Manual: Construction committee

The Construction Committee is responsible for delivering the principal product of this ministry, the house. Because of the technical requirements of home building, this committee should have at least a few professional builders as members.  Because of the rich partnership opportunities that come from building, it should also include members with excellent people skills.

Professional Tasks

  • SITE SELECTION—the Construction Committee must work closely with the Site Selection Committee to assure that buildable sites are selected. Committee members can assess the site for topography, access to services, underground and land shift exposures, and other variables that could greatly increase building costs on what otherwise appears to be a good lot.
  • DESIGN CRITERIA—the Committee is responsible for developing a set of criteria for the construction of homes (using the Design Criteria section that follows).
  • HOUSE PLANS—With the Design Criteria in place, the Committee is charged with developing house plans that satisfy local building codes and are economical in both their construction and maintenance (using the Design Criteria section that follows). If the project is a repair or rehabilitation, the Committee will prepare necessary drawings and an overall work plan.
  • CONSTRUCTION PLAN—with a site selected and the house plans in place the Committee must develop a construction plan that includes a timeline, volunteer and professional labor requirements, a construction budget and a schedule of supervisors to be on site during building days.
  • MATERIALS, TOOLS & EQUIPMENT PROCUREMENT—the next step is securing the necessary materials, tools and other equipment to build or repair the house. The first project will be more costly due to the need to acquire tools and should be budgeted accordingly.  The Construction Committee should work closely in this phase with the Resource Development Committee as in-kind gifts could significantly reduce costs. 

Consideration should be given to on-site materials and tool storage as security against weather and theft.  Arrangements should be made with suppliers to deliver materials as they are needed to limit the need for on-site storage.  Storage containers can be rented fairly inexpensively for this purpose.

  • BUILDING PERMITS, INSURANCE & INSPECTIONS—The Committee is responsible for securing building permits and arranging for required inspections during the construction period. Some jurisdictions will waive or reduce permit fees for nonprofit work.  Ideally, the Site Selection Committee will have already resolved issues surrounding hook-up fees and other governmental costs associated with building on the selected site.  Builders’ Risk Insurance should be secured before the foundation or slab is poured.  Volunteer Accident insurance should be secured before any volunteers come onto the site.  Additional coverage for contractors’ liability, inland marine (tools) and non-owned and hired accident auto insurance should be discussed with a qualified property and casualty agent.
  • HOUSE BUILDING—with all of the above in hand, the actual house building or repair/renovation can begin. The Committee should work with the Public Relations subcommittee to arrange for coverage of the ground breaking celebration.
  • CONSTRUCTION SUPERVISION—the committee needs to arrange for a construction supervisor to be on site whenever building is taking place. A corps of supervisors may need to be recruited for adequate coverage.  One member of the Committee should be designated as the lead supervisor with ultimate responsibility for resolving construction issues.
  • SUBCONTRACTORS—certain tasks require professional labor or, minimally, professional oversight. The Committee is responsible for entering into such contracts.  Care should be taken to assure that the subcontractor is properly insured and, when necessary, licensed.
  • SITE SERVICES—the Committee will also need to arrange for certain site services including a portable toilet, first aid facilities, communications, a protected rest area, and so forth.
  • HOUSE COSTING—the Committee is responsible for developing an estimate of the total construction costs, including soft costs, and in working with the Finance Committee throughout the build to monitor expenses. Examples of soft costs are building permits, builders’ risk, construction liability and volunteer accident insurance.  The volunteer labor is not considered a soft cost for the first mortgage but is captured in a second mortgage or deed of trust to prevent the family from profiteering off the equity and to protect them from subprime lenders.  Calculate the total costs for construction using actual out-of-pocket costs plus reasonable market value for gifts-in-kind donations.

The two committees will, at the end of construction, calculate the total costs for the construction.  If the rare occurrence that construction costs exceed the estimated cost provided to the buyer in their Acceptance Letter, or if costs simply exceed the affordability measure, the Board will have to consider options meet affordability.  For example, the board may decide to extend the length of the note.

An important consideration in costing the houses is how in-kind donations are calculated.  It is likely that some projects will attract more attention than others and result in a higher percentage of donated materials being used.  To assure equity among the homebuyers, the value of such gifts should be calculated using a fair/reasonable market value and included in the final calculation of the house costs.  This will assure that families whose houses don’t include the same percentage of donated materials aren’t unfairly charged more for their home than those that do and that our philosophy of a “Hand-up, not a Hand-out” is upheld.


If a new high end product is donated towards the project such as a bath faucet that would retail for $150, the cost charged to the homeowner should not exceed the fair market value of a low-end priced faucet that the covenant partner would normally buy at $35.

