Building my own home

Fritz - Grand River, Iowa
Entered on April 8, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: place

I believe there comes a time to build your own home. For me, that time began three years ago.

As children, the first place we build for ourselves takes the form a backyard snow fort, or a playhouse made from a card table and sheet, or a tree house deep in a secret woods. When I was a young boy, I would often play on a small rug in the basement, pretending to live on a raft like Robinson Caruso or Huck Finn. I loved the idea of living in a small, defined space and floating with the current.

As adults, we strike out to find a starter home. For me, after I floated through a dozen apartments and two houses, I knew it was time for me to build a place of my own.

Building my own home gave me the chance to make my own decisions and make my own mistakes. I chose to fix them or live with them. The inspiration for my own very small, self-built home is based on a photo I saw in a book. I later learned the cabin in the photos is an award winning design by a well-respected architect.

The home I built is a dogtrot; two cabins sharing a single roof that spans an open deck between the cabins. The interior measures less than 700 square feet, plus some sleeping lofts. I know every detail as if it were an extension of my own body. I can find everything in the light or in the dark. I know corners that are not quite square and boards that have warped as they have mellowed. I know the 44-foot deck that bisects the cabins has 2600 screws, each drilled, one by one, on a warm autumn afternoon. That deck, I now see, resembles a raft, floating on the Iowa prairie I call home.

And while there is a cost associated with the building materials, the home is beyond measurable price. I cannot put a monetary value on the exhilaration I felt when I raised the first framed wall. I cannot put a value on the view from the small cabin loft. I cannot put a value on the quiet clear nights as the stars and moon light the two quiet ponds.

As I began my home building project, I was clear about this: my goal was to build a cabin, not to have a cabin. I could have hired a builder to erect it in a matter of weeks. Instead, my work took nearly 3 years and continues as I write this.

I know, beyond self satisfaction, the home I built myself comes with something no other home offers: a lifetime warranty that says, if anything ever goes wrong, the builder will fix it.