House building 101: Keep laughing
The snow has begun to fall as the roof goes on; things are slowly moving forward. But I would like, for a moment, to look backward: to tell you about my garage and the person who taught me the greatest thing I needed to know about home building.
I haven’t talked much or written at all about Pat this week. But I’ve been thinking about him a lot. I think of him when I walk under our timber frame carport. I think about him when I see the moldings around our windows. I remember him stuffing insulation into my walls. I hear him laugh and tell me I won’t be cold in this tiny home.
Pat’s laugh is something I’ll never be able to separate from his memory.
Nick and I woke up Wednesday morning to learn that Pat had suddenly, tragically left this world following a work accident near Stewart, B.C. We lay in bed for a long time, staring at those walls as the stove heated our little home. It’s been several days and I’m still processing. But if there’s one thing I learned from Pat, it’s this: Keep laughing.
I bought my seven-acre property five years ago and the following fall decided to build a 16-by-24-foot garage with a small suite above as a temporary living space. The project took most of the winter. As a novice homebuilder, I was learning as I went — mostly that budgets and timelines are elastic, and that building is inherently stressful.
Pat was one of many that my builder hired to work on the garage. It was easy to warm up to his humour and easygoing nature. When things got stressful, he was still laughing. And he was still there. I came to realize that, through a series of events that I won’t get into here, the guys working on my garage hadn’t been paid in some time. Slowly they trickled away until only a couple remained. Pat was one of the last to move on.
The “Garage Mahal”, 2009
“The mantra for this garage is, ‘It’ll do,’” he told me with a laugh as he worked hard to get the work done.
He told me later — with a smile and a casual wave of his hand that said he’d never been worried — that he had eventually been paid. Months after the garage was finished, I hired him to add a carport. He came with his wife Phillipa and the two worked together to create the addition to the garage that no one ever believes is just a garage — surely it’s too beautiful.
House building is inherently stressful. It’s the most you will spend on a single item in your life. You find yourself laying out half a year’s income in a single purchase. Mistakes happen, budgets get blown, timelines move slowly. It’s easy to take stress and frustration out on the people around you, whether it’s your partner or your builder. Here are a few survival tips:
Educate yourself about contracts and quotes, and use them. Create detailed budgets. Learn about holdbacks and builders’ liens (so you never have to deal with one). Hire friends, but keep it professional. Be realistic about your budgets and don’t assume anything. Most importantly, never, ever lose sight of the big picture. Your sanity is likely worth more than the few thousand dollars you’re worrying about. When it’s all over, you’ll forget the hard times and love the home you’ve created.
When things become stressful in life — house building or otherwise — never forget to hold the people around you close. Be kind. Be gentle. Like Pat, move forward without blame, without worry, without getting hung up on the little things.
And never forget to laugh.