Building with Fayette County Habitat for Humanity

Sometime in March an all-volunteer Habitat affiliate in La Grange, Texas posted a request for volunteers to spend 3 weeks in May beginning a scheduled home, and, hopefully, two houses for families who lost their homes in Hurricane Harvey.

Despite the fact that the small town in Fayette County is at least a hundred miles from the nearest shoreline as the crow flies, hundreds of the homes there were devastated when the flow of the Colorado River was reversed by the hurricane winds, which carried a 55-foot wall of water backwards. Needless to say, this caused massive flooding in the areas adjacent to the river.

Construction on Sarah’s house, scheduled to have begun that October, was immediately delayed while the affiliate attempted to recoup. And with so many town residents suddenly homeless, the affiliate applied for grants to help fund construction of replacement housing despite the fact that the affiliate was previously capable of building only 1 house per 18 months with the available local labor. As a board member told me, “We said we’d figure it out later.”

Somewhere along the line it was suggested to them to open a build to RV Care-a-vanners – who would be able to travel there to build, supplementing local volunteers – and the rest is history. Well, sort of. Tom and I had been planning on going to North Carolina in May followed by a build in Delaware but once the listing went up we began talking about switching our plans and staying in Texas after our two week with the Beaumont affiliate. We were still discussing the logistics of changing our plans when Darnell and Pete, whom we were currently building with in Las Cruces, brought it up and Darnell mentioned she was willing to be the Team Leader. And so we went.

Darnell convinced Tony and Mary, a couple we’ve all built with multiple times, and even Mike, a local volunteer who lives in Las Cruces (and doesn’t even own an RV) to join us but unfortunately that was all the man-/womenpower we could get: South Texas is not an area of the country that most RV’ers hang out in May. Still, we had a lot accomplished in the 3 weeks in La Grange. Delays in getting the next 2 slabs poured meant we worked solely on Sarah’s house, but work we did, despite the high temperatures and humidity. With less than a dozen workers on site a day on average – which included volunteer construction foreman Tom, homeowner Sarah, and a dedicated crew of locals – progress on the house moved forward at a steady pace. My own participation on the build ended a week and a day too soon when I pretty seriously injured my back (it’s improving now), but the work continued on of course and by the time we were leaving, Sarah’s house was nearly sided.

I know I frequently explain the steps of construction when I’m talking about the houses we’re working on, but I’m sparing you all the explanation… this time at least. I know I also frequently mention how awesome, amazing, hard-working, deserving,nice, etc. the future homeowners are (because they pretty much always are), but I can’t allow myself to omit that even if it may sound repetitive because Sarah is an amazingly kind and generous person, a wonderful mother to her 3 children, and a very hard worker. I – and I believe each of us – were honored to have been able to contribute to the construction of her family’s home.

Laying out wall plates

First exterior wall being raised

Posing on request

Walls are goin’ up!

Tom pulling the double top plate into alignment for me to nail… or checking out my butt?

Tony and Mike putting in a drywall nailer on the gable end walls

Tony building interior walls

Let the sheathing begin! Me nailing off the top of the OSB on the exterior walls.

Mike cutting out windows in the sheathing

Here we go! Truss day!

Trusses going up and getting braced

Sarah’s house is all trussed up

Pete nailing in outlookers

Mary nailing in her beloved hurricane clips

Subfascia getting nailed up

Sarah sheathing gable ends with Darnell and Pete

Sarah sledgehammering in the last interior wall

Homeowner Sarah, the Care-a-vanners, and one of the local volunteers

Mike nailing on double top plates

Pete sheathing the roof

Darnell’s shot of me from the roof while I double top plating the walls

Papering the roof

Trimming out windows in Hardie board

Darnell and Pete mailing up fascia

Supervisor Tom and Mike nailing up soffit

Tony fitting bird boxes

Sarah’s house on the last day of our build

On a lighter note, I do want to mention that on our first weekend us 7 care-a-vanners drove down to Spoetzl Brewing, makers of the famous Shiner Bock. Our tour through the brewery was fantastic, and included a really neat look at their kegging robots and massive bottling and packaging lines. This once-tiny regional brewery has exploded in popularity over the past couple decades and has recently doubled it’s size, adding in the aforementioned robot helpers and expanding it’s offerings. It was definitely a fun afternoon.

Copper brewing kettles at Spoetzl Brewery

Packing line at Spoetzl Brewing

RV Care-a-vanners descend of Spoetzl Brewing

Tom and I lounging at the picnic tables outside