The Self Design-Builder Pt. 3: With a Little Help From My Friends
Builder Ian Schwandt reflects on how teamwork and collaboration has been an integral role in the success of FHB House Wisconsin.
The term self-builder conjures visuals of a lone worker fighting daylight and weather while building a home on the frontier. The self-builder is part-designer, part-engineer, part-accountant, and full-time worker bee. But even the most ardent self-builder will need help with their build.
Working with other tradespeople
Help on a construction project can take several forms, with specialty subcontractors being the biggest source. Many municipalities, including the one where I am building, require plumbing and electrical work to be done by a licensed professional. Even if your municipality does not have this requirement, you may find yourself needing a pro to tie your wiring to the electrical panel or your drain plumbing to your septic system. Throughout my years of running commercial and residential jobs, I’ve learned the importance of making sure that work that impacted a subcontractor’s ability to do their tasks took priority over work that did not. On my build, that meant doing some steps out of order, working before dawn or well into the night to guarantee that when I told the plumber or electrician “yes, it will be ready tomorrow” it would indeed be ready—even if it’s not guaranteed that the subcontractor will show up as promised.
Pro-materials suppliers don’t just sell materials
An overlooked source of help, whose importance has been highlighted to me by the price volatility that has run in tandem with my build, is the sales staff at a professional building-materials supplier. I started working with Adam Treesh of Zuern Building Products toward the end of the design phase of my project to source all the rough framing, windows, doors, and exterior finish materials. I likely could have saved a small amount of money by doing all my own specifications and take-offs and sourcing it through a big box store, but the time I saved by having Adam and his staff design the floor and roof systems as well as deliver all the materials to the site more than offset any added costs. The value of working with a professional materials supplier was solidified in my mind when an accident while setting the garage trusses resulted in one of the trusses being broken beyond repair. The accident happened on a Saturday morning and Adam had a replacement truss delivered on Wednesday afternoon.
Family members are often the best helpers
Friends and family are often the biggest source of help to a self-builder, and I have been blessed to have friends and family that are not only willing to help, but are capable crew members with a wide range of experience. My father-in-law, Bob, a retired remodeling carpenter, pretty much came out of retirement and has been a major factor in the overall success of the project. My father, Morry, a farmer, has been at the ready with heavy equipment and is willing to reach heights and work on scaffold setups that even many seasoned tradespeople would shy from. His knowledge of the tax code from his part-time job as a tax accountant has also come in handy in helping me with the bookkeeping that goes on in the background. Many others have lent a hand as well, but no one has been more important to this build than my wife, Sara, who, despite her at-times strained patience, has been a part of this project since it only existed in a sketchbook and continues to do whatever task is necessary to keep pushing me and the job forward.
Read more from the Self Design-Builder series here.