magazine vol. 86, No. 3:
What is it that
really makes one owner/builder
successful and creative, and another frustrated, confused and
discouraged? Is it skill or commercial-grade construction experience?
Sure these things help, but they mostly give you confidence in solving
So maybe it is
more of a mental thing—a
confidence that comes with thinking through and planning the process.
Einstein was often working on what he called "thought
experiments"—he would set up an experiment doing things like
setting trains to run at near the speed of light and then see how
things worked out. He did this all in his mind.
don't have to be an Einstein, but most
are energized and gain valuable experience by such mind experiments.
They go through every step of the process several times and maybe
several different ways before they actually build it in reality. This
way they don't end up wasting materials or getting hurt.
My dad built the
house pictured above. He started when
he was 60 years old and it took him 2-1/2 years. He built the forms and
poured the concrete foundations (full basement), framed all walls,
floors and roof, wired, plumbed, roofed and insulated the entire house.
He hired the drywall out and some of the painting, if I remember right.
Every morning he
would wake up at 5 a.m. He would pace
around the kitchen for two hours drinking coffee and building in his
mind all the things he wanted to do that day. This work he did before
anyone else got up. He would imagine setting up the scaffolding, what
tools he would take up the ladder, how he would measure and cut in the
most efficient manner... and on and on.
This was a
"thought experiment" for an owner-builder
who had never worked as a carpenter or concrete finisher, or most of
the other jobs he ended up doing. He learned to do them in his mind.
He had a couple
of good books (not the one below) and I
had drawn up the building plans for him, but that isn't what made the
difference—it was the careful daily planning sessions. My dad
also enjoyed working alone, so he would only occasionally call a
neighbor over to help lift something after his thought experiments
found no way for him to do it alone. When it was all done he had quite
a project, and he'd saved a lot of money. But that was not why he did
it. Saving money will not get you very far as a motivation for building
your own house.
The excitment of
doing thought experiments and then
making them happen in the real world will!
This love of
planning and an appreciation of the
elegant "pre-building" thought process is something I see in John
Carroll's book "Working
Alone" — a good read and an entry into this world
of "thought experiments." — John Raabe