Category A HOUSE

Essential Hand Tools

The fundamental tasks of carpentry are mea­suring, marking, cutting, and joining. And though circular saws and power drill-drivers have largely replaced handsaws, braces, and screwdrivers, many carpentry tasks can still be done with hand tools (see the photo above). Like power tools, many hand tools have improved over the years.

Подпись: A measuring tape is simply a long ruler in a convenient, easy-to-use package. Just like a ruler, a tape is laid out in feet, inches, and fractions of inches. Knowing how to read a tape quickly and accurately is an essential skill for anyone involved in the building trades. The key to being able to read a tape is learn-ing and understanding all the subdivisions of an inch (see the illustration at right). Each inch is divided into halves, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths. Once you can discern the meaning of all these little marks, you'll have no problem measuring 13 ft., 93/i6 in., or any other odd di-mension. Study the drawing and your own tape until you can rattle off accurate readings at a glance. In addition to feet and inches, a tape also has special marks at 16 in., 32 in., and so on to indicate the layout of most floor joists and wall studs. Some tapes also have decimal equiva-lents and a metric conversion scale on the back. Подпись: READING A TAPE MEASURE
Essential Hand Tools
Подпись: It's important to know at a glance what the different marks on a tape measure mean. Practice using a tape so your measurements will be accurate.


Essential Hand ToolsTape measures

Just as I sometimes enjoy writing letters on my old manual typewriter, it’s also fun to measure with my old 6-ft. wooden folding rule. Flexible steel tapes have replaced old-fashioned wooden rules, because they’re more compact and capable of measuring much longer distances quickly and accurately. Steel tapes come in many sizes and lengths, but the most common are 16-ft., 25-ft., and 30-ft. models. I prefer a 16-ft. tape, because it feels better in my hand.

A 100-ft. tape is useful for checking building lines and squaring foundations. Tape mea­sures have moving parts and receive heavy use,

so use the following tips to treat them with Measuring and marking. A steel tape measure is one of the most-used tools

special care: in a carpenter’s kit.

Подпись: Check a level for level. To check a level's accuracy, place it edge to edge against another level and against a flat surface that's close to level. If the level vials on both tools read the same, you can assume both levels are accurate. Test the vials that read for plumb in the same way. Подпись: Horizontal and vertical. Available in different lengths, levels can quickly test for plumb (vertical) and level (horizontal). [Photo by HFHI/David Spielman]

• Don’t leave a tape extended open on the floor, where it could be stepped on and creased. A creased tape will never work properly.

• If a tape is allowed to retract too quickly, the hook can break off when it hits the case. Learn to slow the tape with your fingers as the hook approaches the case.

• Clean any tape that gets gummed with wood pitch, tar, or caulk. A soft rag damp­ened with mineral spirits works well to remove those materials.

• When working in wet weather, wipe the tape dry with a cloth before reeling it into the case. Moisture inside the tape case can cause rust and friction, which can shorten the tape’s life span.

Pocket calculators

Building a house involves math problems galore. Whether figuring out the amount of concrete needed for a driveway, the square footage of floor space in a house, the number of studs for a wall, or the amount of shingles needed for the roof, these are not numbers you want to leave to

Подпись: New calculators that work in feet and inches make it easy to solve many construction problems. [Photo by Don Charles Blom]

chance. Math challenged or not, I recommend using a small hand-held calculator. There are several on the market, and they work in feet, inches, and fractions (see Resources on p. 279).


Checking for level (horizontal) and plumb (vertical) are construction tasks that carpenters do every day. Both 2-ft. and 4-ft. levels are good to have around. The 2-ft. model allows you to get into tighter spaces—to check a header or rough sill for level, for example. A 4-ft. or 6-ft. model provides greater accuracy across longer distances, such as when check­ing walls for plumb. More so than perhaps any other carpentry tool, a level must be treated with loving care to remain useful (an inaccurate level does you no favors). Check your levels for accuracy before you put them to work (see the tip at top left).

Подпись: Get the right angle. A small, triangular rafter square is designed to lay out 90-degree and 45- degree angles quickly, but it's also capable of laying out just about any angle you might need.

Essential Hand Tools


Everyone wants a house that is built straight, plumb, and square. This may be why lasers are now almost as common as hammers on the job site. Small, self-leveling laser units cast a beam of light that can help ensure accurate measure­ments. Some of these laser units are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand (see Resources on p. 279).


Most things a carpenter builds are either square or rectangular. With a good square or two, you can mark square lines exactly and make square cuts precisely. These days, the most useful square is a small rafter square, often called a Speed® square—the brand name of a popular model (see the photo at left). This triangular square fits conveniently inside a nail bag. It’s rugged and easy to use and lets you lay out almost any desired angle, in addition to the usual 45-degree and 90-degree angles.

Подпись: Snap a line. Loaded with powdered chalk, a chalkline stretched tightly between two points is snapped to make straight lines quickly and accurately. Marking tools

Once you’ve measured, it’s time to mark. A carpenter’s pencil and a lumber crayon, or keel, are the two most common marking tools you’ll need. A carpenter’s pencil is flat (so it won’t roll away if you set it down), and it’s less apt to break than a regular pencil. A keel marks easily where pencils can’t—on materials such as tarpaper, housewrap, and concrete. It’s waterproof, too.

