Construction planning for blitz builds -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Construction planning for blitz builds

By Nevil Eastwood

Before committing to a blitz build, the affiliate board must ask itself some important questions. Blitz builds are time, labor and resource intensive, requiring a high level of commitment from the leadership. Blitz builds can be disruptive to the ongoing work of the affiliate. Before deciding to conduct a blitz, the affiliate must honestly assess its motivations and potential. While none of the principles of Habitat are sacrificed in the execution of a blitz build, many of the processes are necessarily accelerated, especially construction, family selection and nurture.

Site selection

Several important issues must be considered when acquiring land for a blitz build:

  • Building lots should be contiguous or as close to each other as possible for logistical reasons.
  • The building site needs excess land nearby to accommodate materials staging and volunteer support services.
  • Planning and zoning issues should be thoroughly considered before acquisition—if variances are needed, they should be secured well in advance of the project to limit the possibility of community objection.
  • The work site needs accessible utilities to ensure the prompt and affordable placement of necessary infrastructure.

Site plan

  • Land use: Maximize the available space in accordance with local lot size regulations. Land costs increasingly reduce Habitat’s ability to provide affordable housing. Over-large lots, and the increased maintenance costs they represent, can create unnecessary hardship for poor families.
  • Variances: If variances are required, the affiliate may have to increase its community relations efforts—variances often heighten neighborhood concerns about Habitat work.
  • Community space: Efforts to include community areas or centers in the site plan have had mixed results. Affiliates that successfully create community space usually collaborate with other agencies or with local government to ensure the maintenance and oversight of such amenities.

House plans
The success of the blitz build depends a lot on the house plans which need to be simple, buildable and lend themselves to accelerated building.

  • House plans should be simple and straightforward.
  • The number of house plans used should be limited to ensure that building components are interchangeable.
  • House plans should anticipate environmental concerns: minimizing work-site waste, keeping maintenance costs low and improving energy efficiency.
  • If the house plans will require municipal variances, the same community relations issues are present as discussed under “site selection” above.

Once the house plans have been created, other responsibilities are required.

  • Developing accurate and complete materials take-offs. These will be needed by those responsible for gifts-in-kind, materials procurement and, materials staging. When acquiring materials, special consideration should be given to products made from recycled materials and to environmentally friendly materials.
  • Creating a construction manual for use by the house and crew leaders to plan for and execute the actual build.
  • Installation of site infrastructure.
  • Pre-building appropriate components (trusses, headers, etc.).
  • Placement of foundations, pads or piers.
  • Coordination and oversight of event construction activities.

A detailed construction budget needs to be developed with all costs of construction from start to finish. This should include site development costs, temporary facilities, site infrastructure, warehousing, subcontractors and building materials. Without a detailed budget, it is hard to determine the true costs related to an event.

Conclusion

Blitz-build events give the general public a focused opportunity to participate with Habitat for Humanity, learning the organization’s mission and goals by actively building houses and communities. There are other few settings where individuals or groups can learn more quickly or more thoroughly what Habitat for Humanity really means to them and how they can practice their convictions and share the love of Jesus with others. Volunteers at a blitz build learn by doing as they replace substandard housing with simple, decent, affordable housing that is available to everyone who needs it regardless of race, color, gender, religion, political persuasion, economic level or social status.

Not everyone is a builder or an organizer. Some people’s gifts are better used by quietly serving behind the scenes on a committee. Others find joy in sharing their gift simply by volunteering for a short period of time. Regardless of how a person serves during a blitz build, there are numerous opportunities for growth and development. At the end of the blitz build the homeowners will have a durable, affordable house and live in a supportive community. The Habitat volunteers will often leave with a new understanding of their abilities and talents, sometimes accomplishing more in a week as a Habitat partner than they have achieved alone during any other week in their lives.

Nevil Eastwood is senior director of Program at Habitat for Humanity International.