Building houses for Habitat for Humanity helps address King County’s affordable housing problem. And you’ll work up a sweat doing it.

Share story

VOLUNTEERING TO put up siding on the cool, tree-shaded side of the nine-plex seemed like the less physical, if wise, choice on a hot, sunny day.

I was at the La Fortuna construction site in Renton to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Seattle-King County. I had a full day ahead of me working on the building destined for families who need affordable housing.

King County is experiencing an affordable housing crisis, the nonprofit says. Thousands apply for the homes Habitat for Humanity builds new, renovates or repairs, says Alex Kaul, community engagement coordinator.

Habitat for Humanity, Seattle-King County

habitatskc.org

One of the ways Habitat for Humanity keeps costs low is using volunteer labor. The construction projects are popular and often booked in advance. When I signed up, La Fortuna was the only current project.

At the beginning of the day, crew chief Doug gathered us for assignments. He asked first for volunteers to put up drywall. I hesitated, and by the time I decided I should volunteer for what seemed to be the most physical option, three others had raised their hands.

I raised my hand for siding instead.

Fellow volunteer Maile and I were under the watchful eye of KC. We gathered measuring tapes, box cutters, pencils and safety glasses for our tool belts. KC taught us how to safely use a nail gun and electric shears. Power tools! I was thrilled.

We climbed up scaffolding set up on one side. KC directed us on how to measure, cut and nail in the siding next to a window. We got to work.

During the morning, I was focused and on task with precise measurements calling for a 1/8th-inch gap on the end of each piece of siding. Maile and I got into a rhythm. While nothing was particularly heavy, we moved a lot — we squatted to cut, we hammered in errant nails from overzealous use of the nail gun, we moved heavy scaffolding.

By lunchtime, we had finished one side of the window, and a couple of long rows. I thought the next section with no windows would be far easier without the measuring and cutting.

Our first task after lunch was to carry up more siding, which is deceptively heavy and weirdly fragile. I huffed a bit and sweated a lot as KC and I took several trips up the stairs.

Next, we had to measure out rows, figuring out how to space the siding onto studs and make sure the edges varied row to row. The side of my brain that resists math was not into the thinking required.

Once we did our calculations, we had to actually install the siding. The 12-foot pieces made things complicated. We had to maneuver the siding between scaffolding bars, strained our fingers holding the heavy pieces in place, and awkwardly got the nail gun in place around scaffolding. I also kept smacking my (hard-hatted) head into scaffolding, which I blamed on limited vision from my safety glasses. I realized with a jolt that putting up siding was hard. Maile and I wondered if the professionals were more graceful and coordinated.

We persisted with our siding. I was fascinated by the precision required to build a house, ensuring the gaps in the siding were protected by tape or measuring to the 1/8th of an inch so window frames could expand and contract with the weather.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted and proud. My body was tired, and I felt good about how I had spent my day. There are a lot of ways to volunteer your time to worthy organizations, and a lot of ways to stay active. Doing both at once hits the sweet spot of service.