BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — The same contractors who built many of the neighborhoods destroyed in the Marshall Fire are now left to build them up again. Blocking their paths now are high supply costs, labor shortages and regulations that come with building in areas regulated by homeowners associations (HOAs). The process could take years.
"We’ll be ordering materials for this house a year and a half before we need them. And hopefully we get them in time," said Mirek Maez, a general contractor and owner of Cooper Building Group in Louisville. "People are just ordering and ordering and ordering and well now, we have another 1,000 people ordering. It’s a snowball effect that doesn’t seem to be ending."
For more than a decade, Maez has worked to build up and remodel homes like many of the ones destroyed in Louisville.
"We just did the landscaping here this year. And as you can tell, there’s nothing left of it either," said Maez, pointing to a home that was now destroyed. "I remodeled a lot of these homes. Now we’re going to build them."
It won’t be quick. They’re already facing more challenges than usual these days.
The cost of building materials is high. One thousand board feet of lumber costs more than $1,200 today. A year ago, it was less than $800. In 2020, it was less than $500. Other materials take months to arrive.
"The metal plates to put trusses together. There’s a shortage of them," said Maez. "We’re waiting six, seven months for trusses now."
Heidi Newlin is an Interior Architect and Construction Operations Manager for Cooper Building Group. Before she can draw up blueprints, the debris has to be cleared, remaining structures must be demolished, and the contaminated topsoil has to be removed.
Builders were already busy. Now they’re making more room to rebuild.
"We want to get them back in as fast as possible, but we can only do as much as we can do," said Newlin. " We’re not taking on any new additional work but fire rebuilds."
A lot of these homes burned in neighborhoods and subdivisions regulated by HOAs. In those cases, those HOAs hold a lot of power over how the area looks when it rebuilds. A lot of times, the HOA will hire a contractor to build all the homes, so that they look the same. That of course could slow down the building process and create more regulations that have to be followed.
Other HOAs could leave it up to homeowners to contract with their own builders, though if all the houses look very different from each other it could impact the resale value in the area down the line.
Maez said it could take several years. If you look at one of the last major fires to destroy hundreds of homes. A year after the east troublesome fire in Grand County, less than half the people who say they want to rebuild have even gotten a permit to do so. It’s a long process, no matter where you are.
"We want to get this town back together," said Maez. "That’s our main goal."