I’ve used the word “quit” provocatively of course. Way better to have tried your dream out for size and decided “no thanks,” than to spend your whole life just imagining. But it is true to say that some people give up and never complete their projects, while others live in a perpetual state of building chaos for years and years sometimes with partnerships breaking up under the strain. On the other hand, other people get through the sticky moments and complete their home. You see the end of that process a few years later in a gorgeous social media post. But that result didn’t just appear out of the ether. There’s a bit of a knack.
What people think is hard about building (but mostly isn’t)
It’s often the people we least expect that succeed in this game. That’s because there are some massive misconceptions about what it really takes to start, and more importantly, finish your own home.
The technical/engineering aspect of building for the most part is not freakin’ rocket science. And for the most part it’s also not why people fail. For the most part you don’t need to have some sort of qualification to build a house. Of course some smart aleck will no doubt point to an example of someone somewhere whose house collapsed. True, it happens. But it’s not the reason the majority of owner-builders end up quitting. Most lay people who start building focus an awful lot on technical and structural elements of the build (as they should), but sometimes it’s to the detriment of other aspects. Knowing how to do something isn’t the same as actually getting it done.
Reasons It All Goes Pear-shaped:
Honestly, this is probably the single most common reason I see that people come unstuck. You need to work in an appropriate order and stay vaguely on track. It sounds straight forward. It’s not. There is a lot to think about when you start building and it’s easy to get completely lost. I’m an Earth whispering hippy that talks to trees every day and likes to sculpt flowers out of mud, but even I have a game plan and a to-do list. Some sort of structured approach is essential. Prioritising correctly is a life-saver.
In the same vein, you need to avoid getting distracted as far as is humanly possible. The more you can stay on task and keep some forward momentum doing the right tasks at the right time, the easier it all is.
For an example see Dianne and Bismil’s monster renovation in Spain. I’ve learned a lot from Dianne because she’s super organised, and moves cleanly and clearly through the build.
2. Refusing to get in professional help when necessary
I doubt many Lone Rangers will to listen to my take on it, but hey, since when has that stopped me:)) Let’s face it though, it does look a bit like some of us think help is akin to failure. So we carry on doing a sub-par job, wasting masses of time and energy on parts of the build which are neither our speciality nor enthusiasm. Basic plumbing is left unattended. Taps don’t work. Solar power systems function poorly and everyone is using a torch to read their books. Floors are not laid. Kitchens and bathrooms don’t work properly. Everything is a bit of a mess. Finally, family members lose patience and skedaddle out of there. At the end of this sorry state of affairs, said builder blames said everyone else for the failure. Yeeees, seen it too many times to mention.
I won’t lie, I hobble under the Lone Ranger fallacy as much as the next independence-lover. I also know it’s not easy, and the criticisms of onlookers can be hard to stand at times. But I can face the truth when I see I’m not doing a good job, and will get in a pro if I have to. Come on folks, get real! Even professional builders work in teams, and hire plumbers, electricians, and carpenters.
For an example of what I mean, take a look at Nad Kad’s amazing strawbale house. Yes he built a lot of it alone, and is a genius at clay plaster, but he never fails to mention that Jim Schalles was the pro behind the gorgeous (and well-functioning) rocket stove.
3. Unrealistic goals and biting off more than you can chew.
Most of us make this mistake somewhere along the line, but some folk catastrophically misjudge the effort involved in building. Ianto Evans said something along the lines of, "Remember everything takes twice as long as you think and costs three times as much." I must admit, personally I come in not too far over budget, but things definitely always move far slower than I want or expect.
So before you buy that ancient castle in Scotland, or decide to construct the world's first multi-storey earthbag mansion, take a long step back. Try a small build first and get a feel for what's involved. Unless your house is a very teeny tiny cottage (think 15m2) your total build is probably going to take at least two years. Even if you have ten people helping, (and take it from me, half of those ten probably won’t be much help) it will still take that time. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at this article by the very professional building team at Koluba, who know exactly what they’re doing and have stacks of volunteers. That house isn’t huge at all. It still took the best part of two years.
Yeees. If you think you’ll finish your home in a summer, you’re probably new to the game.
But what about my earthbag house in Turkey? It is true that by sheer will and good fortune we erected the structure of (a small) earthbag house up in six weeks. But it took me another eighteen months to complete the interior. That house is just 6m diameter.
4. Poor management skills
People think management is bossing people around or being in charge. In truth, ninety percent of management is people skills. And the biggest management crime I see is lack of acknowledgement for everyone in the team. It is lovely to do things yourself and create your own home, but only a fool thinks anything is built single-handedly. And only a very ungrateful and arrogant fool dismisses the vital assistance and contribution of everyone on their team, including and especially those in the background cooking, cleaning or washing. At. Your. Peril. Even a lone hag like me who loves to work in solitude, who has no one cooking for me or washing my clothes, acknowledges the help of my team. Without my good neighbours, my dad, my friends, my Patreon crowd, and the sporadic but oh so needed help of Jose Manuel, I would have been snookered many times.
For an example see Kay La Bella’s project. She has such a wonderful way with people that makes everyone want to help, and the energy of the project simply shines.
Ways to win in management:
Say thank you often. Point out the fab things people have contributed. Listen to other people’s ideas, and incorporate some of them. Include everyone, exclude no one. But the most important words to overuse are “thank you”.
5. Running out of money
I have to admit, I’d never quit because of this. Never. I mean you can always scrape a bit together somehow, can’t you? I think if you use mud, lime, and listen to your land, you can pretty much always keep building. Creativity and willpower trump money any day. Use second-hand stuff, use your wits, use the abundant resources of your land, and don’t buy into all this expensive Grand Designs lark. Stop competing with the Joneses, they’re idiots anyway. The irony is, when much of your house is homemade, it becomes more attractive.
My current build is quite elaborate for me, but my budget is tiny. I just move slower and make (sometimes hard) choices. Nevertheless, I see that money is an ostensible reason people give up.
Some ways to mitigate financial ruin:
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