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There's No Place Like a 'Blitz Build' Home

November 19, 1998|JOHN MORELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They came from work or took time from their vacations or retirement to build a house for Mike and Linda Sebo and their four children.

And they did it in a week.

The Habitat for Humanity project completed Sunday in Costa Mesa was remarkable not only for the speed in which it was done, but also because most of the hundreds of volunteers had no construction experience.

"It's an amazing thing and a testament to what goes on," says Barbara Thomas, president of the Orange County chapter's board of directors.

So far, the group has built 72 homes in the county, with three more scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. Six homes that are under construction in Irvine should be finished in May, says Ron Blake, executive director. Another six to 10 homes are in the planning stages. The group has 48 lots that may be available to be built on over the next two or three years.

Thomas carries to each project a hammer given to her by her daughter. "She went to Oakland to work on a Habitat site and came back glowing, talking about how she helped build a fence that separated the house's yard from the alley so the children could have a safe place to play. I've always remembered that when I have the hammer with me."

Who were the other participants in the "blitz build"?

Project director Ray Englert, 43 of La Habra, received the plans for the 1,239-square-foot, four-bedroom house from architect Richard Wiy during the summer.

"It gave us plenty of time to go over the plans and make the necessary changes, so we were ready when the build started," says Englert. "I had lived those plans and knew them backward and forward."

Despite the speed needed to complete the house in a week, Englert says, there wasn't a glitch. "That's really attributable to a few things. For one, planning. We knew well in advance just what was needed and what it would take to build this house. Also, having all the materials we needed and having a building inspector always on-site to approve the work made the job go very quickly."

Then there was luck.

"We were short about 40 yards of dirt during the grading process and this guy drove up and just asked if we needed dirt. Just like that, the problem was solved," he says.

Englert was the only paid employee. The rest? Volunteers such as Elton Kinkaid of Fountain Valley.

Kinkaid, 58, is one of those guys who goes to the hardware store for fun to look at the latest power tools. "I do my share of drooling," he says.

Kinkaid is a retired aerospace worker who spent the blitz week roofing, laying molding and installing doors, among other things. "I really enjoyed hanging doors. It's something I think I can do on my own now," he says.

After a few hours of trying to hang a door, the uninitiated often consider hanging themselves. But Kinkaid had help.

"I was working for the guy who was doing the job, and he showed me some of his tricks. It's basically being patient and plumbing the opening and keeping everything aligned properly."

Kinkaid also used a nail gun for the first time. "Even though it was a smaller one for finish nails, it was very powerful and you have to be extremely careful. But it does nailing very quickly."

His experience for the week has him seriously thinking about the room addition he's always wanted on his home. "We'll see. I don't know if I can do it myself, but certainly the mystery of putting a house together has been solved for me."

Jerome Blackman's contribution to the project also left him with the confidence that he can handle a big job on his Costa Mesa home. "We had a bay window installed for us earlier this year, and now I think I could put another one in myself," says Blackman, 50, an IRS appeals officer who used vacation time to spend 12 hours a day at the Habitat site.

"If I had to put in a window, I know I can take the stucco apart, do the proper framing, get the 2-by-4s to fit. The only [difference] is the pros have their tricks of the trade. What takes them three days to do would take me three weeks."

This was Blackman's second Habitat project. He had volunteered to work on an Irvine house in which his first task was ditch digging.

"We had to dig, then it would rain and the ditches would fill with mud and we'd have to dig them out all over again. It wasn't the fun stuff people normally associate with Habitat's work," he says.

Most volunteers agree that the "fun stuff" occurs when the wooden frame is assembled on the foundation and the house begins to take shape.

"There's a visceral satisfaction to pounding nails, which is what the framing stage is. Everyone loves it," Blackman says.

His other favorite? Roofing.

"We used 12-by-14 concrete composite tiles, and the work went very quickly. We had some left over that we were able to use on the backyard playhouse, which was a nice touch," he says.

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