Should You Build It Yourself?
ALMOST from his very creation man has been a builder. The Bible tells us that Cain, the eldest son of the first man, Adam, was the constructor of a city named Enoch.—Gen. 4:17.
At the very beginning of human building projects nearly 6,000 years ago, man did not have to concern himself with laws and regulations that governed what, where and how he could build. In many areas of the world today, this still holds true. Yet, as a general rule, it is not now possible for an individual merely to pick a spot and start building his home. Today, in almost all cities and in many rural areas, there are laws that govern construction.
Nevertheless, constructing something with your own two hands still is a very satisfying experience. You may be able to share in this experience by building your own home, or by participating in a community project, such as the constructing of a Kingdom Hall (as the meeting place of Jehovah’s Witnesses is called). Let us suppose that you plan to build your own home, considering principles that apply to all building projects.
Think Before You Build
It is important to know why you want to build. If a building does not reasonably satisfy your reasons for constructing it, you will have wasted time and money. Common reasons for building a new home are: To obtain more space for a growing family; to be more conveniently situated in relation to work, schools and friends; to enjoy a better environment.
Before starting to build, determine what limitations are imposed by your financial resources. Can you really afford to build? And what about taxes? Jesus Christ once remarked: “Who of you that wants to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, he might lay its foundation but not be able to finish it, and all the onlookers might start to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man started to build but was not able to finish.’”—Luke 14:28-30.
Another point to consider is this: Do you have the time to devote to building your own home? The time involved will vary, but one authority on home construction in North America says that to do this work yourself, you can count on spending all your weekends and evenings for a year, plus two weeks of vacation. Can you afford to spend that much time?
Then, too, what building skills do you possess? Do you have the patience to shop around for construction materials? And do you usually finish what you start? These are factors to consider beforehand.
What are the alternatives to building your own home? You may want to consider buying and renovating an existing structure. On the other hand, what about renting? Initially it is less expensive to rent, and a rented building usually is ready for occupancy. Upkeep and taxes are the responsibility of the owner. But there are disadvantages too. The owner may not keep the building in suitable condition. And, when you move out, there is nothing tangible to show for your years of paying rent.
If you have decided to build your own home, you will need to purchase a piece of property, unless you already have one. There are a number of things to consider before buying land, as shown in the accompanying chart. Take your time in selecting land. Try to see how it is affected by different climatic conditions. Also, determine the legal requirements before beginning to build.
Meeting the Legal Requirements
In the United States, there are two code bodies that govern building construction: zoning laws and building laws. Zoning divides a city or county into various “zones,” or districts, and specifies how land can be used within each “zone.” These laws also deal with “density,” that is, how much land you will need for a building of a specific volume and lot coverage. These requirements may prevent you from building the sort of structure you desire on one piece of property, but may allow it on a nearby lot. To avoid problems, obtain copies of the zoning maps and laws from your local zoning board or planning commission.
The other set of laws governing construction is the building code. Hardly any city lacks these laws. Though complex and perhaps difficult to understand, it is not wise to think of the building code as an enemy that must be foiled. Rather, it has been designed to protect you, ensuring that certain minimum engineering and safety requirements are met. Building codes are based on practical experience and common sense.
A governmental agency may have requirements that make it too difficult and expensive for you to build on certain land. By obtaining all necessary permits beforehand, costly mistakes can be avoided in that regard.
In many localities it is required that preparation of the plans for your home be done or supervised by an architect or engineer licensed in your area. Check with the local building department to be sure of the requirements. However, there are times when the services of an architect should be obtained whether that is legally required or not. Since buildings of a public nature involve the lives and welfare of many people, an architect’s understanding of building design and safety could prevent a tragedy in the event of a fire or other disaster. Of course, architects and engineers vary in ability, and it is good to shop around for one who has the skills and qualifications that you desire.
Determine what sort of work will have to be done by licensed tradesmen, such as plumbers and electricians. In some localities it is illegal to do your own work in these fields. Check with the local building department to see what work you can and cannot do personally.
