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Building on bugs

Connie Steiert
EVE Exterior Log House DT 8-01
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EAGLE – You can see the telltale color all around the valley – the dry, brittle red of trees infested by pine beetles. The trees are dying in huge numbers, but a local man has seized on an opportunity. Phil Gould, owner of Handcrafted Log & Timber Inc. in Eagle, is not the only builder to make use of beetle kill logs – but he is one of the few to use them so extensively, including for his own Hilltop home.He also built a house for his parents, Sarah and Nelson, on Bull Run and has used beetle-killed logs to build homes in the Bluffs subdivision, Eagle Ranch and Buena Vista. He also makes trusses, posts and beams and other building materials for other contractors.All of the logs used in the structure of his parents home – which was built in 2003 – came from beetle-killed trees. The longest piece, the 52-foot long high beam running the length of the ceiling in the great room, was killed in the Flat Tops. Supporting columns are made from lodgepole pines killed by beetles, which Phil Gould harvested from a private ranch in Lake Creek and from the forest around Minturn. The common room’s 16-by-30-foot floor is made from hickory, but the walls are also made from beetle-killed lodgepoles. The cupboards, railings, stair steps and doors also came from beetle-killed logs.

As for the tiny holes the beetles have bored through many of the logs, they actually add to the home’s charm, Sarah Gould said. The logs vary from gold to reddish to a cool blue-green tint, and at certain times of the day, sunlight streams through the holes in the master bedroom door, she said.

Beetle-killed timber isn’t yet the latest trend. Phil Gould said most builders are still shipping logs in from Montana or Washington. Part of the reason is that the popular “lodge look” trend features massive timbers – the bigger the better.”There’s a mystique about logs coming from Montana – this perception that they are better than Colorado logs,” Gould said. Some architects or designers shy from pine because alder or hickory is more in vogue, but with modern staining techniques just about any look can be realistically achieved from lodgepole, Gould said. Gould builds with shorter, 10-20-foot lodgepole logs in a grid pattern, which, he said, allows for greater flexibility in room configuration. For instance, Gould built a wide open loft in his parent’s home, and partitioned the large room into a bedroom, bathroom, exercise nook and office. There is also an environmental advantage, said Tom Olden, owner of Pine Marten Logging who supplies a lot of Gould’s wood. Olden points out the massive logs that come from the northwest are harvested from old-growth timber, which, in his opinion, is the most environmental form of logging.Despite the fact that there are an estimated 72,000 acres of pine beetle infested trees between Vail Pass and Avon, getting to them is not always easy as it might seem. Most of those trees are on Forest Service land, and can only be purchased when put up for bid.

Olden estimates that only one percent of all the trees that die in White River Forest are put up for sale each year. Sometimes, it’s already too late. Gould said he is sorry about a large stand of spruce trees killed by beetles on the Flat Tops that was left too long and bored to uselessness by beetles, and then destroyed by fire. And a timber sale nixed at Camp Hale last Christmas would have produced enough lumber to build 40 homes, he said. The Forest Service is planning to salvage the 58,000 acres of infected trees between Vail and Avon. Smaller projects are also in the works in Vail, along the Piney River, and along Highway 24 near Camp Hale.

The final issue is trucking. Even if the infected forest areas were opened to loggers tomorrow, most mountain towns don’t want logging trucks rolling up and down their streets. Still, Gould plans to keeps building.”Nelson’s house is built with basically dead trees picked up off the ground,” Olden said, “and they make for homes with good insulation. You could build a lot of houses with them fairly inexpensively.” This article first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.Vail, Colorado


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