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August 09, 2013 10:00 PM

Home Building Mom

Watertown, SD

Unless you know exactly what you're doing, taking on a home improvement project can be scary. But a Watertown artist and mother did more than that. She took on the task of building an entire house.

"This was something that I knew I could do. It didn't occur to me that I couldn't do this, so for me it was a challenge,” April Johnston said. “What I didn't know I learned or I researched and I just tackled it like I would any job I guess."

She was successful in tackling the home building job. It started a couple years ago with plans and has taken up a bulk of Johnston's time ever since.

When she and her husband decided to build, they knew they'd save money if they did a lot of the work themselves. Her husband works full time as a surgeon, so that left April with the time to take on the project.

"I became a stay at home mom after my second child and I was kind of working freelance as a graphic designer and art director and I decided that if I was going to do this, this would be the time," Johnston said.

Johnston admits the process was very stressful at times. She helped her dad build cabins before, so she had some construction experience. Her dad helped with this house too and Johnston hired a nephew who works construction.

Her husband and brothers also helped when time allowed, but it was the mother of two who took the lead.

"I had to basically be everything. I had to budget it. I had to plan it. I had to be the contractor. I had to be my own subcontractor. I also had to be my own grunt labor worker," Johnston said. "It was a lot of aches and pains and bruises and crying and everything, but it was a lot of fun though too."

From ceiling to floor and anything in between, Johnston says she learned a lot. She worked on plumbing, windows and doors just to list a few tasks. She and family members poured concrete, and rented equipment when needed.

Johnston hired professionals to complete electrical work because that is required by code. But she worked with the contractors so she would learn through the process. Beyond that, she also hired out some dirt work and carpet installation. To maintain her sanity Johnston says she also hired a contractor to hang sheetrock, mud and tape.

"Starting a project like this is just a lot of stress because you're trying to do the right thing. You're trying to do it right," Johnston said. "But somewhere along the way I realized when things do go wrong there are ways to fix them and it's not impossible."

And she can truly appreciate every aspect of her house. When crunching the numbers, the Johnstons figure they cut costs in half with April taking on her role. The experience she gained, she says, is worth even more.

"I think there are a lot of women that want to probably do things like this but probably don't know where to start," Johnston said.

Johnston says she didn't know everything when she started either but still made it to the end.

"When you're in the thick of it, it is chaos. The term blood, sweat and tears is completely true," Johnston said. "But it took a lot to get here and I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled with it and I'm very happy and I think our family is happy too."

The Johnstons just moved into their home and are still in the process of unpacking. There are still several smaller projects to complete around the house. Johnston says she'll get to them but needs a break.

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