Подпись: NAILING WITH A HAMMEREssential Hand ToolsEssential Hand ToolsПодпись:Essential Hand Tools
A chalkline is also essential. The first chalkline I used was simply a string pulled through a solid chunk of chalk. Today’s chalklines come in cases or reels that hold both

Подпись:a string and a supply of powdered chalk. You pull the chalk-covered string out of the case, snap your line, and then rewind the string in­side the case, where it becomes covered in chalk again, ready for the next line. The chalk comes in many colors, including a few neon shades. Chalk that leaves a permanent line is good for working in rainy weather.


Carpenters can be a bit touchy about their hammers. You may have more luck borrow­ing a carpenter’s pickup truck than a favorite hammer. These days, most framers west of the Mississippi prefer a 21-oz. hammer with a ser­rated face and a 16-in.- or 18-in.-long wooden handle. My preference is the well-balanced Dalluge® hammer. Women friends in the trade tell me they like the Stiletto®, a 14-oz. fram­ing hammer made of titanium with a steel face. East of the Mississippi, I see carpenters mostly using smooth-faced hammers with metal or fiberglass handles.

Hammer faces and weights vary greatly (see the photo above). The best advice I can give is to select a professional-grade hammer that feels
good to you. Definitely check out a hammer in person before you buy it. It should match your physical strength, feel well balanced, and be comfortable in your hand. When I bring a new hammer home, I usually reinforce the upper part of the wooden handle by wrapping it with electrical tape.

Utility knives and tinsnips

A few more essential tools round out a carpen­ter’s basic, must-have kit. Perhaps foremost on this list is a utility knife. On the job site, a utility knife may be used to open packages or cut building paper, fiberglass insulation, shingles, vinyl, or drywall. You’ll also need it several times a day to sharpen a carpenter’s pencil. I recommend using a knife with a retractable, replaceable blade and a handle with space inside to hold several replacement blades. When a blade becomes dull, replace it or restore its edge with a whetstone. A dull blade doesn’t cut as neatly and is dangerous because of the extra force required to make it cut.

Подпись: Shrink-wrap strengthens a wooden handle. Available from electrical suppliers, plastic shrink-wrap can add strength to a wooden hammer handle right where it counts—where the handle meets the head. Slip a 6-in.-long piece of the plastic wrap onto the handle, then shrink it in place with a hair dryer.Подпись: Stay sharp. A good, sharp utility knife has many uses on a construction site, from sharpening a pencil to trimming shingles to opening packing material.Essential Hand ToolsYou’ll need a good pair of tinsnips to cut
steel packaging bands around lumber. Snips are

Подпись: Builder's suspenders can lighten your load. Available where tool belts and pouches are sold, builder's suspenders can help take some weight off your waist and put it on your shoulders. They look good, too.Подпись: Create a tote for tools. Fit-ted with a pouch-covered canvas or nylon insert, a 5-gal. plastic bucket replaces an old-fashioned carpenter's toolbox.also essential when working with aluminum cladding and vinyl siding. Be careful when us­ing these cutting tools. Accidents with utility knives are common.


Getting Acquainted with Tools and the Parts of a House

The craft of carpentry has a long and honorable heritage. Ages before we began recording our history, our ancestors were shaping and joining materials to create various types of shelters. Today, we are the fortunate inheritors of centuries of accumulated knowledge, experience, skills, and tools. Although carpentry continues to be transformed by technology (from computer-aided design programs to cordless tools and pneumatic nailers), many basic tools and techniques remain unchanged.

It still takes a human hand wrapped around a hammer handle to build a decent place to live. Like basic carpentry tools, many parts of the house have stayed the same over the years. Technology has improved some of the parts, as well as created new ones. But the house is still the same basic structure it always was. Before you start building a house, it’s essential to learn the com­mon language spoken on construction sites and in home centers, lumberyards, and building-supply stores.

Tool-Buying Tips

When I started working as a carpenter in the late 1940s, almost every task was done with hand tools. I remember spending hours cutting a pile of 2 x4s to length with a crosscut saw. Floors were sheathed with 1x6s, both ends of which had to be cut at 45-degree angles. Cutting all the pieces of a house by hand was a big job, to say the least. In 1950, when I bought my first circular saw, my world as a carpenter changed forever.

BASICSBut what began as a boon (the proliferation of new and better tools) has
over the years also become downright bewildering. These days, the number of

Подпись: Avoid overload-ing. As you move from one phase of construction to another, make sure you're not car-rying around unnecessary tools or nails in your tool belt. The added weight can tire you.


Have a good job-site handsaw. A compact, tool­box-size handsaw is good to have around in case someone else is using the circular saw or you have just a few boards to cut.

tools on the market can make buying tools a difficult task. Each time I walk into a tool center or receive a tool catalog in the mail, I am amazed by the dizzying array of carpentry tools offered for sale. When there are 50 differ­ent models, even buying something as basic as a hammer can be frustrating.

