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Habitat for Humanity

Unlike almost everywhere on this Web site, on this page I mean to be serious continuously.

Habitat for Humanity is a fine not-for profit organization that you should consider enjoying.  HFH builds houses for deserving, low-income families that are in sub-standard or overcrowded housing now.  The homeowner owes a relatively low principal payment and no interest, which makes the house much more affordable.

HFH makes up that deficit through donations of money, objects and labor.  And as mortgage payments flow in, they are used to fund more houses and keep the whole enterprise moving forward.

Money.  Some people donate a few dollars once, and some organizations sponsor many houses every year, which in the Kansas City affiliate as of 2010 cost around $100,000 each.

Objects.  Some people donate a few tools (whether knowingly or not:), and some businesses donate many thousands of dollars worth of tools and supplies such as paint and housewrap and drywall.

Labor.  But most people's experience with Habitat for Humanity is through volunteering on a construction job site, as mine is.

I've also put in some paid time at the Kansas City affiliate.  I was on the payroll for several weeks in 2000, being 99% in charge of the rehab house at 3232 Highland, about which you may read more here.

And since 1997 I've put in a few volunteer hours at KC as well.  I figure roughly way over a couple thousand hours on KCMO sites, many of which early on were spent following orders and many of which since then have been spent giving orders.  On a job site the people in charge are the Pointers, because they point at people and then point where they should go to do something.  I even have my own Bobcat key, about which you can learn more here.

And I've spent another several hundred hours volunteering at the Truman and Heartland affiliates, also in the Kansas City area.

Oh, and I also spent way over a thousand hours writing a series titled "Construction Volunteer How-To Articles".  If you are interested in volunteering your labor for a day to help out on a Habitat house site or any similar project, this series -- over a hundred pages covering 13 topics so far -- might help prepare you.

For that matter, if you own your own home and you want to learn how to use a circular saw or drywall your basement, you will almost certainly find something useful in the How-To articles.


There's a philosophy about construction sites that applies just as well to volunteers as to professionals: Safety, Accuracy, Efficiency.

This simple three-word philosophy encompasses all the construction site goals there are, and the order of those three is no accident.

[Pause for laugh.]

Safety comes first, because it doesn't matter how accurate and efficient workers are if they're getting hurt too much.  Injuries cost time and money, and no construction company can operate successfully if people on the sites are getting hurt too much or too often.  On professional sites, a worker who is too dangerous -- whether to himself or others -- will soon be fired even if he is otherwise really good at his job.  On a volunteer-labor site, you might not get expelled but you will surely be asked to be more careful.

Not to mention that getting hurt . .  well, hurts, about one example of which you can read more here.

Accuracy is second on the list of goals.  Houses must be built accurately enough to work right, to pass building codes, to be easy to work on, and to look good.  As a novice volunteer you will not be expected to know why a door header works or whether code calls for two or three stair stringers.  But you will be expected to follow the instructions you're given the best you can, so if a piece of wood is supposed to be sawn to 92-5/8 inches, then 92 won't do.

As to looking good, some procedures can be performed in such a way that the house is sound and passes code but is still unacceptable.  There's no structural reason to do an accurate job painting trim, and no building inspector is going to care whether one of the deck floorboards sticks out an inch past all the others.  So it's a judgment call how accurate to be when it comes to mere appearance.

One novice volunteer I worked with did a particularly sloppy job attaching aluminum fascia to the gable of a Habitat house.  The piece was going to perform its function perfectly well, but it was ugly.  When I asked whether he might want to try a little harder to make the house look good he said, "Not only ain't this my house, I can't even see it from my house."  Now while I think that's a hilarious response, I will tell you that my standards are different.  What I always say to volunteers who want to know careful to be is "How good would you want it if this were your house?"

Efficiency is the third goal.  Once you are safe enough and accurate enough, you want to get efficient, which means wasting the least time and the fewest objects possible.

The faster and cheaper a Habitat house can be built safely enough and accurately enough, the better.  This is true of any construction company.

For example, if you are too accurate you waste time, which is the opposite of efficiency.  I watched one volunteer measuring and marking each board he was sawing with not one but two crow's-foot marks and then using a Speed Square to mark the cut line.  When I pointed out that measuring for and marking the second crow's foot was 100% unnecessary, he told me about how someone had told him about the Carpenter's Rule (Measure twice, cut once), and, by golly, he was going to follow it!  Clearly this novice was being too careful and thus inefficient.

Remember the board we wanted to shorten to 92-5/8 inches?  If you mistakenly saw it to 92-3/4, it is not necessary to cut it again, because 1/8th of an inch is within tolerances.  More important, it is not desirable to try to saw off that last 1/8 inch, not only because that's a difficult and dangerous cut but also because to do so would be time-consuming and thus inefficient, and even less efficient if three or four other people are waiting for you to get finished with the piece or the saw.

Several procedures performed by novice Habitat volunteers are repetitive, and some of those are complicated, such as attaching drywall and siding.  It is especially in these multi-step procedures where you can get efficient remarkably quickly (if you try hard).

For example, when you start hanging siding on a wall, you and your other crew members will be slow and hesitant.  It will take you a long time to hang that first piece of siding correctly, i.e., accurately.  You'll have lots of questions (a few of which I've tried to answer here) and you'll make mistakes.  You will be inefficient.

But if you strive to learn from each such mistake, and if you keep thinking through what you're doing, and if you seek advice, you will get more efficient.  The harder you use your brain the faster that will happen.  You will find it pleasurable to realize at the end of the day how much better you and your teammates are at hanging siding than you were when you started.

Volunteering on a Habitat job site is good for a deserving family, it's good for the neighborhood, and it's good for you.

But of course, before you do anything else, you should go to the HFH series of Fun Pix I have accumulated so far, starting, oddly, here.

As I said at the top, Habitat for Humanity is a fine organization, and I hope you are interested enough to follow up.

And in case I haven't promoted it enough yet, you can go to the How-To Articles that tell you a lot about constructions sites and building a house.


Habitat for Humanity International

Umbrella organization


Habitat for Humanity Int'l.
121 Habitat Street
Americus, GA 31709-3498 USA



Habitat for Humanity
Kansas City

Affiliate territory:
Kansas City, Missouri


Habitat for Humanity KC
1423 East Linwood Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64109


Habitat for Humanity

Affiliate territory:
Wyandotte, Leavenworth and Johnson Counties in Kansas and Clay and Platte Counties in Missouri


Habitat for Humanity KC
1401 Fairfax Trafficway
Building D, Suite 323
Kansas City, KS 66115

913 342-3047 (Kansas) or
816-468-7190 (Missouri)

Truman Heritage
Habitat for Humanity

Affiliate territory:
Eastern Jackson County, Missouri


Truman Heritage Habitat
for Humanity
505 North Dodgion Street
Independence, Missouri 64050




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