Hacking Construction Experience

. 4 min read

Building your own house takes a TON of construction skills and I started this year at level 0. The most complex project I worked on prior was making stage props for my high school drama club. Here's how I started from nothing to being reasonably confident I could build a house – without paying a fortune.

1. Binge watch videos

You have to start somewhere and I kicked off construction by couch-building tiny homes. I figured if I saw people build it, then I'll feel like I could do it too. Here were my favorites:

  • SHED Tiny House Timelapse: mesmerizing time lapses of a tiny house being built before your eyes at hyper speeds. Did I learn a ton? Not really, but it was highly entertaining to watch.
  • Ana White Tiny House Series: documents every step of building a tiny house. Ana is great at explaining how to do things and I love her design too, so beautiful and spacious!
  • Living Big in a Tiny House: interviews of people who live in tiny houses. I appreciated hearing how people started and what they liked or disliked about their homes.
  • Try it Tiny: bite-sized and practical videos on how to build tiny houses. If you're curious about how specific things are done, this is a great resource.
  • About Van Life Series: videos of building out a livable van. Not technically a tiny houses but I loved watching it as the extreme case of how small you could go.

2. Try it out

Watching videos was fun but would I actually enjoy building a house? I needed to try it out. So my husband, Mark, and I signed up to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. You don't need any experience, just show up ready to work for a day. The experienced staff will teach you everything you need to know.

Verdict: construction is awesome! It was so satisfying to see a house become a livable home over a couple months, and to know that I had a part in it. We also helped families live in affordable homes, so giving up a few weekends was worth it.

3. Take some classes

Next I wanted get concentrated time to learn all the basics. The problem was that I live in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the US. Even a day class for simple furniture costed hundreds of dollars.

Solution: community college classes! Mark and I signed up for Intro to Construction at the City College of San Francisco. San Francisco offers free tuition for residents so the total cost was $29 for the registration fee. Even if we weren't exempt, it would have been under $500, well worth the cost.

There were a ton of practical learnings: using power tools, reading architectural plans, and basic wiring/plumbing. For our final project we created a detailed tiny house plan and got great feedback from the teacher and our classmates.

4. Read about it

Along the way I found some great written resources...

Next Steps

There is still a ton to be learned. Mark and I have split off into different streams of work. Mark is focused on residential wiring, plumbing and engineering, while I am diving into woodworking and interior design. We'll be updating this blog as we go.

If you have thoughts or advice on how to hack construction skills, please leave a comment!

Xin Xin

Designer of healthcare, games, ceramics, and tiny houses. Name translates to spicy happy in Chinese. Currently a senior product designer at One Medical.