It’s amazing what can happen in a few short years, especially when a group of determined women comes together.
For example, in a few short years, the Utah Professional Women in Building (PWB) started a women’s construction group in Utah, pulled together donations and skilled volunteer hours to completely build a house all by women, entered the house in the Utah Valley Parade of Homes, sold the home, and are using the proceeds to offer scholarships and education to bring more women into the construction field.
Despite all the hours and work it’s taken to get here, PWB founder Kristin Smith says that the years flew by. Probably because from the start, everything seemed to just fit.
“At our first PWB meeting, over 25 women came, from every trade—general contractor, painter, plumbing, etc. It solidified that we were doing the right thing,” she explains.
Smith had previously been asked by a member of the Salt Lake Home Builders Association (SLHMB) to start a Utah chapter of PWB, so that’s what she did in June 2018.
Currently, women make up less than 3 percent of the construction labor force. With labor shortages and high demand for housing, wouldn’t it make sense to inspire more women to look into the construction industry?
That’s exactly what the PWB and its members are trying to do.
An Ambitious Idea
After a successful launching of the group, a member of the SLHMB commented: “Next thing you know, you’ll all be building a house.”
That got Smith thinking. And thinking. What if—just what if an entire crew of skilled-labor women could build a house? It would be the first of its kind in the United States.
“We already had half the people needed in the room to build a house,” she says. “It was worth a pitch.”
So at the next meeting, that’s what she did. And everyone was 100 percent on board.
The thing about building a house is that it takes planning, money, and a lot to build on. First, they started looking for a lot without any funds to speak of.
“It was a far-fetched idea, and nobody wanted to take us on at first,” says Smith.
But eventually, connections and faith got them a lot, thanks to Oakwood Homes, who subordinated the land at cost in its Wander community in Saratoga Springs, Utah.
And while they had been looking for a lot, the group spent months and months securing lumber, doors, concrete, and other building supplies, most of which were donated.
Thankfully, that all took place when it did. As Smith says, “We had solidified donations a year in advance, so they were already allocated when COVID hit.”
When it was all said and done, the money and planning fell into place, and so did developing all the back-end logistics for the PWB.
“The timing was so perfect,” Smith explains.
They broke ground in September of 2020. The only stipulation was that the outside of the house had to coordinate with the rest of the community, but they could make the inside of the house any design they wanted—which they took full advantage of. In fact, the new layout they came up with worked so well, Oakwood now offers it as one of its options.
Kristi Allen of Woodcastle Homes served as the general contractor. Natalie Mills was the senior designer and donations coordinator. Smith helped bring everything together, plus she was a general laborer. The list of women goes on and on.
In cases where local women couldn’t be found, the group put out a call to its Instagram page—and women flew in from all over the country, including from Oregon, Montana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Georgia.
“We wanted to stay true to our vision,” says Smith, adding that women across the country were watching the process and adding their support.
In the end, about 90 percent of the house was built by skilled women, with skilled men helping to train and educate women on site.
“When we started, we counseled that we didn’t want to be competition with men. We can accomplish so much more when we work together,” Smith explains.
The finished home is 3,200 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, open concept, with a gorgeous kitchen, a large homework loft, a climbing wall and monkey bars, a master suite with his and hers closets and freestanding tub, and much more.
Inspiring Women Everywhere
With so many generous donations of materials and labor, the House that SHE Built came to fruition, and in June 2021, it was featured in the Utah Valley Parade of homes—an important part of carrying forth the PWB’s mission.
“We thought that would give the home the most opportunity to be seen,” Smith says. In fact, a woman from California made a special effort to stop by in order to show her daughter the home built by women. Since her daughter wasn’t on a traditional education or career path, she hoped that seeing these construction efforts would inspire her.
Thousands of people came through the home and witnessed firsthand the effort made by powerful women in construction. One visitor was Utah Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson, who stopped in the garage to see photos of women working on the house during the project.
“She told us, ‘I expected to be impressed, but I didn’t expect to be inspired,’” Smith recalls. Henderson also shared her own experiences of breaking through glass ceilings to get where she is.
The home was sold to the creator of the language app Duolingo, who wrote in a letter that he would help keep their story going.
Proceeds of the home’s sale will go to scholarships for women pursuing careers in the construction field, the nonprofit LifeStart Village, which gives women and children a new start, and future home building projects. For now, the Utah PWB wants to focus on community and education, including visiting schools to inspire young women to consider looking into construction-related jobs.
“When we go present at schools or have a booth at a school job fair, we hear things like, ‘I didn’t think about this type of job before,’” Smith says. With role models to look up to, hopefully the numbers of women in construction will grow.
A Children’s Book
These women are hoping to inspiring even younger girls with the publication of a children’s book called The House that SHE Built, published in September 2021 and available on Amazon.
Based on a true story, the book tells the story of an inspired team of real women who came together from around the country to build a one-of-a-kind home. It educates readers about all the trades that go into home building, including architect, framer, roofer, plumber, interior design, electrician, and more.
“Seeing the book come out, we all got so emotional,” Smith explains.
They were telling their story to the world—especially to young girls who could possibly grow up to be like them. And it shows that when women come together, they really can do anything.
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