Try before you buy

So what do you look for when buying a tool? Well, it helps to remember that tools are not like stretch socks, where one size fits all. A circular saw, for example, may have the right combina­tion of power and weight but still feel out of balance or awkward when you hold it. A tool that’s not comfortable is like a shoe that is one size too small. It’s never a bargain, regardless of price. A tool that feels good in your hands will most likely be easy and safe to use. So, whenever possible, try before you buy. Visit home centers
and tool dealers that have good selections of tools. Grip the tool to test its balance and feel. If you have small hands, rule out tools that aren’t easy to hold comfortably. Try the controls and adjustments, too. Use this hands-on information to make your selections.

Get advice from the pros

Talk to carpenters, who use tools daily, and ask them for their preferences. Research magazines, such as Fine Homebuilding and the Journal of Light Construction, which evaluate tools. And always buy the best quality you can afford.

Most of us know the experience of wishing we had bought quality rather than a piece of junk. Professional tools cost more initially, but they are more durable, more powerful, and easier and safer to use. Ironically, they make it easier to be a beginner.

Buy tools as you need them

If you’re intending to work professionally as a carpenter, you’ll eventually acquire quite a large collection of tools. If, however, you’re only plan­ning to build one house or work with Habitat as a weekend volunteer, a small kit of essential tools should stand you in good stead. In addi­tion to the basics described on the following pages, you can acquire more specialized tools as you need them, which is the best way to do it anyway. Otherwise, you may wind up with un­necessary tools that clutter your tool belt, your storage bucket, and your life. You can also rent specialized tools if you plan to use them just a few times.


It’s not uncommon for builders or owner – builders to view the local building department as enemy turf. Let me suggest that your building experience will be immeasurably more positive, productive, and efficient if you view the build­ing department as a resource and think of the building inspector as someone who can help you. Certainly there are exceptions, as there are in any field, but, by and large, building depart­ments and building inspectors exist to protect prospective homeowners from unscrupulous or incompetent builders and owner-builders from themselves. The building inspector knows the building codes, which have been developed over the years to ensure that safe, durable houses are built. Your building inspector has the same



This is the floor plan for a simple three bedroom house. With it you can see the size of the building, the arrangement of the living spaces, and the location of doors and windows.


Подпись: - 38 ft.A plot plan lets you see, from above, the size of the lot and where your house will be placed on the land. It also shows where utilities like water and electricity are located.


Sf— 6 FT. —if— 6 FT.-




24 FT.






12 IN. x 12 IN. PIERS


6 FT.


Using this plan, a concrete contractor can build a crawl-space foundation for your house. Other foundations can be on a slab or include a basement.


■ 10 FT-



goals that you do. He or she wants a house that doesn’t leak, isn’t a fire hazard, complies with zoning requirements, and can stand up to every­day use and all but the most severe natural disas­ters. Building inspectors really are on your side.

Taking the plans to a building department to request permits need not be a big affair. I have often submitted basic plans on 11-in. by 14-in. sheets of paper. Plans do need to be drawn to scale, and the most common scale is ‘/4 in. =

1 ft.; this means that 1 in. on a plan equals 4 ft. in the actual house. Using graph paper can help with preliminary designing, but an inexpensive computer-aided design (CAD) program makes professional-looking plans that are simple to draw and easy to change. For a simple house, most building departments need the basic types of drawings shown on pp. 14, 16, and 17:

• Plot or site plan to give an overall view from above, showing the shape and dimensions of the property and the size and location of the building.

• Foundation plan to show the location and size of the concrete footings, walls, and piers that will support the floor frame.

• Floor plan to provide a bird’s-eye view of the size and arrangement of living spaces. The floor plan shows the location and size of doors and windows and often the location of electrical, plumbing, and heating system components (see the symbols explained in the sidebar at right). Even the location, spac­ing, and direction of the roof trusses can be found here.

• Wall sections to show the “guts” of the floors, walls, or ceilings. Think of a wall section drawing as an apple that’s been sliced in half to reveal its core (see the drawing on p. 16). Both section and detail plans (see p. 17) are sometimes drawn at a larger scale to better identify the details that wouldn’t show up as clearly in a smaller scale.

Подпись: READING FLOOR PLANS Building a house requires that you learn more than one new lan-guage. Besides the terminology of building (plates, braces, lined walls, plumb, toenail, and the like), there's also the visual vo-cabulary of lines, symbols, and notations found on building plans. Fortunately, most of these symbols are fairly easy to understand (see the illustration below). It's important to become familiar with building plans so that you can begin to visualize, from a two-dimensional representation, what the house will look like with the walls framed and the fixtures and appliances in place. It's far easier (and less expensive) to make a change at the planning stage than after the walls and rough plumbing are in place.


