Getting to Work

Today, the Moore house is dry and empty. Johnny has stripped the majority of the place down to the studs and subfloor, and now he and his boys carry in lumber, setting up a staging area for a raised bedroom and bathroom they are building off the back. The addition is a necessity, not a luxury. When Venus comes home from Baton Rouge, she'll be bringing along her elderly mother and mentally disabled sister—both of whom were displaced by the hurricane—to live in the existing two bedrooms.

Framing square in hand, Nigel climbs a ladder and straddles a ceiling joist to calculate the pitch of the new roof. He calls out the measurements to Troy, who transfers the angle to the end of a fresh 2x8 and uses a circular saw to cut a pointed end for a rafter. Over the whir of the saw and pops from the nail gun that Chip uses to secure the rafters in place, an iPod plays "Ain't That Good News," by Sam Cooke. It's one of Johnny's favorite songs, and he sings along while admiring the assembly line his sons have created.

The Moores have a lot to feel hopeful about. Besides the promise of reuniting their family, they are putting the house back together even better than it was before the storm. "If we are going to rebuild, we are going to rebuild right," Johnny says. That means adding insulation in walls that previously had none, installing energy—efficient windows, updating electrical wiring, and replacing corroded steel plumbing with new copper lines.

Some improvements will have to wait, though. Johnny has already spent most of a low—interest, $10,000 disaster—recovery loan that he secured through the U.S. Small Business Administration on lumber. "The price of materials kills you," he says. And forget about hiring professionals to do the work. "There's so much demand that it's hard to get somebody reputable to start a job, much less finish it," Troy explains. "You can't buy an electrician." Luckily, the Moores don't have to. Chip trained as an electrician before becoming a firefighter. Troy's been doing his own plumbing work for years. And Nigel does just about everything else, including carpentry and tile. They learned most of their skills from their dad, a jack—of—all—trades who tinkers in his garage workshop.
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