I grew up in a brick house. Red brick, two story with dark blue shutters. Enamored with colonial style architecture, my mom picked it out. But moving to the mountains of Colorado, I thought I’d left all the brick homes behind.
So I was surprised to learn that nearby Denver is filled with homes constructed of brick. While listening to Public Radio one morning, the historian described the circumstances that brought this spurt of building with brick.
Like many Colorado towns, Denver got its start from mining. Look at any old mining photo and you’ll probably notice two things. The nearby hillsides are devoid of any standing trees, and all the building are wooden including their sidewalks. An old black and white photo of Blackhawk demonstrates this perfectly.
As mining boomed, Denver was built the same way. Unfortunately, towns built of wood are quite susceptible to fire. Caribou, Colorado, some four miles west of Nederland burned three times during its heyday as mining community. The final fire in the 1900s wiped the town out for good.
A fire in 1863 wiped out most of Denver. But town officials noticed the few buildings that remained were made of brick. Determined that the town would not suffer a similar fate, they created new ordinances that mandated new buildings would be made of brick. According to the NPR story, this mandate stayed in place until the 1960s. Most of Denver’s historic districts have brick homes to this day.
But when I envisioned in my mind my quintessential mountain home, I didn’t see brick. I saw logs, massive logs. The problem with wood of any kind for a home in the mountains, is that it’s flammable.
Despite our fantasies about mountain living, we’d do well to take a tip of those Denverites back in 1863. While log homes or wooden siding seem like the perfect home, they are not the best thing to build with these days.
Three years ago, the Cold Springs Wildfire burned to within a mile of our home. It burned on all side of house up the road, that I was sure had burned down. But yet, when they lifted the evacuation orders, there it stood.
The orange stucco “miracle” house. The reason it still stood was in large part due to its noncombustible material that withstood the flames and embers raining down on it. Stucco is ideal for a mountain home.
But if you like the look of wood, but want to be “fire-wise”, choose a siding called Hardieboard. Hardieboard is cement-based, making it quite noncombustible. But from the road, its lap siding appears to be wood-like. It also can be painted just like wood as well.
After ten years living in the mountains of Colorado, vision of what a mountain home should look like has drastically changed. What I care about most is being a responsible mountain homeowner who has done my best to protect my home from wildfires.
Who knows, maybe brick homes will make a comeback around the foothills of Nederland.