Partnership Tasks

House building presents a number of partnership opportunities.  Professional builders, who are typically task and time oriented, sometimes struggle with the soft side of a Fuller Center build, with its emphasis on family and volunteer participation.  But these are the elements that distinguish our work and, when properly managed, control costs towards the goal of affordability.  The basic partnership engagements are:

  • THE PARTNER FAMILY—is required to contribute a predetermined number of sweat equity hours. This should include assignments that are meaningful and that acquaint family members with the tools and skills necessary to properly maintain the home. Family members should be included in all aspects of construction
  • VOLUNTEERS—are a basic element of The Fuller Center’s success. Volunteers, when properly engaged and managed, reduce the cost of house building, promote good will and help raise funds. Volunteers are generally willing to perform any assignment.  Keys to successful volunteer engagement include:
  • Begin the work day or evening with a prayer.
  • Having a specific task that can be completed during the volunteers’ stay. Volunteers appreciate a sense of completion.
  • Taking care of the volunteers’ needs while on-site, for example having clean toilet and hand washing facilities, having food service if their stay includes a lunch period, and having drinking water and a protected rest area available on-site. These are tasks that should be coordinated with the Volunteer Committee.
  • Making sure that the work site is safe and that the volunteers are properly trained and supervised, especially when using power tools or doing overhead work.
  • Assuring that there are meaningful tasks for the volunteers to do.
  • Monitoring and scheduling volunteers in advance so that too many do not show up.
  • Create a worksite culture that fosters the education of unskilled volunteers by the skilled supervisors.
  • COMMUNITY—the building project will arouse the interest of the community, especially those living near the work site. The Construction Committee should work with the Public Relations Subcommittee to accommodate neighborhood guests and to have promotional materials and press kits available.

  New House Design Criteria

The FCH House Design Criteria provide the basis for all local covenant partner construction.  These criteria are used and further refined by local Construction Committees with approval by their Board of Directors.  An important consideration in developing the House Design Criteria is the fact that the buyers, if properly selected, are of limited means and will be coming from sub-standard living conditions, while the majority of the Committee and Board members will often be middle and upper-middle economic class.  It is important that the Committee not impose artificial notions of what is needed in the house, thus raising its costs.  Our goal is to build simple, decent homes.  The Fuller Center recommends the follow minimum criteria:


  • Two bedroom house:  900 square feet
  • Three bedroom house:  1000-1100 square feet
  • Four bedroom house: 1,250 square feet

The houses are designed to meet minimum needs of the family and consideration should be given to plan for two or even three children in some situations of the same gender sharing a bedroom.  Bunk beds may assist with space utilization.  Other considerations may be the blending of multi-generational families and design adaptations for family members with accessibility needs. 

House plans should not include an extra bedroom or office.

Where local building codes allow, one bedroom houses should be considered for a single occupant or a couple without children.


  • Two bedroom house:  1
  • Three bedroom house: 1 to 1½
  • Four bedroom house: 1½ to 2

Note—we recommend that provisions for handicap accessibility be included in the design of the main bathroom, including door access and maneuverability room for wheelchairs and blocking for the possible future installation of handrails by the stool and in the bath.


The Fuller Center encourages our covenant partners to implement green building techniques, using their best judgment for specific applications.  Not only do building methods vary widely from one part of the country to another, cost and benefit calculations must also play a role as we strive to continue to keep our homes affordable. 

Building green and cost efficiency are not necessarily in opposition; in fact, they often work together.  Extending the life of a home through our Greater Blessing program keeps materials out of landfills and minimizes the consumption of new materials.  In addition, the cost savings from higher efficiency water heaters, wall and ceiling insulation, doors and windows, etc. can result in considerable cost savings over time while conserving the earth’s energy resources.  Often those who most need energy efficiency are those least likely to have it, our ministry can play an important and much-needed role. 

Low-cost/high-value options for Fuller Center Covenant Partners to consider:


  • Make volunteers and contractors aware of the need to build green by using building and other resource materials efficiently.
  • Have all volunteers use refillable water containers for drinking while on sites.
  • Have recycling containers available on site for volunteers to use for recyclable waste materials.


  • Learn local energy codes.
  • Site selection – Passive solar design: Try to place the longest walls of the house on an east-west axis. Site selection should include good drainage to keep moisture away from structure.
  • Insulate – Use insulation and builders felt in walls, floors and ceiling to reduce heat loss.  The use of  2×6 walls allows for more insulation.  Fully insulate areas around HVAC ductwork. Insulate hot water pipes.
  • Seal – Caulk and foam all exterior and attic/basement penetrations. Seal around windows and use foam insulating templates around all switchboard covers on exterior walls.  A 6″ foam sill seal gasket and a protective membrane should be used between the concrete footer and the bottom of the wall plate.  This will serve as insulation and a capillary break which will act as a termite barrier.
  • Install low-e windows, low-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, and fluorescent and low energy use lighting
  • Use low odor paints and finishes
  • Prime raw wood and sheetrock before painting


As we are in the business of building communities, not just houses, care should be taken to assure that the houses are attractive and, to the extent affordable, distinctive.  A volunteer craftsman, for example, can help build a well-finished entry and variation of paint colors and shutters made from scrap lumber can greatly enhance the appearance of the home.


The Fuller Center recommends against installing carpet for a couple of reasons:  it is not volunteer friendly, so it is more expensive to install; and it doesn’t hold up well in houses that typically receive heavy use.  We recommend using more easily installed tile squares.


The Covenant Partner should consider including an energy efficient stove and refrigerator as part of the house package.


The Fuller Center recommends that the primary entrance be covered and, where appropriate, protected from the weather with side walls.


The Fuller Center recommends that, when feasible, a no-step entry doorway be provided to accommodate persons with disabilities.  This doorway should lead to a no-step walkway from the street or parking area.


The Fuller Center recommends against including garages or carports, unless local ordinances or covenants require such.  A garage can add up to 10% to the total house cost, which means that for every 10 houses built with a garage one family will not have the benefit of a new home.

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