Building Your Own Home
The key to successful home building is being able to organize your work and the obtaining of materials. With this in mind, prepare a schedule with a realistic timetable. It should help you to set goals and should aid you to organize the ordering of materials. Personal acquaintance with suppliers of construction materials also is desirable, since they can assist you in selecting materials.
It is very important to start your project with a complete set of plans and specifications. (Compare 1 Chronicles 28:11-19.) Follow the plans closely and write down all deviations. At the conclusion of the project some building departments require that revised plans be filed that show the work as it actually was done.
Arrange ahead of time for the craftsmen needed to help with work that you cannot do yourself. If you wait until the last moment, they may not be available to do the work. This is especially true of licensed men, such as plumbers and electricians. Likewise, you will have to arrange for the periodic visits of building inspectors.
Proper follow-through also is essential for a successful building program. You may find it very useful to carry a note pad on which to jot down items that need attention. Be sure to care for all problems promptly, or they will accumulate and can prove to be a source of great discouragement. Keep your list current and check off items as you care for them.
Strive to keep your enthusiasm high. While this may be easy to do at first, it becomes increasingly difficult as the project progresses. By keeping to your schedule, however, you will be able to combat loss of enthusiasm.
Now for some thoughts on safety. Be sure to have adequate insurance to cover both yourself and others in case of an accident. Provide fire-fighting equipment, and learn how to use it. Make sure that first-aid supplies are readily accessible, and establish a procedure to follow in case of an emergency.
Building a Kingdom Hall
Presently you may not have the opportunity to build your own home. But if you are one of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, you may someday share in the preparation of a Kingdom Hall. With over 40,000 congregations world wide, and the number ever increasing, there is a constant need for more of these meeting places. In Spain, more than two thirds of the over 600 congregations have their own meeting halls, and, in neighboring Portugal, a similar zeal is being shown for the preparation of these meeting places.
Should a congregation consider building a new Kingdom Hall? That must be decided by members of the congregation. They should consider their needs. For instance, is the present hall too crowded? If there is notable growth, something should be done before the situation becomes critical. However, it is also very important that the congregation’s ability to handle such a project be considered. A congregation, just like a family contemplating the construction of a home, should not be saddled with excessive debt. Of course, every congregation does not need to have its own Kingdom Hall. Often several congregations acting together are able to obtain a meeting place that one congregation alone could not afford. And for some congregations renting is the practical alternative to the construction of a Kingdom Hall.
Indeed, there are many factors to consider when it comes to establishing a place of worship or a home. Is it better to rent, to buy or to build? Give that question careful thought, and decide whether you should build it yourself.
[Box on page 22]
CHECKLIST FOR JUDGING PROPERTY
Size (Large enough or too large?)
Shape (Difficult to use all the land?)
Soil (Can it support your building?)
Water (Flooding danger? Will septic tank drain?)
Neighbors (Will they want your building?)
PUBLIC UTILITIES AND SERVICES
Availability (Sewer, water, gas, electricity, phone)
Trash and garbage collection
Police and fire protection
Regular postal service
Are schools close? Good?
Quality of life (Uphill, downhill, stable?)
Environmental conditions (Highways, factories?)
Near to markets, parks, congregation, employment?
Is it served by public transportation?
Can you get a clear title to the land?
(See an attorney)
Are there deed restrictions?
Are there zoning restrictions? (Setback, volume)
Must you maintain easements and right-of-ways?
Can you afford the property?
Will you need a loan?
Are there hidden costs?
(Special assessments, unpaid taxes?)
What will your taxes be like?
[Box on page 23]
Typical Areas Covered by Construction Codes
Determining zoning districts
How buildings can be used
Percentage of land usable for a building (density)
Maximum volume of building
Distance set back from road and neighbors
Minimum lot-size requirements
Can be used to maintain or change “neighborhood character”
Safe exiting (egress)
Handling of potentially dangerous building uses
Designing for crowds (Public buildings)
Adequate light and ventilation
Safety during construction
Primary intent is to protect life and welfare of building’s occupants