The morning after Hurricane Harvey hit the city of Houston, Kim Huston found herself standing in the chest-deep river that was now her street.

Her house, perched on a hill, had been spared. But just four houses down, the water had taken over. Huston, a licensed architect and general contractor born and raised in Houston, knew she could help.

“I dropped my kids off at my neighbor’s house, put on a pair of shoes and started swimming,” Huston recalls. “We cleared all the houses at the end of the street. We carried a lady from the second floor in a wheelchair all the way out. It was a very surreal experience.”

Weathering the storm

“One of the things I love most about what I do now is the people. I get to be on the job site every day.”

Six months after the storm hit, she’s still helping hurricane victims — only now it’s about helping them rebuild their lives. “Those same people who I rescued, I’m helping them to rebuild their houses. So I’ve seen it all — from literally pulling them out of the houses to helping them get back,” Huston says.

Huston works in an industry with one of the lowest percentages of female workers. She’s often the only woman on a job site. She’s endured the distasteful graffiti, the condescending stares, the doubt that she could do things like back 18-foot trailers down narrow driveways.   

“There’s a stigma involved: ‘Here’s a cute little blond girl, and she thinks she wants to be on the job site.’ I understand that, but I’m also willing to prove it wrong,” she says.

Finding the right fit

In a way, Huston has been working toward a career in construction her entire life. “As a kid, we didn’t have handymen around the house. If we wanted to fix something, we would fix it. If we wanted to build a piece of furniture, we would build it,” Huston recalls.

While her friends were playing with dolls, Huston was working on puzzles. She loves to hunt and fish, and loathes the idea of spending her days cooped up in an office.

That’s why her first career track — architecture — wasn’t a long-term fit. “A lot of architecture is lost behind a desk. You have to be able to learn from your clients and understand their lives and who they are to understand how they’re going to function in a home,” Huston says. “One of the things I love most about what I do now is the people. I get to be on the job site every day, and I get to interact with my clients. You learn so much about people and the way they live.”

Possibility and flexibility

Huston, a single mother of two young children, has run her own architecture and construction firm, Huston Design Build (HDB, LLC), since 2012. But over the past year, demand has skyrocketed, along with the need for good work and honest contractors.

“You want to help everybody, and every story is so heartbreaking. It’s an opportunity for me to take a horrible situation and try to help people find light through all of this,” she says.

That commitment means long days and late nights. But having her own business also means she can set aside a good chunk of time every day for her kids. It’s the kind of flexibility that is making the industry increasingly attractive to women, Huston says.

“The wife of one of my subs came to me, and she said, ‘You know, I see you doing all of this, and I just love it. It makes me think that I can do this.’ And I told her, ‘There’s nothing I’m doing that you can’t do, if you want to.’”