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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

House Building Diary: Week One

The plan was to build a house in 3 weeks time. Naturally, nothing went according to plan.

group photo week 1

This house build has been a long time coming.

I had first met with Epic Home to discuss the possibility of doing this little project in early 2016, and more than a year later, I still didn’t have anything to show for it.

Much of the delay was caused by the pesky fact that I actually needed a land to put the house on (who would’ve thought?). That took me close to half-a-year to accomplish.

Then there was the design and planning stage, delayed further by my disappearing out of the country every few months...

Me after successfully purchasing land in July 2016: “Let’s build this in September!”

Me in September 2016: “Ok, no, scratch that, am going to be in India for a month.”

Me again: “Hey, November might work.”

Me in November 2016: “Ok, no, am going to Mecca for umrah. Let’s schedule for early 2017 then.”

Me in January 2017: “Sorry, will be in Japan in January. Can we do it in March?”

Also me in March 2017: “Crap, will be in London for March. How about May?”

Me again in May 2017: “Ok, no, am going to be in Kenya for May, and June is fasting month. I can do July, I promise!”

Guess who in July 2017: “Ummm, so am going to be in Ethiopia for the next 9 months…”

“At this rate,” a friend commented dryly, “you’ll never get that house built.”

So, of course, I had to prove her wrong. Yes, I was going to be away from the country for an extended period of time, but surely I can squeeze in the build during my holidays?


The answer is yes, I can squeeze in the build during my holidays. All I need is 3 weeks, right?

I landed back in Kuala Lumpur a week later than planned. The pre-fabricated steel beams that would form the structure of the house were delayed, and we couldn’t really start without them.

Instead of 3 weeks, we now had 2 weeks to build this thing before I had to fly back to Ethiopia. The universe then decided it would contribute by making it rain almost every day. But no matter, we will still plough through.


Day 1: Visit to see piling work

The piling work had started a few days before, and I arrived to the site to see funky steel pipes poking out of the dirt.


An interesting sculpture, at the very least

These have been hammered into the ground in the shape of a cone, and would serve to anchor the house to the ground.

The materials for the house would arrive later that evening.

On my way out, I met the two local dogs that would become a regular part of the build in the next few weeks - they would insist on escorting the car up the hill, and would stick around watching us toil away, with their tongues lolling, before escorting us back down the hill at the end of the day.

two dogs

The two furry besties

Day 2: Moving stuff

This was my first full day of ‘work’ on site with the rest of the crew, as well as one volunteer who wanted to see the process from start to finish and had time to spare to join in during the weekdays.

The site was at the top of the hill, and the dirt road leading up to it had gotten muddy and slippery due to the incessant rains. We needed a 4-wheel-drive lorry to carry the materials up from where they had been deposited at the bottom of the hill the day before.

lorry carrying planks

The arrival of the materials

We spent most of the day just moving stuff from one place to another - and by ‘we’, I meant the strong, muscular building crew, while I watched. (I did carry what little I could of the heavy wood, steel and assorted materials, but mostly, I just watched.)

My biggest contribution on this day was moving and organising the messy lump of wood into a slightly-less-messy lump of wood.

Lump of materials

Slightly-less-messy lump of wood

It then started to rain and we bailed before the road got too dangerous to drive on.

Day 3: Building the scaffolding

I have a tendency to make life difficult for myself and those around me, and had happily decided to put the house on a steep slope, completely oblivious to the complications of doing so.

It wasn’t until I saw the scaffolding go up three-stories high that it struck me that this might actually be a little scary and dangerous…


I didn't sign up for THIS

Am not afraid of heights, but even I was nervous!

We finished the scaffolding early, but didn’t have enough manpower to start lifting steel beams up, so we decided to leave it for the next day when we’d have more people and volunteers coming.

Day 4: Putting up the structure and other prep work

The rallying call for volunteers was sent a few weeks before, and on this day, around 30 people arrived on site: a good mix of friends, strangers-who-would-soon-become-friends and the building crew.

After a short introduction, all of us piled into the 4-wheel-drive cars like a pack of sardines, and trundled up the hill to the build site. Those who had received training before immediately got started on the work, while a few others (including me) had to go through a quick basic training on the tools first.

group briefing

Group Briefing

From what I could tell, we had roughly three groups:

  1. put-up-the-heavy-ass-steel-beams group

  2. measure-a-bunch-of-wood-and-steel-bits group

  3. cut-and-saw-up-a-bunch-of-stuff group

I joined the first one, where most of the men were, but because I lacked the strength and the stature to actually hoist beams up, I ended up holding the ladders for the ones who were actually doing all the work. So I ended up having a pretty easy and good time while everyone else suffered.

Justin cutting


Luckily it didn’t rain that day, so we had a lot of sunny hours to work with. By evening, we had gotten most of the structure beams up. The wood, shera boards and steel had been measured and cut, ready for assembly the next day.

Putting the beams up

Structure up, mostly

Day 5: Putting in the floor joists and preparing the wall panels

For this day, half of us spent the day placing and drilling the floor joists in place, while the other half assembled the wall panels by painstakingly drilling in one piece of shera board after another.

Wall panels

Wall assembly

I learned how difficult it was to drill into rock-hard steel, and how easy it was to break the shera boards with just a touch of additional force.

It started raining heavily in the early afternoon, sending all of us scurrying in panic to protect the machinery. The car could only make one ride down, and would not be able to come back up again due to the slippery road, so the rest of us who couldn’t fit into the car ended up trekking down the hill on foot.

In the rain, we trudged down in an assorted colours of raincoats and ponchos, watching each other slip and slide on the wet muddy road and laughing a little too happily at the prospect of any of us falling on our butts and rolling the rest of the way down.

Walking in the rain

Racing the dogs in the rain

The dogs, as always, excitedly escorted us downhill. I couldn’t remember the last time I walked in the rain, but I did think it was something I should do more often.


End of Week One.

Go to Week Two.

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