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Best Green Houses:

Got the Blues: A craftsman makes the best of the mountain pine beetle infestation in Colorado.

Brewster Timber Frame Company

By David Sokol
June 2012
Photo © Steven C. Rundquist

When Steven Rundquist moved from Brewster, Massachussetts, to Bellvue, Colorado, in 1998, he geared his timber framing company to new residential construction in this area north of Boulder, instead of preserving the centuries-old homes he encountered on Cape Cod. Although Rundquist would look to the same historic precedents in this next chapter of his business, the materials at his disposal were not quite the same. Around 2005 he started hearing about a burgeoning of mountain pine beetles in the area. Five years ago he began seeing the ravages firsthand.

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“At that time I was working on a timber frame project in Steamboat Springs, commuting from Bellvue to Steamboat by going up Poudre Canyon and over Cameron Pass. The west-facing hillsides had as much as 60 percent loss of Lodgepole pine. Soon trees were dying on the east side of Cameron Pass. Now it’s starting to show up in the lowest foothills where my home is located.”

Pine-infested Lodepoles are identifiable by their blue coloration, yet they are otherwise structurally indistinct from healthy fallen pine. So, in 2007, Rundquist also decided that he should employ beetle-kill pine for his homes, instead of specifying product from the logging industry. For the weekend cabin of Boulder resident Gregg DeBoever, Rundquist made the most of the tinted lumber. Construction began in July 2011 and wrapped up this spring.

DeBoever’s property is located approximately 30 miles west-northwest of Bellvue, inside Roosevelt National Forest. Clearing the site minimally and working with Rundquist to determine true solar south, DeBoever tucked the building pad within a small grove of aspens approximately 150 feet from the Poudre River. Beetle infestation has destroyed 20 percent of the Lodgepole stands in the area; residents are seeing impact spreading to lower-elevation Ponderosas.  

The footprint of the lofted one-and-a-half-story house measures a mere 18 by 30 feet. Heavy timber construction precludes intermediate load-bearing walls, making for a larger-seeming interior living space; in season, front and rear porches add 300 square feet of livable space to the cabin, too.

All of the main structural timbers are beetle-kill pine and visible throughout the home. The stairs, porch frames, floor deck, and subflooring are also built from beetle kill. The timbers were originally harvested from the western side of Cameron Pass, then milled locally. Materials like the flooring veer toward other species, such as aspen, cedar, and hemlock—all of it reclaimed from other buildings. In that same vein, octagonal bookcases from the old Denver Courthouse Basement Law Library serve as DeBoever’s shelving, enamel pendants from an old mining camp now illuminate the back porch, and a bathtub once graced a mansion in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

DeBoever took responsibility as general contractor, and Rundquist served as architectural designer (he relayed Sketchup renderings to Bellvue firm Crown Jade Engineering, which created stamped permit drawings). With his business partner Mike DuRant, Rundquist assembled and fabricated the timber frame.  

That and more, in fact, because the timber frame is just one layer of the cabin: It nests inside SIPs construction. “I use SIPs with timber framing because the combination of systems is very energy-efficient and extra strong,” Rundquist explains. “The SIPs create a tight, well sealed enclosure system, which I liken to a Styrofoam cooler.” Indeed, the house is functioning like an Igloo. A fireplace built entirely of local river rock serves all of DeBoever’s heating needs.

With the exception of the roof connection, the two layers are mutually exclusive structurally. Rundquist continues: “The cathedral ceiling–roof deck is a layer of local aspen tongue-in-groove boards atop the timber rafters with 10-inch foam-core SIPs roof panels atop that, and a standing-seam metal roof atop that.” Cedar boards comprise the exterior trim, and the siding, also cedar, is a combination of horizontal tongue-in-groove and shiplap recycled from a barn. The house also includes a rain screen, made of furring strips that run vertical to the cedar and barn boards, with slightly less than an inch of negative space between them.

The High Park wildfires that continue raging through northern Colorado have just glanced DeBoever’s weekend property so far. Even if it had done worse, Rundquist conjectures that the super-insulated volume, in tandem with heavy timbers’ greater structural integrity in fire, would have had a better chance of survival than a typical platform-frame home. He is even more certain that the abundance of beetle-kill pine “has made this fire more difficult to control when it hits the areas where kill stands are concentrated.” Grateful that their project was spared, both men are making their volunteer services available for the reconstruction to come.


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