Building with Kootenai Valley Partners Habitat for Humanity , Part 1

We had an incredible 2 weeks building with Kootenai Valley Habitat in Libby. Nestled in the Cabinet Mountains in northwest Montana, Libby is a small town, but arguably has a greater-than-average need for affordable housing since the shuttering of the timber and mining industries that used to support the local economy. Because of its small size, Kootenai Valley Habitat functions as an all-volunteer affiliate, able to raise only enough funds to build one new house every other year – though they work diligently with citizens in need of critical repairs on their existing homes.

We first heard about the Libby build from Dyana and Pete in Las Cruces who come work with Kootenai Valley every second summer but we didn’t necessarily have plans to sign up for a build there until we met KVP President Don and his wife Kay as they were visiting in Las Cruces. Afraid they wouldn’t be able to get enough volunteers they encouraged us Care-a-vanners to consider volunteering with them this summer. Since Tom and I were betting that the house in Utah would be sold and that we’d be on the road by May we quickly agreed to come for the second and third build sessions; the fact that Pete and Dyana were going to be supervising and leading the build was just icing on the cake.

Arriving after Memorial Day for the second build session Tom and I were among the small-ish crew of 5 rigs tasked with the job of helping to get the house dried in and ready for the subcontractors who were due to start coming in in a couple weeks. Dyana and Pete were, as usual, excellent at managing tasks and working with us though I must give a lot of credit to my fellow volunteers: I am constantly impressed with the skills, dedication, and willingness to learn that is characteristic of RV Care-a-vanners.

We hardly did it alone however. Our small crew was joined on site every single day by Walt – father of Norma the homeowner, at least a few local volunteers, and as often as her work schedule would allow, Norma herself. Board members dropped in almost daily to bring us doughnuts, fruit, lunches, and home-baked goodies as well as to pick up a hammer and jump in. Locals honked and yelled out greetings as they drove by. And two groups of school kids who helped fundraise came to visit and sign the house.

Building in a small town like Libby can sometimes be a different experience than in a city like Las Cruces or Lafayette, Louisiana; it’s easy to feel people’s care for their neighbors. I have seen real community in many of the places I’ve built regardless of the size but in small places such as Libby and Mason, Texas where they only build a house every year or two I have seen whole towns come together during construction and have witnessed residents’ support for the new homeowners. The more experience I have gained in construction the more Tom and I have been looking for places to volunteer where there is greater need – which often means larger towns and medium-sized cities that are struggling with rising land costs and/or a significant population with below-average income – but to volunteer in a place like Libby where I can see that the partner family is already welcomed into their neighborhood just makes me happy. That being said, one of the most generous and kind things I have seen at a build was in one of those larger places in which a homeowner whose house had been built the previous year not only came out to volunteer on site throughout the build season alongside her new neighbors, but brought all us volunteers pies and breads – and hugs.

But, back to the build. We arrived with house itself sheathed and wrapped but with the two porches incomplete. Tom and I began by decking the smaller side porch as Walt and Care-a-vanner Clint began framing out the front porch. Lee and Kathy began the first of many days painting siding and soffit while Dyana, Jan and Norma worked on crawlspace access and flashing and installing the side door. After Tom and I had put ice and water shield on the newly-decked roof we moved on to putting up drip edge – the metal strips that channel water off the roof, then fascia and soffit. Part of the latter process involved a very frustrating few hours dealing with the geometry of making bird boxes to fit under the corners of the eaves; these so-called boxes have to be fairly precise in three dimensions so that the soffit going underneath the roof edge can be fitted tight enough to keep critters and moisture from getting under the rafters and into the attic space. Bird boxes also have to be recessed to the exact width of the decorative fascia board, which runs perpendicular to the soffit and covers the rafter tails under the roof edge. I explained this stage of the construction process in a bit more detail in a post last November if you should care to read a better explanation of how this works. Though I struggled to cut the correct angle of the roof and the needed dimensions Pete came to the rescue and helped me through it… again.

Elsewhere on the site siding started getting nailed up and as the porches were nearing completion, exterior stair building got done. As soon as they arrived windows began going in and Jan and Dyana knocked out the installation of the front door. With the two exterior doors in place, windows being installed, and siding moving along it was about time to finish sealing up the house by shingling the roof. Tom, Jan, and I spent at least part of our last 6 days shingling; a few days we had to break at noon after the high temperatures and hot sun began melting the asphalt and so we got to work on other projects but for the most part our trio was on the roof for the latter half of the build. I have come to really enjoy roofing despite my uneasiness with heights and so was quite happy to be hand nailing shingles for the last week. However because I was on the roof most of the time my opportunities to photograph other happenings around the job site were diminished and I probably missed more than a couple projects going on. I did catch Lee and Dyana decking the porch with cedar planks, which turned out beautifully; I wish I had taken a photo when the porches were completed.

Our build finished just short of having the house completely weather-proofed but I am sure it will be made ready during the 3 weeks until the next Care-a-Vanner crew arrives for interior finish work. I am very much looking forward to working again with Norma and Walt as well as Pete and Dyana but mostly I am eager to help get the house ready for Norma and her 3 kids.

Tom trimming some OSB in preparation to sheath the porch

Views while decking the side porch

Norma and Dyana puzzling out the crawlspace access

Tom trimming the roof decking before we lay down ice/water shield and put up drip edge

Jan and Dyana flashing the side door

Me struggling with the geometry of bird boxes. Again.

Tom nailing up fascia

Siding begins! Construction Supervisor Pete working with a couple local volunteers.

House signings by students of the Libby Seventh Day Adventist School who volunteered with fundraising

Dyana and Jan lining up porch stringers

Walt and Clint framing out the porch

Tom nailing up soffit

Tom and Jan shingling the first side of the roof

Norma installing her windows

Me shingling

Clint working hard on making drip edge corners

Article in the Western Dispatch

Jan and Tom cutting siding

Lee and Dyana getting ready to deck the porch with cedar planks

Crews trimming out windows

Jan shingling the side porch

Tom starting the front porch roof

Flashing and shingling under the eaves was way more difficult than we bargained for

Clint and Walt siding

Finally I’d like to end with a special section on Lee’s awesome t-shirts. I’ve built with Lee numerous times in Las Cruces and have been a fan of her shirts for quite awhile. This time she agreed to pose so I could put some pictures on the blog. Enjoy! 🙂