It was 2008 when Cara Brookins took her four children (ages 2, 7,11 and 15) and left her abusive husband. The family of five moved into a tiny house outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, while in search of a better life. Unable to find a property to suit them, the mother of four figured out that if she sold a small property she owned, they’d have enough money to buy an acre of land and supplies to build a dream house.
Brookins turned to YouTube videos, and without any construction experience managed to build a two-story, five-bedroom house. We chat with Brookins to find out how it went down.
What led you to build a house on your own?
I drove past a house that had been broken by a tornado so I could see inside the walls. It all looked so simple and I thought, “I bet if I really set my mind to it, I could put that back together.” From there the idea grew into starting all the way over and building my own new house. I mentioned it to my kids and they were all-in right from the start. We needed a safe place to live, and I was determined to do something big. So building a house felt like the most natural solution in the world.
Did you find YouTube to be a helpful resource?
YouTube was a lot different in 2008. The videos were lower quality and not as organized. We used multiple videos for each project to learn multiple ways to do each thing, like frame a window or run a sewer line. And we tried to understand why each thing was done a certain way rather than just how to do it. Because we were watching at home on a computer — no smartphones! — and would have to remember everything to make it work the next day on the job site.
What was the hardest part of building the house?
The foundation was the most difficult for a couple of reasons. First because it was right at the beginning when we were still really weak. Building the muscles we’d need to build the house by hauling huge concrete blocks around in cold January wind was a slow and painful process. Second, we realized at that early stage how emotionally difficult it was going to be to build a house. We were so far in over our heads. And it was going to take nine months of 20 hour days under intense focus to get it all done.
How much time did it take?
I took out a construction loan to build the house and the terms were nine months. So I had to pass all of my city and bank inspections for my certificate of occupancy in this time. I was working full time as a computer programmer/systems analyst and my kids were in school. So we put in 20 hour days to get everything done.
How does it feel to live in a house you’ve built on your own?
Every single day there’s a flash of memory as I walk under a doorframe that we had trouble installing, or I remember climbing around in the rafters or down in the mud. After being afraid and feeling like I had no control of my life for so many years, being wrapped in walls we built with our own hands is an incredible feeling. There is nothing more empowering that building something so much bigger than ourselves.