12 Fire Recovery Recommendations for Residents of Superior, Louisville, Marshall, and Boulder Areas
By Bob Hinz, Owner – HomeWrights Custom Homes of Denver, Colorado
First of all, let me acknowledge the trauma and pain an event like losing a home to a wildfire can be. Recovering from this on both the emotional and financial levels will take time. If there is anything HomeWrights Custom Homes can do to help, please let us know.
Our intention with the following article is to give you a starting point to keep moving forward. In Colorado, we’ve seen many people face the loss of homes to fire and many of those people also recover from those losses.
Rebuilding a Custom Home After a Fire
Those in the Superior, Louisville, Marshall, and Boulder areas who decide to rebuild may take some comfort in the fact that construction techniques are always improving and building technology is constantly on the move. The house that you will build will likely be better in many ways than the house it replaces. That means better windows and doors, better insulation, more efficient heating and cooling systems, and better overall construction from top to bottom. Your home will be stronger, smarter, and more comfortable than before.
When the decision is made to rebuild, there are many factors that must be considered. Here are just a few:
1. Cleanup – A thorough and comprehensive cleanup of fire debris is very important. Old materials that burned in the fire often result in some toxic debris. It’s tempting to want to sift through that debris before the major cleanup, but that must be done with the right personal protective equipment. It might be best to hire professionals to do this. What else is left? It might be tempting to use any leftover components – steel, foundation, bricks, etc. in an attempt to rebuild fast and save some money but don’t – not without an engineer’s approval.
2. Foundation – At first glance, it might seem that your foundation, being made of concrete and steel, survived the fire and can be reused. Not likely. A house fire can reach temperatures of 3000 degrees. We’ve all seen photos of pretzel-like steel beams, twisted in the intense heat of long fires. Concrete may or may not have fared well exposed to the heat of those fires. For my own personal home, I would not consider rebuilding on an existing foundation unless an engineer of my own choosing combed over it carefully.
3. House Plans – Your city or county may have your house plans on file in digital format from when your permit was originally pulled. Try to get a copy from the city or county if you’re considering replacing the burned house with the same house. Even if not, use the old plans for inspiration. You may also find your house plans on file with your original builder or the original architect. In addition to the city and county permitting process, if you have a Homeowners Association (HOA) make sure you understand their rules and guidelines before doing anything.
4. Mortgage Considerations – Two big considerations. First, contact your current lender to see what can be done to handle your obligations in the short run while you develop your rebuilding plans. Second, make sure you understand the difference between a mortgage and a construction loan. They are NOT the same. You can obtain a construction loan while still maintaining your current mortgage. You do NOT need to be making two house payments to build your new custom home. Here’s an article and a quick video I did recently to explain the differences.
5. Decision Making – You’ll be faced with many decisions in the coming months. This can be stressful and it’s important to remember that you do not have to make those decisions alone. Keep asking for help from professionals and those who’ve been through similar situations. And, most decisions, although they might feel urgent, deserve whatever time and attention needed for the best outcome for all involved. Keep in mind that the team at HomeWrights Custom Homes is willing to help answer any construction questions – whether or not you work with us.
6. Building Permits – Every community, HOA, city and county have their own requirements on building permits. AND, after these recent devastating fires, many of these organizations are quite sensitive to the urgency people are facing and may have programs to expedite the permitting process. Just ask.
7. Utilities – Electrical, gas, water, sewer, septic systems will need to be thoroughly and professional examined to determine their condition and whether or not they can be reused or require replacement. Do not assume your own visual inspection is enough. Talk with the utility company and qualified experts where needed.
8. General Contractors – Finding the right contractor to assist you in the rebuilding process will be extremely important. All too often after major catastrophes there are plenty of unethical “opportunity seekers” that show up to take advantage of victims. Be cautious and aware of any vendors/contractors that offer something that seems too good to be true. Ask your local bankers, real estate professionals, architects, chamber of commerce members for referrals.
Whomever you hire to help with your rebuild, check their references and areas of expertise. Also make sure your builder is licensed, insured, and has the local knowledge you’ll need to get through the permitting and construction challenges. Make sure they have knowledge of the local market and have the ability to recommend and work with soil testing engineers, architects, designers, structural engineers, surveyors, bankers, etc.
That builder’s knowledge and relationship with specific contacts such as lumber yards, truss manufacturers, window suppliers, appliance vendors, cabinet vendors, etc. will be crucial in the complex world of new home construction.
9. OPTION to GENERAL CONTRACTORS: Acting as your own contractor may be an option as a way to save significant money while rebuilding a custom home. If you’re going to act as your own general contractor to save money, HomeWrights offers the Owner-Builder Program which allows you to eliminate the need for a contractor and related markups and fees.
Most lenders will not finance someone with little experience in construction to act as their own builder, but with HomeWrights as your consultant, it may be a viable option. Learn more here.
10. Budget First – Design Second – Many people assume they should start the building (or rebuilding) process by contacting an architect. We believe it’s much wiser to start with a competent builder. That way you can get a rough idea of building costs before you start your planning process. Although there are many great architects/designers around, their focus is more about design and functionality and not cost.
If you contact HomeWrights, we’ll work with you to create a ballpark budget you can take to your designer. It makes little sense to design a wonderful home and then have to start cutting that design back to fit the budget. We say, budget first, design second.
11. Silver Lining – If there is any good to come out of the rebuilding process, hopefully you’ll find it in many new improvements in your new home. While it may be only a slight consolation, choosing the materials, colors, and textures of the new home will be fun and exciting. Most homeowners probably have the short list of annoying things from the old home, and the new home can most certainly be built without those little bugs.
It’s easier now than ever to build with efficient windows, insulation and heating and cooling systems. Those technologies are on the march and the entire industry is showing off the best ever in those categories. The same is true of lighting, lighting controls and MANY aspects of your new home.
12. Mental, Emotional, Physical, and Spiritual Wellbeing – Any traumatic event like the loss of a home will have an impact on many aspects of our lives. Yes, you want to get moving on rebuilding and getting your life back on track and you will, in time. In the short run, do whatever you need to take care ALL aspects of your wellbeing.
Talk with mental health providers, your spiritual community and other professionals that understand how traumatic events can affect us in the short and long run.
Why HomeWrights Custom Homes?
Every custom home is unique and HomeWright’s has a team of professional builders to partner with you as you build wealth for your future by acting as your own custom home builder.
Whether you’re taking advantage of our Owner-Builder program or our Turnkey approach to building your custom home, recognizing the importance of setting goals and having clear intentions will make that journey towards your dream home a lot smoother!