Подпись: Wall Window Door (and direction it opens) Sliding doors Bifold doors Insulation Sink and Lavatory Bathtub Shower Toilet Stove Refrigerator Washer and Dryer Water heater Furnace STEP 4 SECURE THE BUILDING PERMITSПодпись: We see symbols on our highways that tell us of an approaching curve or that children are nearby. Symbols are also used on plans to tell us where to place a window or where a water heater goes or when to install a bifold door, for example.Elevation plan to show how each side of the house will look. Elevation drawings show the foundation, wall height, siding and trim, roof

Подпись:Подпись: 12Подпись: METAL GUSSET Подпись: 3/4-IN. T&G PLYWOODПодпись:Подпись: PRESSURE-TREATED MUDSILL Подпись:Подпись: 1/2-IN. EXTERIOR-GRADE PLYWOOD SHEATHINGПодпись:Подпись:Подпись:Подпись: SIDING EXTENDS 1 IN. BELOW SILLПодпись:Подпись: GRAVELПодпись: PERIMETER DRAIN Подпись: FOOTINGSTEP 4 SECURE THE BUILDING PERMITSПодпись:Подпись: With a section plan you can see most everything that goes into a wall or any other part of the house.Подпись: Improve your design skills. Check with your local community college if you’re interested in learning how to read house plans or design a house. Most community colleges offer courses in computer- aided design, drafting, and construction and pitch, and roof overhang at the eaves.

• Detail plans to provide close-up views of small sections of the house. These are use­ful for providing clarification or additional detail that isn’t shown in the other drawings.

If you can draw it, you can build it

If you’re drawing your own plans, the process— though slow and often frustrating—will give you a clearer understanding of your house than many builders ever have. It can save you from making costly mistakes and will likely contrib­ute to building a better house.

A good way to test your ability to visualize a house design based on plans is to visit some building sites where you can examine both the plans and the actual construction details as the house goes up. If you’ve bought stock plans, they may seem bewildering initially; as you work with them, they’ll become much easier to read and understand. The ability to both draw and read plans gets easier with experience.


Building a house is a process that consists of a seemingly endless number of steps. Knowing which step follows which—for example, when to call the electrical company to install a tempo­rary power pole, when to call the plumber to install drains and vents in the joist system—is key to organizing tasks and materials so that work isn’t held up. This knowledge comes primarily from experience, but for the first­time builder I’ve listed most of the steps in the process (see pp. 18—23).

When my brothers and I were building houses, we spent many hours planning and organizing so that we always knew what to do next, who would do it, and when and how it would be done. Organizing time and materials is an essential skill for any builder, whether that builder is working with professionals, friends, family, or Habitat volunteers. Staying organized and on top of the situation is
especially important when working with volun­teers and unskilled helpers. Careful planning, good organization, and effective communica­tion will ensure that less-experienced workers are able to contribute meaningfully and feel good about the work they are doing.

Display patience, understanding, and openness

People of all ages and abilities come to Habitat job sites wanting to work. Try to give them work that they can do successfully, so that more than just a house is built. Sometimes it’s easy to get along with your coworkers; at other times, it’s quite challenging. You’ll find this to be true on a Habitat project, on your own construction site, and in every situation in life. We all know what it’s like to work with people who are arrogant, have an attitude, or are unwilling to listen and learn. We also know what’s it’s like to work with people who treat us as equals, listen to us, show patience when we are trying to learn a new skill, and praise our efforts even when we fall short of expecta­tions. Try to be the latter, and have patience with the former.

Подпись: Many hands, one goal. Working together gets the job done. [Photo by HFHI/Gregg Pachkowski] STEP 4 SECURE THE BUILDING PERMITS

fjftr Habitat

"111 for Humanity

A guide for the first-time builder

The checklist on the following pages contains most of the major steps involved in building a small house. Naturally, there will always be un­foreseen or site-specific steps, but this list should serve as a fairly thorough guide to building a house, from raw idea to move-in day.

Getting started

• Look for land and determine whether you can build on it.

• Acquire a piece of land.

• Survey your land to confirm the boundaries.

• Buy or draw up plans or acquire plans through Habitat (see Resources on p. 279).

• Obtain permits from the building depart­ment and other departments, if necessary.


It is important to have a decent place to live. Most of us don’t want to live in a mansion. We only want a clean, safe place where we can live and raise our children. A decent house uplifts our spirits and provides dignity and hope for the future.

It is hard for many people to realize what it’s like to live in a moldy, leaky house with rat holes in the wall and plumbing that’s inadequate or nonexistent. Yet that is the condition of millions of people living around the world today. Poor housing is not just somewhere else. Every city in this country has its share.

Habitat for Humanity has a goal of eliminating poor hous­ing by working with families who need a hand up. There is no magic wand to wave that will produce a new home. Decent housing is built because people like you and me roll up our sleeves, pick up our hammers, and start building. What we may not be able to do alone can be accomplished when we work together. Lots of sweat, a little skill, and a shared vision get the job done.

During this process of working together, we build much more than houses. We meet all kinds of interesting people and develop close friendships as we work side by side, take breaks together, and share stories.

Подпись: Sheathing the floor. Подпись: Raising the walls. Подпись:

• Consider an environmental site assessment.

• Contact subcontractors for the foundation, plumbing, electrical, heating, lumber, and material companies. Get bids on work and materials. Select subcontractors and suppli­ers. Schedule work and deliveries.

• Take out liability insurance.

• Contact the gas, electric, and telephone com­panies to locate on-site utilities.

• Prepare the site.

• Bring in temporary electrical power.


• Trench and prepare for concrete footings and a foundation or slab.

• Before pouring concrete, lay down a gravel bed and install a plastic moisture barrier, if necessary.

• Call the building department to schedule an inspection of the concrete foundation footing and reinforcing steel.

