General Contracting 101 - A Fool's Guide

Copyright 2005-2008 by Marsha Hague

So you've got your head in the clouds, with your idealistic dream of dome utopia  Wake up and smell the milkweeds!  Your dome will not build itself, and don't expect Granny and the kids to finish your dream house in a weekend, either.  While dome kits have been described as something like giant Tinker Toy sets, the parts are a whole lot heavier.  Some take 2 or 3 people to handle, maybe 1 or 2 people with the help of the right equipment.  It will cost you twice as much as you think (maybe more); will take a lot more time than you think; and bumps, bruises, cuts, and scrapes are  More fun is tendonitis in the elbow and bursitis in the shoulder.  You earn a bonus vacation when you have surgery for the hernia you got heaving bags of shingle scraps into a dumpster.  If you are still young (under 40), and/or have prior construction experience or good connections, you are ahead of the game.  You may find my tips & hard lessons more amusing than helpful, or perhaps you will wince along with me as you recognize your own past misadventures.  Here's my 17 cents worth of advice, in no particular order (your mileage may vary):

  • If you can't find a tool belt big enough to fit you, you are not ready to start.
  • If you have no or very little construction experience, try volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.  They will find something for you to do, you will learn a few things, and you will find out quickly how out-of-shape you are.
  • For a helpful sneak preview of what you're in for, watch Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House or The Money Pit.
  • Get electricity to your site as soon as possible so you can use power tools.  Just a pole with your meter and an outlet on it will give you what you need to get started. 
  • Go on a dome tour or two to get ideas, join one or more dome e-mail lists, go to a dome-raising, and take a dome-building course offered by one of the kit manufacturers (see the Links of Interest page).  You might even pay for one or more of your helpers to take the course.  Take the course shortly before you know you are going to start building, so the information will still be fresh in your mind.
  • Get a spiral notebook.  In the front, start logging phone calls, appointments with contractors, what was discussed and agreed to, what kind of job they did.  In the back of the notebook, put phone numbers, business cards, or ads for services, referrals and comments you've gotten.
  • When you have a place for it, consider a dorm-sized refrigerator for your site.  When you're done with your construction project, it can be put in a rec room, guest room, garage, deck, or given to a child going off to college.
  • If you have ADD, OCD, are time-management or organizationally challenged, or just struggle to make decisions, building a house will be the PROJECT FROM HELL.
  • Hiring contractors and subs is kind of like dating, only worse. If you ever get a chance, watch The Adam Carolla Project to see what fun it is. If I wanted to pick up dirty socks after a guy, I'd get married. (Yes, I did have to pick up a pair of dirty socks after one crew left. Jeez.)
  • If any liquid is on sale such as caulk or paint, CHECK THE EXPIRATION DATE.

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