  And it doesn’t have to be that way.

The best way to build remote is to collect stuff years in advance.  But not everyone will do that.  Not every garage is big enough.  So, the second best way is to build the workshop/boathouse/guest cabin/storage shed on the property first.  Then start to ‘fill it’ it with tools and supplies.  Everything from several hammers to several types of glues.  From eight different nail sizes to a dozen  different screw sizes.  And buy in bulk.  Order windows and doors months in advance.  Save the lumber purchase till it is closer to the time of building the house.

Contractors don’t do that kind of thing as a rule.  They tend to supply in ‘present time’.  And, anyway, you will not likely have a contractor.  You’ll be lucky if you can find subcontractors out in the ‘sticks’.  And, even if they bring everything they need to do their job (rare), all the tasks are interrelated to some extent and the electrician may say, “Hey, I can’t wire that room because it is not framed in yet.  Where’s the framer?”

And your electrician walks off the job leaving a small-and-almost-not-worth-it-job to come back to.  You just fell off his/her priority list.

If there is one tip that is most important, it is ‘build all your infrastructure first’.  From paths to sheds, from docks to stairs, from energy sources to water supply.  All that has to get done eventually and doing it first makes the house building go faster and easier.  But tip #2 is ‘have everything on site’ before the workers (in our case the workers were usually just us) get there.

“Geez, Dave, you sound like an expert.  I am impressed!”

Don’t be.  Those are the basic lessons learned from doing it the first time.  If I ever did it again (and I won’t), I’d make new mistakes and learn different tips.  That is what experience is all about.  I doubt that I would be an expert after twenty houses.  But, if you are going to do this thing yourself, those are a couple of my ‘rookie’ tips.

1 thought on “History lessons

  1. It’s the world of cut once measure twice. Taking longer is not an evil thing you know haste makes waste. Added bonus of taking longer is that more thought goes into it which leads to greater satisfaction when it turns out well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.