Work Parties

Train-Your-Crew Work Parties

If you just want to get the job done, and you like building things better than running a mailing list, a work party may be the best solution for your needs.
Erica has been leading small project teams (volunteer, and mixed volunteer/professional) since 1992.  Ernie's command experience dates back to about 1982. To get the most out of our limited time on site, we recommend bringing in about 4 to 6 reliable friends, volunteers, or paid work crew, so we're directing a team.

Work parties are just that - a group of people getting together to work on something, and have fun at the same time.  You ask folks to save the date in advance, let them know roughly what's going on and what tools to bring, feed them some pizza or tacos (especially if you're not paying them).  We can directly supervise a work party on-site at our day rate plus travel costs. 

Work Party Ground Rules:
- Work starts where it starts, and we get as far as we get.  If the hosts get excited and build half the project before we arrive, that's fine.  If we spend the first day cleaning bricks or working the phones to find missing materials, that's fine too.  If we all get lucky with timing and talent and materials, we might see a start-to-finish project in a day or two.  But no promises, no expectations.  Our main commitment is to move things forward, by un-sticking any stuck points, so that work can continue at a better pace after we're gone.

- Host feeds labor, not vice-versa.  Basic hospitality.  Good food and hydration stations make the day for volunteer or mixed crews.  With hired labor, it's true you could ask paid crews to handle their own lunch, but we may have a better and more productive day if everyone eats together on site.  If you have friends who offer to bend this rule, and feed your crew on work-party days, treasure them.

- Project at hand takes priority.  Not others' future goals or training.  Not "what if this was in a different building, like mine back home?"  Don't expect formal presentations, time constraints of convenience, or progress held back so everyone can see it.  (Exceptions where functionally necessary.)  If other locals want to piggy-back a personal project consultation onto a scheduled work-party in your area, coordinate a separate time for that consultation.  (Most work-party hosts will be delighted to share us with anyone who chips in for our travel costs.)

- Everyone contributes from their greatest strength.  We expect skilled crew to bring their best skills to bear, not practice their worst skills at the owner's expense.  Tradespeople who would prefer to work in a particular skill set, bring your own tools or PPE for the assignment you want.  (We don't generally travel with our full inventory of power tools, especially on flights, so bring the good stuff if you want to use it.)  Folks with limited [relevant] skill sets, feel free to express interest in working under a particular master, as long as you are also willing to wash up for hours if that's what's needed from you.

- Respect local talent.  There is no substitute for a dedicated, skilled builder with good local knowledge.  Good builders know critical details like frost heave depth, code exemptions, or discount suppliers; they can give you more accurate estimates with fewer nasty surprises, and they deserve top dollar.  To check that you're finding a good local builder, and not a blarney artist, check with several of their past clients about the quality, timeliness, and reliability of their work.
    If you lack the skills or physical capacity to act as owner-builder for your own project, we encourage you to find a good, local "general contractor" who can help you with all phases of the project.  You may need more than one type of builder (mason, framer, concrete guy, chimney installer, earthen/natural builder for cob and finish work).  A good general contractor should be able to organize these folks for you.  Some projects, especially in areas with extra regulation, may require the services of a building professional such as an engineer, or visits from building inspectors.  With a very experienced builder, you may be able to have us consult from a distance instead of supervising your project in person.

- Visiting experts / supervisors: Our role in installation projects may be as an earthen materials specialist; as the technical supervisor for rocket mass heater functional dimensions and detailing; as the on-site director for a community earthen oven project.  We are not engineers, but we can sometimes warn you when an engineer's suggested "improvement" has already been tried and found incompatible (failed) with our RMH designs.  We generally act as trainers/consultants.  If you are short on available builders in your area, and need us to recruit a building crew, be prepared to pay their way. 

- No Free Lunch:  Workers earn their tacos by working, not gabbing.  Owners pay their helpers one way or another (People will not "pay you to build your house.")  Some owners pay cash wages, others use more subtle methods like good pizza, public appreciation, past favors, and/or a reliable reputation for future favors to come.  As your well-paid guests, we will do our best to move things forward by bringing out the best in everyone present, and filling the gaps as needed.

Work Parties vs. Workshops:
  One of the biggest differences we insist on:  Don't sell full-price tickets and advertise the course description to students as you would for a builder course, and then ask us to consider it a "work party" for pricing purposes.

 It takes a lot of work, planning, and organizing to host a Builder Course.  Especially to do it well - so that it produces both happy customers and a working installation.  We charge roughly double for Workshops / Builder Courses, compared to Work Parties, because we are basically doing two jobs for two client groups simultaneously.  Students pay for our attention, instruction, and to get a start-to-finish project experience in a tight time frame.  Site hosts are paying for a project that does a particular job.  Realistically, a lot of the work to make this possible happens outside of our days on site.  During the class itself, it takes our full attention to manage both goals, and we budget time before and after to remedy any owner prep deficiencies, or student errors, that might affect the others' side of the deal.

For a work party, it's simpler.  One paying client (the owner), everyone else is there on condition that they are helpful to the owner / project.  We sell you our full attention, on one or more days, for a fixed amount per day (plus any travel expenses).  You can focus your efforts on the project, and we can too.

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