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'Cutting edge': Inside a fire-resistant home built in the Marshall Fire burn area

Kevin and Casey Lombardo are the first Marshall Fire survivors to build a certified passive home.
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Posted at 12:05 PM, May 20, 2024

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — In the Marshall Fire burn zone, there are dozens of families now returning to their newly built homes every week. The wildfire destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Louisville and Superior back in December 2021. It remains the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.

Among those newly built structures is one that stands out among the rest in Louisville, a passive home. The building standard not only emphasizes high energy efficiency, but it's also fire-resistant and enhances indoor comfort and sound insulation.

“This is our first certified passive home,” said Frank Wetenkamp with Living Craft Design and Build. “Using lumber that is either wildland urban appliance class, a fire component or something like that, that's thick enough that you don't want it to break down easily. So, like this decking is actually a pressure-treated fire-resistant wooden material.”

The family that built the home couldn’t be more thrilled with their choice.

“Along the road it was hard,” said Casey Lombardo. “Like, money was hard, everything was hard, and we kept asking, are we doing the right thing? Should we be doing this? Does it make sense? We always came back to — if we’re going to do it, let’s do it amazing. And I think it’s pretty amazing.”

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For Casey Lombardo, her husband, Kevin Lombardo, and their two boys, their journey to recovery begins on that fateful day back on December 30, 2021.

“It looked like ... there’s another wildfire somewhere,” Casey Lombardo said. “You know, I just totally dismissed it.”

That’s when Kevin Lombardo decided to drive up to the ridge to take a look.

“And I just kind of started shaking,” Kevin Lombardo said of what he saw. “I thought if it’s going to miss us, it’s going to be by this much.”

“And he came back down to the house, and he was like, 'Everybody get into the car now!'” Casey Lombardo said. “And I was like, ‘Oh!’ We left about 15 minutes before the cops came down our neighborhood with a bullhorn saying, 'Get out now!'”

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It would be the last time they saw their house still standing.

“I don’t think it actually settled in for me until we came back to the lot,” Casey Lombardo said. “And I saw it and that was like a week later.”

The Lombardos describe the months and weeks that followed as a fog, but then a light came on in the form of a webinar late one night that introduced them to passive building principals.

“They talked a lot about the benefits of high-performance houses,” Kevin Lombardo said. “The benefits of building a passive house.”

“We were sold,” Casey Lombardo said.

“I didn’t really care before that what we rebuilt,” Kevin Lombardo said. “After this webinar, I cared a lot.”

Fast-forward to this spring and the Lombardos are now moving in.

“They’re a double-stud wall with a bunch of insulation,” Casey Lombardo said as we toured the house with them. “The house is really air-sealed.”

The Lombardo's dream has become a reality.

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“Separating the garage from the thermal envelope of the rest of the house is really important because you can’t achieve airtightness with a garage,” said a representative with Shape Architecture, which worked with Living Craft on the home.

“Intumescent vents allow air to move up behind the siding,” Wetenkamp said. “These homes are designed to use the minimum amount of energy possible. I think for us as builders, it's really exciting to be a part of something that's more cutting edge and innovative.”

The home certainly sticks out from the crowd of new homes here in Louisville, with its metal siding and metal sunshades above every window.”

“There was this other neighboring builder in this neighborhood who stopped by and was like, ‘What are you guys doing? Everything you're doing is so weird and why are you doing it?’ And I kind of tried to explain and he was just like, ‘Well, I've never seen this. I've been doing this for 40 years and I've never seen it,’” explained Wetenkamp’s business partner, Cheryl Corsiglia.

The Lombardo's home uses one-third of the energy and electricity of the average home.

“Everything about the house was designed to minimize the impact of future fires and be fire resistant,” Kevin Lombardo said. “It’s a better home for people and the planet.”

“I think for us as builders, it's really exciting to be a part of something that's more cutting edge and innovative, you know, through our history of the company. We've always been interested in what's the next step and how can we do things better,” Wetenkamp said.

Take a tour of the home with Denver7 in the video player below:

'Cutting edge': Inside a fire-resistant home built in the Marshall Fire burn area