• Have the footings and then the foundation or slab poured.


• Have the floor framing and sheathing materials delivered.

• Frame the subfloor.

• Install the rough plumbing (water, gas, and waste lines) and heating pipes.

• Call the building department for the floor joist framing, rough plumbing, and heating inspections.

• Sheathe the floor.


• Have the wall framing and wall sheathing materials delivered.

• Place chalklines on the floor to show the wall locations.

• Plate the walls, then cut and locate the head­ers. Frame and erect the walls.

• Brace the walls straight and plumb.

• Place the shower-tub units in the bathrooms; cover them to protect the fiberglass.

• Sheathe the walls, if necessary.

Подпись: Sheathing the roof. STEP 4 SECURE THE BUILDING PERMITS

• Have materials delivered for the exterior porch, deck, and stairs. Build the porch, deck, and stairs. After they’re built, cover the deck and stairs with scraps of OSB to protect them until the job is finished.


• Order the roof trusses at least two weeks in advance of your anticipated need.

• Have the roof sheathing, fascia, and trusses delivered and set on framed walls.

• Install the trusses.

• Install the fascia or gutter board and the barge rafters.

• Install the roof sheathing on the trusses and the felt underlay on the sheathing.

• If required, have the roof sheathing inspected.

• Call the plumber to put vent and exhaust pipes through the roof.

• Shingle the roof. Install the ridge vent.

Doors, windows, siding, and paint

• Order the windows and exterior doors two to three weeks before your anticipated need.

• Install the housewrap and exterior vapor barrier where needed.

• Plumb the trimmers and install the windows and doors.

• Have the siding and trim delivered; cover them with plastic for protection. Prime both sides of the wood siding and trim. Install the siding.

• Paint the exterior.

• Install the gutters.


• Install the rough electrical, heating and/or cooling ductwork, and gas lines.

• Install the cables for the telephone, television, and doorbell.

Подпись: Finishing vinyl-siding work. Подпись: Installing fiberglass batt insulation. Schedule and have inspections for the rough framing and the electrical, plumbing, and heating systems.


Installing a window. [Photo courtesy HFHI]

Подпись: Nailing up drywall. Insulation and ventilation

• Insulate the walls, ceilings, and floors.

• Install the interior vapor barrier where needed.

• Schedule the insulation and vapor barrier inspections.

Drywall and paint

• Have the drywall delivered. Install drywall on the walls and ceilings.

• Schedule and have the drywall nailing (or screw) inspection.

• Tape and finish the drywall.

• Paint the interior ceilings and walls.

Finish floors

• Install the underlayment for the vinyl floor covering.

• Put down the vinyl floors.

• Install all remaining finish floors (wood, tile, etc.) except for carpeting.

• Protect the floors until construction is completed and all major appliances are installed.

Built-ins and trim

• Install the cabinets and countertops.

• Order prehung interior doors two weeks be­fore your anticipated need. Install the doors.

Подпись: Installing an interior prehung door.STEP 4 SECURE THE BUILDING PERMITSH ave the trim—door and window cas­ings, baseboards, windowsills, aprons, and closet shelves and poles—delivered. Install the trim.

Painting the interior trim.



• Prime, paint, and finish-coat the doors and trim. Touch up where necessary.

Finishing touches

• Install the finish plumbing and the electrical and heating units.

• Install the door locks.

• Install the medicine cabinet, towel bars, closet poles, and other hardware and fixtures.

• Lay wall-to-wall carpeting.

• Complete the work on the driveway and walkways (where applicable).

• Put on the house number. Set up the mailbox.

• Grade around the house so the ground slopes and drains water away from the house.

• Landscape. Plant trees, grass, shrubs, and flowers.

Подпись: Installing a wall cabinet. Schedule the final inspection.


Small doesn’t mean boring

Whether we admit it or not, we all respond emotionally to our surroundings. Buildings create interior environments that can be drab,

Подпись:distinctive, inspiring, or discouraging. How a building looks, how it’s laid out, the materials used—all these influence how we feel. I’ve vis­ited huge, expensive homes that were not very inviting. Just because a house is big does not mean that it is warm and attractive.

Even a small, plain house can be made to feel inviting and uplifting, giving us pleasure, raising our spirits, and making us feel safe and secure (see the photo on the facing page). In the years that I’ve been a Habitat volunteer, I’ve had
the opportunity to give a few humble houses a bit more personality and life than they’d other­wise have had. In this book, I’ve tried to include many of the lessons I’ve learned—things such as ensuring that there are two sources of light in every room. For example, add an easy-to-install tube skylight in a dark area. Simple things like this can help make rooms bright and cheery.

Ask the right questions

Getting the details right will make life more convenient when you move into your house. Details also present many opportunities to make spaces special by using color schemes, hardware, unique materials, and built-in features (see the photo at left). As you’re work­ing out your house’s design, ask yourself these key questions: “Is there a place to set groceries when I enter? Where will we hang up our coats or take off our boots when we come inside in the winter? Is it easy to get food to the table and to clear the dishes?” More than anything else you do, thinking about how you will actu­ally live in the house will help you refine its design and ensure that the experience of living in it is a pleasant one.


