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Building a house with your own hands is a remarkable feat in and of itself, but to build a house with kids is a different ballgame. We’ll show you how we managed to build our home safely while taking care of our young son.
So many of us who want to build a home from scratch and start a homestead do so because of family. We want to support our growing families, live more purposefully, and make healthier lifestyle choices.
If you’re like us, you want to build your own home BECAUSE of your kids. But how can you manage it?
Building a House When You Have Kids
It had been a dream of ours for many years to build a cordwood house on our own land. But like most people we let reality get in the way of that dream for a long time. We got into debt and got back out of it. We spent a lot of time at our jobs and working on side projects. Mostly we lived the typical middle-class suburban life and chased other people’s dreams.
But once our son was born we came to the sharp realization that if we didn’t take steps to chase OUR dreams NOW, we’d probably never do it.
So when our son was about eight months old we went looking at our first piece of rural property. When he was about eighteen months old we finally sold our home and bought our homestead land and began the adventure of a lifetime.
Our son was eighteen months old when we started our project and four years old when we finally moved into our cordwood house.
So how did we manage the build? How did we keep him safe while we did the dangerous work of building? How involved could he be in the project? And what did he learn from all of it?
Staying With Family
When building a home yourself there are a LOT of dangerous jobs that are simply not safe to have little ones anywhere around. We spent a lot of hot sunny days on our property with a chainsaw and knives while we cut down and peeled trees for our cordwood. There were days with trusses flying around on cranes and days cutting lumber with all manner of saws.
On days like these, our little guy stayed with one of his grandparents. He still had a pretty rigorous nap schedule at the start of the project, so it was to everyone’s advantage for him to be somewhere else. He could stay safe and get the rest he needed.
There were also a lot of times where we would be out on the property working at ridiculous hours (like the time we finished putting up the headers at midnight or ran the PEX tubing for our radiant system at 3:00 am). In these cases, the fact that we chose to live with my mom during the build was a huge advantage. I had someone I trusted completely to take care of our son and get him to bed in our absence.
None of our other family members live close enough to us to have helped with childcare, but I imagine I could have called on some of them if they had.
Since I was still working during the majority of the build I already had a relationship with a wonderful in-home daycare provider. On our building days, we continued to send our child to daycare for the day while we went to the property to work on the house.
The downside to this was that it continued to cost us money, but sending our son to daycare kept us from leaning too heavily on family and gave us flexibility in how we wanted to work during the week. It also had the advantage of keeping him around other kids to play and learn together.
Caregivers On The Building Site
If the work you have to do on a particular day isn’t super dangerous, it can be a great help to have someone willing to come watch your child at your building site.
We had gotten to the point with our build that not spending time with our kid was stressing ALL of us out. He missed us because we would be working on the house, and being so little and unable to explain his frustration he’d end up acting out.
Fortunately, I had many eager babysitters at my disposal, having been a high school music teacher. When I left my job to finish out the build and work on this site full time, I had several students offer to help us out. Some of them did some of the tough jobs I’d been avoiding (like moving a giant pile of free pavers) while others kept our son entertained and out of harm’s way while my husband and I worked.
This was a great arrangement because it kept our family together and happy but still allowed us to do some very important work on the house. It also cost us much less than sending him to daycare.
Some of my students got paid as babysitters, others in exchange for service hours, or for free just because they’re nice, giving people. If you have access to willing helpers take them up on it!
Note: If you have anyone on the building site for any reason you need to have a liability insurance policy. This is true no matter why they are there, and many lenders require it. Learn more in this post AND in our Owner Builder Quick Start Guide.
Involving Your Children In The Build
One of the best things about building our house is that it’s basically all our child remembers. He doesn’t remember our little suburban home because he was so young when we moved out. All of his formative years have been spent building our home off the grid.
We made sure to involve him in age-appropriate ways as much as possible (and maybe some age-inappropriate things with loads of supervision and safety precautions).
For example, he helped fasten the posts for our home’s frame.
He moved gravel for our foundation with his toy bulldozer and dump truck.
And super importantly, he picked up countless screws and nails with his little roller magnet. He thought it was fun AND we avoided getting nails in our boots!
What children can learn from the building experience is invaluable.
By helping us, he’s learned all about what different types of tools are called and what they do. He’s also gotten pretty good at picking the right tools for different jobs and judging work safety. In this way, he has learned to look critically at situations and make assessments before just acting on impulse.
That isn’t to say he never makes impulsive choices (I mean, he is only FIVE and that’s what five-year-olds do) but it does seem to have given him a bit more of a framework for making better choices.
What our child thinks
When I ask him what he learned from building our house, he usually says things like, “I learned how to make things with my hands,” and, “We made a place for our family,” and my favorite, “One day I’ll build my own house! With a slide!”
I’m sure that at his age he doesn’t really understand the full ramifications of what we did. I have a feeling that as he gets older he’ll be able to see things with the wisdom and clarity that comes with age.
I also hope that the experience of helping build his own home at such a young age gives him a sense of pride and ownership. When we talk about the house, we talk about how WE built it TOGETHER, not just Mommy and Daddy. We point out the jobs he did and express how proud we are of how he persevered and did his jobs well.
Tips to Help You Prepare
If you’re thinking of building your own home on your land and you want to do it yourself, I hope we’ve shown you that it CAN be done. As with all things, you need to prepare and have contingency plans for when things don’t work out.
If I had to sum it all up, my core advice would be:
- Have people you can trust to watch your child(ren) both on-site and off-site.
- Have backup people who can help watch your children and keep them safe on building days.
- Figure out potential childcare costs, if any, and include that in your budget.
- Have kid-friendly safety gear available like work boots, leather gloves, and safety goggles.
- Remember to take family breaks away from the build! It’s tempting to go all-out and work yourself to the bone, but for the sake of your family and your collective health, DON’T. Your family is the reason for the build!
Want to learn more about how our homebuilding project turned out? Check out our homestead progress reports and find out more about our cordwood homestead project here. You should also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m always pinning lots of great ideas on Pinterest too! Thanks for reading!