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Learning to DIY a House—from Books

By Debbie OlsonFebruary 28, 2018

My husband and I seem to have a passion (sickness) for remodeling and building. This started over 30 years ago when we bought a small 900 square foot home. This two-bedroom home seemed to fit our needs until the children began to arrive, so we decided to add a family room to the back of the house. Neither of us had much experience in building, so the library became our go-to place for figuring it out. We didn't have the money to pay anyone else to do it, so we became DIY people before it was even a popular thing to do.

As we began to draw up the plans we thought, "well maybe we could not just build out but why not make the additional two stories and then we could add an additional bedroom?" So we re-drew the plans and submitted them for approval to the city planning department. My husband had taken some basic drafting classes and was able to complete the plans himself.

After laying the foundation and beginning the framing process, we must have become greedy. We thought, "well since we are building back and up, why not add more space by building on top of the current house?" Seemed simple enough, so we changed the plans and had them approved by the city again. Then the fun really began. This was a 1950s home with a true crawl space under it. We had to add new footings to support the second-floor addition. Being the cheap people that we were, we bought a small trailer of mixed cement and drove it home. Don't even ask about when my husband panicked and pushed the clutch on the car, even though it was an automatic, and we spilled concrete at an intersection and people were yelling at us. Then we spent about six hours carrying the concrete in small buckets through the house while my husband was slithering like a snake back and forth under the house. The relatives that stood out in the trailer for those six hours with a metal rod trying to keep the concrete from setting up may never forgive us either.

Once we had everything framed up, we had the roof trusses delivered only to realize that the existing part of the house was not level at all. We had worked so hard to ensure that the new section was level we never considered that the 40-year-old house might not be totally level. Let's just say we learned more about shimming the walls and floors then we ever expected.

After the home was completely framed up and weathered in, we began the inside work. My husband checked out every book he could find in regards to electrical, plumbing, telephone lines, heating, etc. So many times we wanted to stop and give up, but you just have to move forward until it's done.

That small addition we dreamed of adding helped us to learn many valuable lessons of what to do and certainly what not to do. Some years later we sold that home and set out on our next adventure of building a large home from scratch. Since then we also completely remodeled and sold my mother's home as well as significant remodeling of our house. There are many more stories and lessons learned from those adventures, but I will leave that for another day.


About the Author: Debbie Olson has been the Director of Human Resources for 11 years. She and her husband enjoy working on projects at home and traveling. In the past few years, they have been to Paris, London, and Sweden and are looking forward upcoming trip to Israel. When she is not working and traveling, she loves to spend time with her four grandchildren.?She is involved in her church youth groups and is the Director of a girls camp each summer.

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