Often, especially in the city, houses are just plopped down square on the lot with a 15-ft. setback from the street and a 5-ft. side yard to meet building-code requirements. Such a building is a stranger to its land. Sometimes we can do better than that. Ideally, a house should be of the land, not merely on the land. Pay attention to the natural lay of the land, the path the sun takes overhead, the direc­tion from which the prevailing wind blows, the good views that long to be seen, and the bad views that really should be hidden. Try to position the house so that you bring some of the outdoors in, but take into account the landscape’s features. In high-wind areas, the gable end of a house should be turned so it isn’t exposed to the prevailing winds. A great way to get information and inspiration for a new home design is to camp out on your building site. You’ll learn about the path of the sun, prevailing breezes, and nice views.

But building is more than just a physical and intellectual feat. Open your heart, and let it tell you what feels good. Trust your intu­ition. You’ll wind up with a much better house.

Small is beautiful. With some thoughtful design, a small house can have a warm, cozy feel while still offering plenty of conve­nience and privacy.

[Photo by Charles Miller, courtesy Fine Homebuilding magazine,

SITING A HOUSE© The Taunton Press, Inc.]

chair accessibility. And keep in mind that the direction in which a door swings can affect how well a room works and where you can place the furniture.

Other cost-saving strategies have more to do with materials and energy use. Keep the kitchen and the bath on the same side of the house to minimize rough plumbing expenses. In cold regions of the country, run plumbing lines in in­terior walls and enclose the porch as a mudroom to minimize heat loss when coming and going.

To find out which house designs work well in your area, seek advice from local builders, build­ing inspectors, designers, or architects. You’ll find it’s not too difficult to modify basic plans to suit your needs and meet building-code requirements in your region (see Resources on p. 279).

Check with your building department to see whether your house is required to have a garage. Habitat for Humanity’s policy is to “build for people, not cars,” but some municipalities require garages. Sometimes, however, you can
get a variance to build off-street parking rather than a garage.

Design for the future

Consider building a wheelchair ramp leading to an entry or at least providing room for a ramp to be built in the future. An accessible ramp has a 1-in-12 rise (1 ft. of rise for every 12 ft. of length). When designing a house, it’s smart to look beyond what your needs are today. Try to think about and allow for expansion in the future. An addition to the family—whether a new child or an elderly parent—often requires adding a bedroom. If you plan ahead, you’ll have room to expand when you need to. This can save a lot of work and money down the line.


The bumper-sticker slogan, “Live Simply That Others May Simply Live,” speaks to the design aspects of an affordable house. To increase the cost of a house, all you need to do is complicate its design. Affordable housing is, by nature, small and simple. The same formula that makes for a safe house in earthquake country—small, low, and light—makes for an affordable house anywhere in the country.

Money-saving design ideas

The houses featured throughout this book are some of the most cost-efficient designs you can build (see the photo on the facing page). This single-story structure has a simple gable roof

Подпись: Habitat houses are affordable and easy to build. Like most Habitat houses, this one (in Charlotte, N.C.) is designed to make economical use of basic building materials. Подпись: that extends over a small porch, where the main entry is located. On a small lot, where setbacks seriously limit the footprint of the house, you may need to consider a small, two-story design. Habitat for Humanity has a good selection of basic house plans that fit the needs of most families (see Resources on p. 279). Admittedly, the bedrooms are not discotheque size, but you can do your dancing in the living and dining room. In a house, quantity of space doesn’t necessarily translate into quality of life. When my children were young, I enclosed our front porch and made two 5-ft. by 9-ft. rooms. They were cozy, sun-filled spaces; one was used for study, one for music. To my surprise, those two tiny rooms became the most popular parts of the house. A well-sited, well-designed house elicits that kind of reaction (see the sidebar at right). Another way to conserve space and save money is to choose a floor plan that reduces or eliminates hallways. As you look over a house design, remember that doorways need to be at least 32 in. wide—36 in. for easy wheel- Practice building with a scale model. By as­sembling a scale model of your house, you can troubleshoot the building process, solving prob­lems before you begin full-scale construction. You can buy balsa wood in different dimensions and other model-making supplies from a well – stocked hobby shop or craft supply store.


If you’re building a house, somewhere along the line you’ll likely need to hire a con­tractor. Whether it’s a surveyor, excavator, foundation contractor, plumber, electri­cian, or other tradesperson, you’ll want to choose carefully. Regardless of the job, always get bids from at least three contractors. Ask questions about their work, ask to see other work they have done, and ask for names of former clients, then follow up by talking with some of their previous clients. Make sure the contractor you choose is fully insured and bonded. Finally, before hiring anyone, call your state contractor’s board to see whether any complaints have ever been filed against your prospective contractor. (Look in the blue pages of the phone book for the appropriate department within your state’s consumer-protection division.)

When you interview each contractor, pay attention to his or her attitude. You want someone who listens to you. What you don’t need is someone who acts as though he or she knows what you need better than you do. Get a written cost quote that includes a detailed description of the work to be done and a completion date. Make sure all the quotes you receive are for identical work.

