The Problem:

As far as I can tell, nobody really "speaks building" anymore, except for builders who do it all day every day.

cut floor joist
Image courtesy of ArmChairBuilder via Flickr.
Plumbers often only speak plumbing, and chop away at structural members in gleeful ignorance of what those members might hold up.  Rough carpenters speak framing and not moisture prevention. Masons don't speak roofing and roofers don't speak foundation.  It's a veritable Tower of Babel in the building industry.

And then there's most of us, who have to hire out for a drippy pipe or a leaky roof, or have to get professional advice on whether we can take out an interior wall.

The Reasons:

Reason Number One.  Nobody builds their own homes/sheds/doghouses anymore; DIY is relegated to decorating (textures & color) and furnishings.

wiring being sealed behind sheetrock
Image courtesy of mealmakeovermoms via Flickr
If you want to know how something works, just ask any 7 year old: take it apart and put it back together.  Folks in all of history--up until a couple of generations ago--knew how to build.   Of course a few people had a variety of specialty skills, but any guy on the street could speak building, because everyone built their own homes (often more than once) and grew up helping each other raise barns and beams and roofs.

As time has worn on and our world been converted to a world of manufacture over making it with our own hands (curiously, that's what the word "manufacture" used to mean), we've collectively lost the knowledge.

Reason Number Two.  Spy-worth hidden secrets.  

The enemy culprit: SHEETROCK & FIREPROOFING.

Want to hang a picture?  Simple, right?  Wrong.  First you need to find out what kind of wall you have. Someone asked me this question last year and I was shocked how long my answer needed to be.

"Electric" Alan Hochberg via Flickr
Sheetrock a.k.a. wallboard a.k.a. gypboard is an expert at hiding the secrets of how a building is held up.  What is the wall made of?  Where is that stud?  Which direction do the ceiling or floor joists run?

Nobody can tell these things instinctively: they must be investigated on the other side of the sheetrock.

The secondary enemy: SYSTEMS.

Structure is not the only thing hiding behind sheetrock.  Building systems like plumbing and electrical wires are also hidden in the cavities of the same walls and ceilings.  And you don't want to accidentally drill through those.  Even a tiny hole can be catastrophic.

Reason Number Three.  Buildings have gotten a lot more complicated.

supercool shed
Image courtesy of Benjamin Chun via Flickr
From building code to zoning, regulations ensure that amateur DIY-ers are out of their depth when building an inhabitable building.

Homes today are huge relative to the one- or two-room starter homes our grandparents built.  It's not a one-day project for your and your friends to raise a roof structure these days.

Each building system is so complicated (even without a smart house) and requires specialty licensure that few people are doing that themselves.

And finishes, rather than being hand-applied over time are assembled assembly-line style. Furnishings, rather than being acquired or built over time, are purchased all at once on credit and delivered in a shiny truck.

chicken coop
Image courtesy of Allan Hack via Flickr
The Solutions:

90% of Americans' time is spent indoors.  NINETY.

First of all, go outside, because shame on us.
Breathe some real air.  Go to the mountains or the beach or the park or even the sidewalk and do your best to drive that number down.

Secondly, assemble stuff.
Build a treehouse, a doghouse, a shed, a playhouse, a henhouse, a deck, a dollhouse, your own house!

Thirdly, consider how a house might be DIY'd (that's not the first time I made up a word in this post).

One of the zessn schoolhouse students (who are perfectly awesome) turned me onto The Good House Book .  I had read another book by Natural Home magazine that I really enjoyed, and this one is even better for learning to speak building. I borrowed one from our library, but I think I should probably own this one!

Lastly, don't be afraid to take stuff apart and put it back together.

Happy Memorial Day: be sure to remember the sacrifice of those who have protected our great country in service!


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