Seth’s ninth birthday seemed like a welcome time for skipping school and a take-your-son-to-work day. As his father, the architect, did most of his work from home, his mother was quite excited to bring Seth to see her latest projects.
The housing development was designed to accommodate 73 homes. With only about 20 homes completed, the sunny day was a great chance to show the nine-year old the various stages of home building.
Seth knew that his mother was a home builder but had never really understood what was involved in her day-to-day activity. He was very excited to find out.
They parked at the entrance of the complex and got out of the car to take in the lesson on foot. Seth was surprised that they began at an open field.
“There’s nothing here,” Seth said, “it’s just a bunch of grass.”
“Yes,” his mother replied, “this is how things are before we break ground. I wanted you to get a sense of how a house is built by taking you through the various stages of home building. Here we have a flat field which will one day have a four-bedroom house.”
They walked up the road to what looked like a large hole in the ground. Inside the pit were rectangular gray walls with various notches on top. Seth was confused. “What’s this?”
His Mom replied, “that’s the foundation to a house. It’s what holds up the rest of the house and keeps it from sinking into the ground. We start by digging a hole and then pouring concrete which is very strong that can hold up the walls of the house. These gray rectangles will become the rooms of the basement.”
“I can’t really see it,” Seth mumbled. “It just looks like a jumbled maze.”
His Mom laughed. “I know, it’ll look more obvious to you as we get further along.”
The next stop had a few people working. They wore helmets and were standing among lots of wooden beams. Measuring tape and tools were everywhere.
“What’s happening now?” Seth asked.
“They’re putting up the walls. Those are wooden frames of the outside and inside walls of the house.”
The child was frustrated. “I still don’t see it. It looks like a jumble of wood. There are no walls! I can see though everything!”
The mother was upset. Her goal was to make this interesting and exciting, not frustrating. She decided to move onto a more complete project. They took a diagonal cut through some sites to a large building.
Seth became excited. “Now I see it! There’s the roof and walls and windows! That’s where the door goes!”
“That’s right! You can start to make out the definite outlines of the house at this point. Grab this helmet and let’s go inside!”
The two of them walked up some boards and into the house. “Be very careful and try not to touch anything,” she warned. “It’s an active construction site so there’s a lot of workers with nail guns which are dangerous. Stay close to me.”
Seth was excited. It finally felt like he was seeing a house.
Seth noted that the tone of his mother changed. She suddenly went from being his Mom to a working professional. “This is going to be the entrance hallway. Over there is the living room. Come with me and we’ll look at the kitchen,” she said.
The large space looked much like the other large spaces. There was saw dust everywhere just like the first rooms. His mother started going into details about where the refrigerator and oven were going to be, the sink and the island. She waved her hand at the open walls which was going to have the kitchen table. Suddenly, it started to come together in Seth’s mind. “I get it. I can imagine the table, but it’s hard to imagine all of the appliances. I still just see open walls.”
“Come to the next house which already has the plumbing and electrical work installed. We will be closing the walls this week. A building inspector is going to be there tomorrow.”
The house next door was still under construction but clean. There were wires and pipes in many of the walls. “These are the guts of the house. These thin wires are for electricity and broadband. These pipes are for hot and cold water. And these big tubes are the air conditioning.”
Seth nodded. “So that’s why the walls aren’t solid? So you can put in all of the pipes and electricity?”
She smiled, “that’s certainly a big part of it. It also would be much more expensive to make all of the walls solid.”
They went outside and down the street to a home that looked totally finished. The grass wasn’t in, but the house itself looked safe.
They went inside. Aside from the lack of furniture, everything looked finished. “Didn’t anybody buy this house? Why is it empty?” Seth asked.
“The owner’s want everything completed before they move in. They’re adding some chandeliers, changing the paint in some rooms, adding window treatments. A bunch of little items before they move in the furniture.”
Seth paused for a second. “So Mom, when is a house officially a house? Is it once a person moves in?”
“That’s an excellent question. I would say a house becomes a home when a family moves in. That’s when there’s a personal connection to the building, when people make memories. But a house becomes a house much earlier.”
“Like when a foundation is put in?” Seth asked.
“No, that’s too early. That’s the building blocks for a house, but not yet a house itself. I would say it’s when the building gets the ‘C of O,’ the certificate of occupancy.”
Seth was now confused. He didn’t see any ‘C of O’ on the tour. “What’s that?”
“Do you remember how I said that a building inspector was going to come look at the wiring of the house before we closed the walls? The city sends a person to look at the house during various stages of the construction to make sure that everything is safe and up to the latest safety codes and regulations. When they’re satisfied that everything is done and the house is ready to be occupied, they issue a Certificate of Occupancy. Typically, no one moves into a house for many more weeks as the house gets the finishing touches, but I would say the C of O probably marks the house as officially being a house.”
“So even though the government doesn’t own the house, it gets to decide on whether it really is a house?”
“No one ever suggested that the government owns the house and gets to decide on the colors of the draperies or anything like that. But the government does get the sign-off on when the building is ready.”
“And how long does that typically take?” asked Seth.
“There’s no set formula, but for this project, from the time we break ground to getting a C of O takes about 24 weeks. The last weeks before people move in are installing lighting fixtures, back-splashes and other incidentals that invariably take a bunch of time. It’s about 9 months from the start until someone moves in.”
“That’s almost like a baby,” noted Seth.
“Yes, it’s very much like the development of a baby. It takes about 24 weeks from conception to become a viable person, and a total of nine months for the baby to be born and for a family to begin to build a lifetime of memories together.”
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