Подпись: Protect trees and vegetation. If you want trees, vegetation, and other site features to be preserved during the construction process, rope them off before the work begins. Heavy equipment can damage roots that are close to the surface. It can also compact soil, limiting water absorption.Most contractors are in business because they do competent work for a fair price. But this is the real world and, unfortunately, not every contractor is honest. I recently received a call from a distraught couple who had given a roofing contractor a $2,000 deposit to have their house reshingled. When the couple called to find out why the contractor hadn’t shown up to do the work, the phone number provided by the “contractor" turned out to be disconnected. So please, take care.

know you’re looking for land, and focus on the outskirts of the town or city where you’d like to build. But above all, be persistent. Keep your energy and optimism high and you’ll find the right piece of land.


Site preparation can mean many things (see the photo on the facing page). In Oregon, for exam­ple, you’re likely to have a huge tangle of black­berry vines to subdue. In the southeast, your land may be covered with kudzu. I once built a house on what looked like an old junkyard—the lot was strewn with a dozen dismantled cars and several old motorcycles, which had to be removed before we could start the construction process. Removing vegetation or junk from a
lot may be just the beginning, though. Another possibility is that you might encounter hard rock, which may require blasting. In any case, you’ll most likely need to hire a contractor to level the land, establish proper drainage, put in a septic tank or sewer connection, prep the drive­way, or dig trenches for the foundation footing. If you bring in heavy equipment, do your best to communicate to the operator that you want to save existing trees and to work native plants into the landscape when the project is finished.

Run power to the site

Before you can build, you’ll need to run electri­cal power to the site. Most builders contact the power company to arrange for a temporary power pole to be set up on the site (see the photo on p. 10). Another option is to ask a neighbor

Подпись:HIRING A CONTRACTORПодпись: Neatness counts. A clean, well-organized job site enhances safety and improves construction efficiency. [Photo © Roger Turk] to allow you to use—and pay for—electricity while you are building.

Remember, you’re going to live in this neigh­borhood. There’s no time like the present to be friendly and to get to know your neighbors. If you’re building in a remote area, you’ll probably need a generator to get electricity to the site.

I’ve built many houses using a portable, gas – powered generator. Make sure your generator is capable of supplying power to several tools at once.

Provide a fence for safety and security

Installing a fence around your site is a good idea. It can deter or prevent the theft of tools and building materials. It also makes the site safer by discouraging unauthorized visits.

Liability insurance is also a good idea, and it may even be required if you’re borrowing money from a bank. Always work to keep your site safe, organized, and free of debris, especially boards with nails protruding from them. Stack unused materials neatly, keep trenches covered, and limit access to any unsafe areas. One nail in a worker’s foot or a bad ankle sprain from tripping into a trench can cost a lot of time in medical attention and recovery.


Site, Design, Permits, and Preparation

Building a house is a long journey, and one of the most important characteris­tics you can possess is optimism. In this context, I often think about President Jimmy Carter, who has done so much to promote the work of Habitat for Humanity. Over the years, he and his wife Rosalynn have helped build nearly 3,000 houses in the sincere belief that decent housing can be made available to every human being. As you take your first steps toward building a house, remember Mr. Carter’s optimistic attitude, and make it your own.

The homebuilding process can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t been through a house construction project from start to finish. This book is here to help you. By gaining a good understanding of when, why, and how things are done, you’ll also gain confidence in your ability to build a house that’s comfortable, functional, and affordable. Take care, and hold on to your optimistic attitude. Enjoy the step-by-step journey and all the people who help out along the way.


The first step in building a house is finding a place to put it. This is not a step to be taken lightly. There are many factors to consider, not the least of which are the exact location of property lines, the setback and other zoning require­ments (the distance a house must be set back from property lines), and whether there are any easements or restrictions on what or where you can build.

Soil characteristics are important when choosing a building site. We once built a house in Montana where 6 in. of topsoil hid large boulders, making it impossible to dig trenches by hand. Building on expansive clay soil requires

Подпись: BUILDING A HOUSE IS A TEAM EFFORT Working together builds more than houses. Every Habitat project offers a unique opportunity to make new friends and build a new beginning. Подпись: Get help from IIP the EPA. If you suspect that your building site may have been contaminated with hazardous materials, contact your local chap-ter of the Environmental Protection Agency or order an environmental site assessment from an environmental professional.

extra precautions. Learn about the lot’s zoning, whether it’s situated in a flood plain or on a wetland, and whether any hazardous materials are, or have ever been, present. Removing asbestos debris or an underground oil tank can be very expensive.

Also check to see whether utilities are in place—water, water meter, sewer or septic system, electricity, gas, and telephone and cable lines. When we first moved to Oregon, I inquired about a two-acre site near where we now live. The city water lines stopped 14 mile away from the property, and to drill a deep well or extend water lines to the new site would have
cost a small fortune. We looked elsewhere. Be sure to check with the local building depart­ment (as well as the health, zoning, wetlands, and any other local departments that must issue approval for a construction project) about any potential lot. This investigative work can save you a lot of time and money. Make sure you’ve done all your homework to determine a lot’s suitability before you buy.

