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Last hurrah for historic house


Nate Zick of Z Excavation Concrete Inc. pulls down a house near 11th Street and East Fifth Avenue while Jacob Hubertus sprays water to keep the dust down. The owner, Maxine Christopher, is demolishing the house to rebuild a new one that has energy-efficient standards.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

A background in massage therapy, repertory theater production and bakery/coffee shop ownership wouldn’t seem to prepare one to demolish a crumbling house and build an energy-efficient replacement.

But Maxine Christopher will fool you. She knows a crowbar from a claw hammer.

Christopher helped build a house in Creede and remodel a coffee shop – the Café Olé – when she moved there from Seattle. When she divorced, she moved to Durango and built a mortise-and-tenon timberframe addition to a ranch house in the Ptarmigan Farms subdivision, northeast of downtown Durango.

So she was undaunted when it came time to replace her 1928 house that hugged the hill at East Fifth Avenue and 11th Street.

The new house will be built according to the guidelines of the Passive House Institute of the United States and will exceed Energy Star standards, said contractor Brian Slaughter, the principal of LiBo Construction LLC.

Passive House is a nonprofit that promotes high-end energy efficiency through research, education and training.

The guiding principles for Christopher’s new house will be energy efficiency and the use of material and products built in the U.S., Slaughter said.

“We estimate we can buy 90 to 100 percent of American-made materials,” Slaughter said.

Tim Hannigan is the designer.

A Passive House structure is virtually air-tight and has super-high insulation. The house relies on passive solar heat, helped along by judicious orientation of windows, insulation, triple-pane glazed windows and shading.

“They say the difference between a Passive House and a conventional one in energy efficiency is the same as the difference between a Prius and a Hummer,” Slaughter said.

In a tightly built house such as Christopher’s there is little natural ventilation. So the solution is a heat-recovery ventilation system that acts like a lung to discharge used air and bring fresh air into the house.

The unit extracts heat from stale air before expelling it and uses the heat to warm the incoming air before it circulates through the house.

Slaughter said the new 2,100-square-foot house will contain a great room, kitchen, a bedroom and an office on the main floor and two bedrooms upstairs. The single-car garage will be expanded to two spaces.

When Christopher bought the 1,700-square-foot house in 2007, its proximity to routes to Fort Lewis College made it, for all intents and purposes, an extension of the campus dormitories.

Two student renters split the main floor, with other students renting the low-ceilinged second floor and the garage.

The situation reminds her of recent Durango City Council discussions about accessory dwelling units, which cram renters into any available space, Christopher said.

The convenience of the location brought her 60 inquiries when she rented the house a year later. This time it went to a professional couple.

As she prepared for knockdown, Christopher salvaged anything with recyclable value. When she finished, Durango Fire & Rescue Authority used the gutted structure for two days of drills before demolition occurred.

Removed from the house were a wrought-iron spiral staircase, the tin roof, the windows, a cast-iron bathtub and a sink, fireplace bricks, interior doors, stones from the cobble stone/cement retaining walls and worn oak flooring, which she thinks was recycled once before because of the haphazard installation.

What she couldn’t incorporate into the new house was donated to Mark Beaudin at Durango Salvage, a warehouse of recyclable items.

A portion of his sales will be passed along to the Southwest Safe House, Christopher said.

“I’m happy that others could benefit from the reconstruction,” Christopher said.


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