What do Volunteers do?

You may be wondering how much of the house building is done by volunteers versus subcontractors, so we figured we’d not only tell you which tasks, but also why. It seems like it would always make sense to use volunteers instead of subcontractors because volunteers are free, but in order to build more homes and serve more families, sometimes it makes more sense to sub out work.

In the very beginning of Habitat for Humanity in St. Johns County in 1993, volunteers did everything. As our affiliate has grown and now builds approximately 6 houses per year, (unlike 1 hour per year like we did in 1993) it’s important for us to pay attention to what makes the most sense to outsource versus insource.

Certain tasks like plumbing, electrical, and HVAC work is done by those that are licensed, insured and certified to do so. Other tasks like roofing are done by subcontractors due to OSHA regulations that require those working on a roof to be tied off. While it is possible for volunteers to perform roofing work, sometimes it just makes more sense from a safety standpoint to have subcontractors perform this task. But there are many affiliates that do roofing, as our affiliate has done in the past and may perhaps do it in the future, but for now, we use subcontractors.

Other tasks are done by subs just because of the amount of time it would require for volunteers to do them and to do them well. For instance, we have recently started hanging drywall with volunteers which takes longer, but the art of finishing drywall is something that takes a lot of time and experience to do well, so we continue to sub out that aspect of drywall work. Site grading and foundation work is also something that is done by tractors and larger machinery that allows it to be done much faster than with volunteers.

All of these things that are done by subcontractors instead of volunteers ensure that we are able to build more houses and serve more families in a given year. With that being said, there are still many tasks that we use volunteers for and some of our regular, repeat, weekly volunteers have learned to do these tasks well and are able to accomplish these tasks in a speedy manner. We are so grateful for our regular volunteers who are always willing to take on any task asked of them, even if it is a new one, like drywall, which we recently started having volunteers do the installation of. 

All these things as well as funding sources and material costs are subject to change. For example, we used to be able to get pre-painted exterior siding from the James Hardi siding manufacturer but then the program changed with Habitat International so it became more cost effective to have volunteers paint the exterior siding rather than pay the added cost to continue to get it pre-painted from the manufacturer.

Just like all aspects of running a non-profit organization, there are lots of unknowns and we have to be able to adapt to the current times in order to continue our mission of serving families with affordable homeownership opportunities. We thank all of our volunteers and also all of our subcontractors who work so diligently to get these homes completed so families can move in!