I was introduced to Sadie Hebert by friend and sometimes collaborator Mike Hines in November of last year. It wasn’t your typical introduction – jb Sadie; Sadie jb.  It was more like (and b was included in these emails) . . . Hey, I have met these folks online . . . I am thinking about writing a story about them.  BUT can I really trust that their story is for real?

The Heberts before KatrinaTruth – Mike probably put it a little more eloquently . . . but his apprehension did come out in the post that he did ultimately write.  In the process, of course, Mike developed a level of trust and even a personal relationship with Sadie, her husband Jason, the family and the folks behind the Twitter handle @KatrinaSOS. Some of you may know them as well.

Mike’s experience and the Hebert’s story is captured beautifully on his blog >> here.  To read it, you’ll find a tale of natural disaster (yeah, Hurricane Katrina), destruction, deception and set back after set back.  BUT we are not going to look at those things here . . .  today (well OK, maybe a little) and you may ask, “How do you get a title like “A Well-Built Dream House . . .” out of that?”

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Recently I had the chance to catch up with Sadie to see what is doing with the re-build. It was only coincidence that she was painting when I called . . . . But as I understand it, this is how it is — most days.  They had just recently gotten the water on in their kitchen, and Sadie seemed proud of this.  As it appears, that is the status quo — home from work (as professors at local colleges) and, well, right back to work.  The small victories coming every so often.

Imagine that – the Heberts and their modified A-frame just inland of the Mississippi. It’s a big house (and probably just right for a family of seven), but big houses (and take it from someone that is a big house owner) take a big-house amount of work. So I asked her pretty up front if there is any end in sight.  To this, Sadie replies, We gave up on setting dates; it really is just day to day.

Going on year six now, and much still to do, I ask her what remains.  She tells me. “Flooring, trim and painting.”  The HardiePlank has been installed, but it is not yet caulked or painted.  She tells me of a unique wood configuration in the downstairs bath, and it *is* at about this point that my title comes to me.  Sure, here are these folks that have gotten the short end of the stick, but here they are . . .  still, persevering – on their way to what I would consider their dream home.

Custom Built by the Heberts After KatrinaI mean — Look at this list of elements or features now installed in, on or around their house: OVE – 2×6, 24″ framing, soy-based spray foam insulation, passive solar, mini-split HVAC systems with HVAC condensation reclaimed/collected for garden, hybrid water heaters, Pex plumbing, bamboo flooring, metal roofing, HardiePlank siding, and the eXapath raceway system.  Quite an impressive list I would say, and in many ways very “green” — right down to the low and No-VOC coatings used.

This did not happen on accident of course, and the decision to re-build themselves actually came earlier on.  As Sadie told super-site BuildDirect in an interview just recently, “We decided early on that we were going to rebuild as green as possible (with a special focus on indoor air quality).” She continues, We also take the approach that we would rather be without than settle for something less desirable. (I suggest reading the entire interview here >> http://blog.builddirect.com/interview-with-katrina-sos-sadie-hebert/.)

Now I do not include that last bit to make the Heberts sound like snobs, but ironically — the speed at which the building process occurred actually lent itself to this way of being.  And of course, the Heberts would not have been able to do all of what they have done without assistance.  In fact, they did have to ask for help; Sadie herself saying this is her number one biggest piece advice for anyone finding themselves in a similar situation — “Do not be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help when you need it.”

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 Volunteers Working on the Heberts after KatrinaThey made a plea (via their online presence), asking for assistance in any form possible.  Mike @eXapath donated, Wendy at Builders Resource (@CabinetKnob and coincidentally my very first blog follower) donated.  But the bulk of the assistance came from a single local group — Hertigage UTC. Through this group, 11 different sets of individuals showed up to volunteer.

Again from her interview with BuildDirect — “Several of the volunteer groups brought inexperienced people along to teach on the job. I feel good knowing that what they learned here will be put to use on other homes in the future. Sure, we end up with some imperfections along the way but I wouldn’t change a thing because (they are) a reminder of that person.”

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Let’s be honest though — their story is really a tough one to stomach.  Sadie is one of the more kind-hearted people you’d want to meet, but still when she describes the mess of bureaucratic mishandling by insurance companies, emergency response organizations, etc. – Angry is the first word that she can come to muster.  She continues, “You don’t know how difficult it is (as a parent) to go through a winter without heat and insulation and know that your children are cold.  I mean – they never say anything nor complain – but . . . .”  The Hebert’s HVAC system was finally hooked up this past June.

water ironic from the 5 year anniversary postThey purchased this house in 2003 and there in the quiet town of Saucier, Sadie describes their original plans for the home.  She says, “Before Katrina we had already repainted one room and I was working on the walls in a bathroom that I tore up while stripping the wallpaper. But no solid renovation plans other than the casual updating that we were in no hurry to do.”

When I ask her though . . . now . . .  of the things of which she is most proud, Sadie proclaims — “Well, designing the re-build.”  Sadie herself (and yeah a web designer by trade with a leg up maybe on 3D modeling) designed truss and wall layouts, a re-configuration of the roof to a full two story “A-frame”, the kitchen plan, etc., using the design software Chief Architect.  (All that was needed from that point was a rubber stamp from a local architect.)

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This story, the story of Katrina SOS, is not complete of course without telling of how the Heberts themselves have given back.  (Sadie even offering and helping to do work on this website.)  And maybe it is the real story here – please check out their blog KatrinaSOS >>  http://katrinasos.wordpress.com/.  It shows the true power of the internet — a resource established now to help others who may find themselves in a similar state of disaster recovery and rebuilding.

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Thanks for taking the time Sadie.  And for readers, please check out great pics of the process and progress in Sadie’s Flickr stream here >> http://www.flickr.com/photos/5adie/collections/72157604028952678/ (All photos from here or from their blog).  And of course you may contact them through their blog if you would like to help in any way.