Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County

Construction Manager, Paul Stromdahl

I started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Springfield, Illinois, in the spring of 2011. We were renting our place at the time, so I had no “home” projects to work on and needed an outlet. I knew a bit about Habitat and went to an orientation. The volunteer coordinator, Ryan Mobley, enthusiastically welcomed me and immediately tasked me with a project. Ryan was very involved on the build sites and knew all the volunteers.

I volunteered for the 5+ years we lived in Springfield, before moving to Bellingham. My experience there was much like the core volunteer experience here. There was a group of volunteers, husbands and wives, who had dinner out once a month. I knew I’d passed muster when Janie and I were invited to join them. Springfield typically had three to four houses going at the same time, each with a different personality depending on who was running the project.

Back then I used to say it was the best job in the world, because I showed up, was told what needed to be done, did it, and went home. I had the pleasure of the work without any of the management responsibilities.

When Janie and I moved to Bellingham, I needed a job. I went into the Habitat office and convinced them to hire me. That was five and a half years ago, and during my time with Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County, I have renovated two houses, built five and have done a number of group projects.

I still say I have the best job in the world because I get to work with volunteers. We build a simple, yet high quality house; we do it with gifts from the community and we do it with practically all volunteer labor. There is great joy in seeing each project come to fruition. 

We’ve poured concrete in the winter, raked acres of rocks and moved mountains of sand — and the volunteers still show up. My success and Habitat’s success is based on volunteers and their ability to be there consistently, and in all kinds of weather. I couldn’t claim to have built five houses and rehabbed two without their help. 

It’s also amazing to watch our partner families complete their sweat equity hours, and to see their joy when they move into the home they have helped build and watched come together.

Our current project on Stable Lane is the same design as the home we finished on Bramble Way last year, but each project presents different sets of challenges. With every project, we’ve had to adapt the design to the materials available to us at the time, while building the most energy efficient home we can. No two experiences are ever the same. 

The goal for Stable Lane, however, will be the same as before: to build a decent, affordable home with less than one air-exchange rate per hour. In other words, we build a very airtight home that will require remarkably small amounts of energy to keep warm or cool. 

Looking ahead, one of the challenges for Habitat will be building a house that is not only an energy efficient structure, but that incorporates more energy efficient techniques and materials during construction. One of our future goals, for instance, is to replace the use of concrete with a material that has a smaller carbon footprint. 

Despite the joys of working as a Construction Manager, Stable Lane will be the last house I help build as part of the Habitat staff. My grandkids are getting older, and missing opportunities to spend time with them is getting to be more painful. I will be going back to where I started as a Habitat volunteer, where I can show up, be told what to do, do it and go home — the best job in the world. 

A huge thank you to all of the volunteers who made everything I’ve accomplished with Habitat possible, and to our partner families, who entrusted me with building them a place they can call home. 

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