Building a House to Create a Home

By Nate Petroelje

Matt Zomerli may design and construct a house, but he is part of a team that builds a home. Now in his second year as the Construction Director for Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity, Matt has found his calling designing and building homes for families who have been selected by the non-profit organization. Prior to assuming his current role, Matt volunteered for the organization for more than ten years. He was always inspired by the impact he knew his hard work would have on the lives of the families partnering with the organization.

hope habitat

Habitat attracts many volunteers to help erect the homes that Matt & his team design. Photo: Hope College Habitat Facebook Page

I had the chance to sit down with Matt to discuss some of the finer details of what he does at the organization. Each house is built to certain standards, aligning each home with the guidelines laid out by Habitat for Humanity International, the larger organization that Lakeshore’s team is a part of.

“The size parameters are based on how many bedrooms a house has. For example, a three-bedroom house is about 11,072 square feet,” explains Zomerli. Although it’s common practice for the Habitat team to try to provide each child with their own bedroom, sometimes there must be compromises. If two children are within five years in age and of the same gender, they will share a room.

For the Pedraza family, who moved into their completed Habitat house at the beginning of 2016, this meant that their house would be have three bedrooms. One for the parents, one for the son, and one for the daughter.


The Pedraza’s new home

That might sound fairly standard to most readers. However, Judy Hill, Homeowner Services Manager for the Lakeshore chapter, assures us that it is not. “Families very often can’t afford a three-bedroom apartment, so they pack three kids and two adults into a two-bedroom apartment,” explains Hill. When a family living in these types of tough living conditions becomes approved for a Habitat home, it’s the little things like the extra bedroom that will change their lives for the better in the years to come.

When it comes to the actual design of the home, the family actually has relatively little input into the design. This is because Matt and his team are bound by Habitat to build certain sized homes, but also because they are bound by other factors that influence what the team has to build with. Sometimes, certain covenants or deed restriction that are part of the lot will limit the building team’s capabilities.

However, Habitat for Humanity has worked hard to keep in mind the family that will move into the home through many steps of the designing and building process. Each family will get $1,000 in options for their home, which is used for things like blinds, ceiling fans or additional windows or doors in areas of the home.

Each family also benefits from the fact that Habitat builds all of their homes to be Energy Star compliant. “It’s great that we can get people into a home for a low cost, but if their gas bill is $200 per month, we haven’t really helped the family that much,” explains Zomerli.

All of the homes are also built to a standard where they can be rated as handicap visitable. When a house is handicap visitable, the house will have a zero-step entry, at least one bedroom and bathroom on the main floor, and the house will feature doorways that are three feet wide. These wider doorways ensure that occupants bound to a wheelchair for any reason will be able to navigate the main floor without difficulty.

In the same way that Matt Zomerli makes houses not homes, Lakeshore Habitat as a whole has worked hard on making the benefactors of these houses into homeowners. They offer classes that educate the homeowners-to-be on everything from financial management, to how to fix common household appliances. “When you have a clogged sink, you don’t have the option of calling a landlord, it’s just you now,” explains Judy Hill.

Matt, Judy, and the rest of the Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity team work hard to change the lives of families facing residential challenges in the Lakeshore area. When designing and building each home, Matt knows that his work will provide a hard working family with the sense of security and pride that comes from being a homeowner. Judy knows that her efforts to set the families of the homes up with the skills and understanding to help prevent against hardships down that road will have a strong positive impact on the children of the family.

Whatever part of the Habitat process members of the Lakeshore team work in, they know that when that dedication ceremony comes, they will all find an abundance of satisfaction knowing what they’ve done for the family of the home.


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