A Personal Touch on Post-Fire Design

Post-fire design of a family’s home needs a personal touch. I know this first-hand. If you live in Colorado for long enough, you’ll almost certainly have a personal story to tell about a wildfire. My personal experience with wildfires began with helping clients rebuild after the Waldo Canyon. The Black Forest fire a year later destroyed my family’s generational home as well, meaning all of our heirlooms, mementos, and antiques were lost. I’ve also helped co-workers after their own devastating losses to fires. After the Marshall Fire, which began two miles away from my current home, I knew I had the personal experience to bring emotional understanding to designing a family’s new home.

EVstudio’s client for this project was a builder we’ve worked with on at least half a dozen projects. The builder knew of a family who needed a design firm that could deliver a custom residential design that recreated what they had lost as closely as possible.

Fairly soon after the fire, I sat down with these clients, and let them know my background. They were still shocked and traumatized from what they had experienced, a feeling I remembered all too well. Unfortunately, there were no plans from the original home available after the fire. It was a nicer tract home in a community impacted by the fire. The family also didn’t have much by way of pictures to provide reference for how the home was laid out.

Recreating a lost structure without these materials – plans, blueprints, photographs – is no easy task. Plus, in the time since the original home was built, there have been changes to codes and regulations for construction. Out of respect for that frame of mind – we want our home back – I reassured them that we would do all we could to create a design that got as close to making that vision a reality as possible.

With time, some of the emotional storm from sustaining the loss of their home passed. That allowed us to suggest big solutions for big problems, such as life/safety issues associated with putting a big staircase in the middle of the house. The clients also realized they could make some other changes and improvements they had always wanted, such as a nine-foot ceiling in the basement.

As is often the case in these situations, I knew we had to wait to confirm all the details until the insurance settlement came in. It wasn’t enough to cover all of the wants of the client family, so some things were trimmed back after schematic design and construction estimates were initially given.

Another solvable stumbling block came from the technical side of designing a new home. A lot of the area impacted by the Marshall Fire is known for having poor and/or expansive soils. EVstudio has done a lot of different engineering observations and repairs on homes in this area that have settled due to soils (and Katelyn Wager, a Structural Engineering Manager and Senior Associate here at EVstudio, is our resident soils engineering expert). For this particular project, the soils report recommended drilled piers, which added a lot to foundation costs.

There was also a lot of debate was over energy codes, which includes things like insulation/heating requirements, electric vehicle charging/readiness, solar charging/readiness, and more. A great number of incentives exist from the state, local jurisdictions, Xcel Energy, manufacturers, and more to encourage homeowners to meet current adopted codes, or take the step up to really hit net-zero level. At EVstudio, we always present and encourage sustainability options. But in the end, it comes down to what the clients want and can afford. Ultimately, this client wanted the familiar comforts of gas appliances and opted out of various sustainable options. As someone who had similarly lost an important home to my family in a fire, I understood this emotional choice and helped guide them in making balanced decisions throughout their design process.

Currently, this design is under progress, and the foundation is in on the house. While the specifics of this design are confidential to protect the privacy of the family, I was moved to write about putting a personal touch on post-fire designs for custom homes. The tragedy and trauma of losing your home in a fire should not be underestimated by design professionals. While we’re not therapists, we can take a compassionate, human approach to our clients in navigating these challenging design processes. If your custom residential project needs a personal touch, let us know. EVstudio would love to design your family’s new home.


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