Hard Hats for Habitat

I put the hard hat on because they made me. It felt awkward though the safety glasses were even worse, perched over my regular glasses and so scratched seeing through them was a challenge.

Not wearing safety gear is not an option, the site supervisor said. So I put them on. I’m nothing if not a follower of the rules. This was my first Habitat for Humanity build and I wanted to do it right.

Joining a Habitat build has been on my ‘to do’ list for some time and when the Women Build Week email landed in my inbox, I signed up, enlisting my friend Sheryl to go along. Since my husband and I remodeled a house we bought six years ago, I’ve been a fan of wandering the aisles of Menard’s, Home Depot, and Lowe’s. Trouble is we don’t have enough building projects of our own to satisfy my desire to hammer. A Habitat build seemed the logical conclusion. And I’d get to do something good for someone else at the same time.

The day started with orientation, not just to safety on the construction site but also to Habitat for Humanity. Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity plans to build 26 houses this year and rehab several more.

Contrary to what many people believe, Habitat homes are not free. Families who want to partner with Habitat must meet several criteria:

  • They must currently be living in substandard or cost-burdened housing
  • They must be willing to volunteer 400 hours of “sweat equity”
  • They must be able to repay an interest-free mortgage over 20 years

Habitat does not charge interest on its mortgages, nor do they profit from them. Mortgage payments from Habitat homeowners go towards building more Habitat homes.

Right off the bat, I was impressed by the design of the house we worked on. The style and size fit right into the established neighborhood. Neighbors were very interested. One woman spent much of the afternoon watching us work.

Because I was less concerned with heights than others, I worked most of the day on scaffolding using a power screwdriver to put up furring strips. My friend spent most of her day installing windows. Toward the end of the day, we took up hammers and pry bars to remove 2×4 braces and ready the house for the crews who put up siding, install wiring, and put up sheetrock.

Though this was a women’s build week, I was pleased to see so many men show up. In the afternoon, a group of what looked to be teenaged boys came and with the confidence and agility of squirrels took to the roof to finish roofing the house. I’m okay with heights, but would have passed on doing the roof.

By the time we’d swept out the house, put away the tools, and turned in our hard hats and safety glasses, I admit I was exhausted. From 8-4 on a construction site is not at all like sitting at my computer all day. I was also grateful for that hardhat. Working under the eaves and climbing up and down on the scaffolding 20-30 times throughout the day, I must have hit my head at least a dozen times. And didn’t get hurt even once.

My Habitat building experience was rewarding. I’d do it again. And the beers we threw back at the end of the day weren’t bad either!

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