Particularly in cities, finding a suitable lot can be a daunting task. The price of the prop­erty can sometimes be the biggest impediment to building an affordable house. I know of a couple of marginally suitable building lots in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles that recently sold for $258,000 each. Both of those lots are pitched so steeply that each one will require at least $150,000 just to prepare for construc­tion. That’s $400,000 before the owners can even start building! Obviously, most of us have to look elsewhere. There’s no easy way to find the “perfect” lot. Check with realtors, follow up on newspaper and online ads, let friends

Heavy equipment readies the site. Initial site prepa­ration is usually done with heavy equipment because of the sheer difficulty of clearing, grading, and dig­ging by hand.

STARTED[Photo © Larry Haun]


Since this book was first published in 2002, the need for decent, affordable housing in this country (and throughout the world) has only in­creased. It is astonishing, but millions of families spend over one-third of their income on housing alone. Even families with steady middle-class incomes struggle to purchase homes and make mortgage payments on time. Money that used to go toward medical care, food, and a child’s education is now spent so families can keep a roof over their heads.

I was born and raised in a wood-frame house sited high on the short-grass prairies of western Nebraska, that huge inland sea of grass where the only constant is the wind whistling across the snow-covered, sagebrush hills. Aged, warped, unpainted clapboard siding hardly slowed the wind and cold. It was an uninsulated farmhouse with no central heating, no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and windows that let in more wind than light. Just 3 ft. from the iron stove in the kitchen, it was freezing. In our bedrooms, even when Mother warmed the sheets with her flat iron, the temperature never got much above what it was outside. Wallpaper, as the saying goes, was used not for decoration, but for insulation.

After high school, I headed south. The first framing job I worked on was in Los Angeles in
1950. There were lots of carpenters, all wearing white overalls, cutting different pieces of wood with sharp handsaws and nailing them together with 16-oz. curved-claw hammers. The pace was slow and methodical. A wall chalkline would be snapped on the floor. The bottom plate was nailed to the line. Corner posts were then set and a string pulled taut over posts from corner to corner. The length of each wall stud was measured from that string. Once the studs were cut and toenailed to the bottom plate, we would stand on ladders and nail on the top plate. It took a month or so to frame a house.

Six months later, I was one of a small crew, all wearing jeans and nail aprons and wielding long-handled, 20-oz. framing hammers. GIs were returning from the war by the millions and the postwar housing boom was underway. We were framing tract houses, one every couple of days. Those were affordable housing units, decent homes in decent communities, two – and three-bedroom houses with about 1,000 sq. ft. of living space. They were definitely not mansions. In 1951, my brother Jim moved into one of those houses with his family. It cost him $400 down, with monthly payments of $63, which included taxes and insurance. Fifty years later, those houses are still standing, and they have seen




more than one generation of children grow up, move on, and start families of their own. We do know how to build affordable housing.

Habitat for Humanity (HFH) is one group that not only knows this to be true but also is doing something with that knowledge. All across this country, in hundreds of towns and cities, people like you and me are working with our neighbors to build decent, affordable housing. In the past 30 years, more than 225,000 affordable houses have been built in America and in other countries by HFH affiliates. Families that otherwise would not have even dared to dream of owning their own homes have been given a “hand up” to dwellings that they can actually afford. But make no mistake: This isn’t charity—the houses are not given away. Rather, in addition to shouldering a modest mortgage, the new homeowners put in around 500 hours of “sweat equity,” working with volunteers who help them build their house. In the few years I have lived here in Coos Bay, Oregon, we have built 17 houses that have become homes for the families who worked with us. Because of all the volunteer labor, we are able to build these houses for about $55,000, including land, which results in a mortgage that even low-income families can handle.

If HFH can build an affordable house, why can’t anyone? First of all, others are doing it. More than 175,000 owner-builders create new housing units each year. It takes a significant amount of courage, effort, and time, not to mention a piece of land, some money, and help from friends—but it can and is being done. How to build a simple house is not a mystery.

It’s rather like putting together Lego® blocks or Lincoln Logs’™, one piece at a time. Many of you already have the basic skills needed to build a simple house. Just look at the thousands of people who flood places like home improvement stores to buy tools and materials for working around their homes.

If you’re considering building your own home, keep in mind that it is also possible to

Photo courtesy HFH I

build a home that is beautiful but, in the long run, is neither decent nor affordable. Decent housing, for example, doesn’t have leaks that can cause mold and rot, compromising both your health and your home. Neither is decent housing full of toxic fumes, which can come from paint, carpet, and a host of other common, seemingly innocuous materials. A decent, affordable home is energy efficient, well ventilated, and comfortable; built from safe, health-preserving materials; and requires a minimum of upkeep or maintenance. It can also be built from forest products and other materials that are sustainable, so that we don’t further lay waste to our homeland. Building such a home isn’t impossible, but it does take some careful planning.

So, where do you start? There is an old saying, “You can hear a lot just by listening.” Talk to neighbors, contractors, carpenters, building inspectors, and the staff at your local building – supply store. Contact your local Habitat affiliate or Habitat for Humanity International for information. Read the how-to information that comes with many building materials, study this book and others, and check out the numerous how-to-build sites on the Web (see Resources on p. 279). Ask questions, work out details and ideas on paper, and gradually the big picture will start to get clearer. Although no single book can answer all the questions you’re likely to have on the subject, it’s my intent to provide a step-by-step guide that will take you from basic planning and design through the actual construction of a simple, decent, affordable house.