Utah builders hope all-female-built home will inspire women, girls to join construction industry

(Becky Jacobs | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kristi Allen, center, stands behind her 7-year-old daughter, Elodie Allen, Friday in Saratoga Springs for the groundbreaking for one of the first all-female-built homes in the country.

Saratoga Springs • Elodie Allen used to tag along at her mother’s first construction job site. One day when they pulled up to the house, Elodie asked from the backseat, “Mom, when I’m older, will you teach me to build homes?”

The question brought tears to Kristi Allen’s eyes. She told her daughter she’d love that.

“It felt so profound to me that at 4 years old, she already knew what it took me 30 years to figure out. And that is that being a homebuilder is an amazing place for a woman to be,” said Allen.

On Friday, the now 7-year-old Elodie joined her mother in Saratoga Springs for the groundbreaking of Allen’s newest project: Utah’s first all-female-built home.

Allen is one of three general contractors on a team of roughly 150 women building a 3,200-square-foot, two-story home in Utah County’s Wander community, which will be included in the Utah Valley Parade of Homes next summer. It’s being celebrated as one of the first homes in the country created by an all-female skilled-labor team.

The project, “The House That SHE Built," is a joint venture of the Utah chapter of Professional Women in Building and the Utah Home Builders Association, and it’s sponsored by Oakwood Homes.

“I am brought to tears over the women that I have seen, their love and their passion, their perseverance throughout this project to make this happen,” Kristin Smith, founding chair of Utah Professional Women in Building, said at the groundbreaking Friday morning.

(Becky Jacobs | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kristin Smith speaks Friday in Saratoga Springs at the groundbreaking for one of the first all-female-built homes in the country.

The idea started as a joke, said Stephanie Sharp, a general contractor on the project. At a meeting, someone offhandedly suggested, “Oh yeah, you guys should try and build an all-female-built home.”

“Myself and Kristin ... looked at each other and kind of went, ‘Watch me,’” Sharp said.

For the past two years, they developed plans, found partners, secured funding and assembled their team.

“We spent a long time trying to figure out how to do it and where to build and really why we wanted to build it,” said Allen, current chair of Utah Professional Women in Building.

They didn’t just want to say, “Look, women can build a house. We really wanted to make it about more than that, and not about women are better than men. ... It’s more about showing other women and girls that this is an awesome industry to be in,” Allen said.

Allen and Sharp both grew up in families that worked in construction.

“It was natural to me that that’s just the industry I was going to go into. It never came to my mind that women don’t do construction,” Sharp said.

It wasn’t until Sharp entered the field that she realized, “Wow, there’s really not a lot of people out here like me.” But women are key to filling the "huge labor shortage” in the industry, she said.

“Our goal is just to educate women that you have a place here in construction,” Sharp said.

Elodie Allen’s opportunity to see her mother at work “allowed her to visualize herself in my shoes and say, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to do that when I grow up,'" Allen said.

That’s why Allen and her team plan to share the stories of all the women involved in the project as they go, she said, to inspire more girls.

(Becky Jacobs | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of "The House That She Built" project participate in a groundbreaking Friday in Saratoga Springs for one of the first all-female-built homes in the country.

Most of the proceeds of the house, 60%, will go toward “scholarships for young women who want to go into any construction-related programs,” Sharp said. Another 20% will go to LifeStart Village, a nonprofit that helps single parents with children find stable housing. And the final 20% will be used to create a second all-female-built home.

This project would not have been possible without support form Oakwood Homes, which “donated the lot to us at a highly-discounted cost,” according to Sharp.

We admire what you all are doing in trailblazing and trying to make our industry better,” said Ryan Smith, division president for Oakwood Homes in Utah.

Mark Welcker, president and CEO of Point of the Mountain Chamber of Commerce, said he was excited this project was being built in Utah County, which is experiencing rapid growth and development.

“I’m hoping that the success and the word will get out about this project, and it’ll spread from state to state," Welcker said.

Allen said they tailored this first home “to this idea we had of this busy family and this mom trying to manage a household.”

The master bedroom has his-and-her separate closets with a freestanding tub and double vanities in the master bathroom. The main floor is "an open space for families to gather and entertain,” according to Sharp.

“We’ve got a fun play area that’s going in the basement for the kids that’s going to have a jungle gym and a built-in treehouse," Sharp said.

Allen said she loves working at a construction site because they start with a plot of dirt and create “a beautiful home that a family is going to live in."

“They’re going to make their memories, and when they think of their family and their kids growing up, they’re going to think of the house that we built,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anything better, really.”

(Photo courtesy of "The House That SHE Built" project) A rendering of a house being built by an all-female team in Saratoga Springs.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.