Building a home is a big project.  Like an ant moving a mountain, you can probably get it done eventually, one piece at a time, but it all goes a lot quicker and easier if you can get some help.  This page will be populated as I work out how to do this.

Student Labor

I had tried hiring some students between high school and college/university, but it turns out that university bound students (at least the ones I hired) don’t make the best construction workers. Desperate for help, I tried again with high school students.  I called the local high-school guidance councilor and asked her if any students were available.  While talking with her, I found that my local high school actually had a training program for students interested in construction.  She made the announcement and I got a few calls the next week.  The fact that these kids were already interested in construction (and not planning to be art majors) made a huge difference.

Supervision is key.  I am used to working with professions who don’t need as much guidance or supervision.  Students are not as smart as you remember being ;^)  You need to watch them carefully and always double check their work.  I made the mistake of assuming they understood what was needed a number of times, and it cost me every time.  They also tend to be hard on tools. Keep an eye on that.

Check out your local rules for employment.  Ideally, you can pay them cash as day laborers.  The biggest hassle is always making sure to have cash on you.  For someone like myself, who normally only has a couple bucks in my wallet, this is a bit odd.  To keep it all legal and above board, you only need to report the salary (and the students social security number) to the government if it exceeds 640$.  Make sure the student knows that.  If you want the construction loan to reimburse you for the salary (you can’t get reimbursement for yourself of family, but you can for hired help), keep a log and get the student to sign for each days pay.

Family/Friends Crew

Your construction loan probably won’t reimburse you for your labor or help you get from family. And generally speaking, I think it would feel a bit awkward to hire friends or family anyway. Usually, I try to fill up their gas tank and buy them lunch.  The exception is for my kids…  They didn’t ask for this whole project and they have no other steady sources of income, so I don’t mind hiring them for the less pleasant jobs.

Keep it interesting.  If the labor is free, don’t expect them to do work that isn’t interesting (unless they really want to help you thru the tough stuff).  I usually save the crappy or boring jobs for when I am working on my own.

Child Labor

Its not as bad as it sounds.  Everyone talks about leaving a better planet for the children, but not enough of us are focused on leaving better children for the planet.  Building this house is my challenge, but it is also an opportunity for my boys to learn a bit of work ethic.  They can only get so much out of watching me work.

You need to keep in mind that kids are kids and are not going to put in an 8 hour day for you. Younger children are also not very into working independently.  You can’t send them to work on their own, but they may be happy to work along side you…  And you may get some good conversation out of them in the process.

When setting a salary for a task, I usually have no idea how long it will take, so we usually start with a time basis.  I want them to learn to stick out the work for more than 2 minutes, so I negotiate blocks of time.  They come to me  and tell me when they want to start a block (15 or 30 minutes) and then they only get paid if they can keep up the work for the whole block.  I watch them and measure how far they get in a given time.  At the end of the block, they can start another or go and play.  If you try to force a kid to work for a time based salary, you are probably going to get ripped off ;^)

If it is a task that we have measured before, I can switch to a quantity basis, usually at a higher rate. The higher rate is justified, because they get nothing for their time if they don’t produce results.  This is also a little easier to manage because I don’t need to watch or time them as much.  For instance, when they are digging, I describe how I want it dug (width and slope) and then pay them per linear ft of excavation.  When we were cleaning the rubble out of the basement, I paid them per bucked of concrete filled up. Actually, in that case, they were racing each-other because they perceived the amount of concrete to be limited and wanted to scoop it up before their competitor.




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