Construction Details and Unique Features

After spending many summers in Vail beginning in the 1970's, we decided to buy a second home in the Vail area.  But we just could not find anything even close to what we (mostly me) were looking for.  A spacious, well-built home high up on a mountain with great views and covenants that allowed antennas for my hobby of ham radio.  I had about given up when I spotted an ad for a building lot on "Bellyache Ridge".  I knew the area well but the roads weren't paved.  Wrong.  The roads had JUST been paved but the word (and lot prices) hadn't gotten around.  I bought the lot on the spot.   Over the years I've had many unsolicited offers to buy plus many realtors wanting to list my home even though I had no intention of (ever) selling. Virtually every realtor described my home as "the best views in the Vail area".   I think so.    Except to the southwest, there are 40+ mile views for about a 300 degree radius.   For example, the peak of Steamboat Springs mountain 65 miles away can be seen as can the peak of Copper mountain halfway back to Denver.   With my telescopes, I've spotted visitors headed my way 20 miles away on the Interstate when they call me on their cell phone and describe their vehicle. 

Over the years, many visitors, who had planned many days of jam packed activity in Vail and Beaver Creek, find the home an oasis they just can't leave.  They scrap their plans and, instead, spend their days reading a book while watching the busy world go on below them.  Total peace and quiet.  But still only 15 minutes into Edwards and 30 minutes to Vail.  Wildlife is everywhere.  The "neighborhood" has changed much the last ten years with the addition of Red Sky Ranch on the way up the mountain with homes there in the $5 million to $15 million dollar range.  The immediate neighborhood has a small number of upscale homes built after the mountain was "discovered" by realtors and buyers alike in the 90's.  There are still early homes (1970's) dotted about that are "tear downs" with the lot being worth more than the home.  In future years, I expect the area will go through what occurred in Vail itself in the 90's.  The early homes were torn down and multi-million dollar homes went up on the temporarily empty lots.  Still, compared to Red Sky Ranch below and Cordillera (next mountain over), the Bellyache Ridge subdivision provides outstanding value for the money.  The area will, eventually, catch up with surrounding much higher prices homes.  There is an active home owner's association with most homes being owned and occupied by full-time residents.  It's a real "neighborhood".  Not an area of almost all vacant homes with their owners visiting each Christmas (i.e. the Vail golf course where over 80% of the homes there are second homes and almost always vacant except for caretakers).    We're one of few part-time residents.  Block parties are held and the like.  It's Vail the way Vail was when I first visited the wonderful area in the 60's.  Not the urban mountain city everything from Edwards and east has become. 

Bellyache Ridge (BR) has probably become the #1 close-in rural oasis. The county has gone on record stating "we'll never again allow mountain top building like Bellyache Ridge".   While BR looks like there are many building lots still available, there are not.  When land was cheap, the original developer set aside and deeded more than a third of the community as "green space" to the owners of all the lots.  It would take almost all residents to vote to sell those areas and the county would also have to agree.  Two things that will NEVER happen!   So what you see is a community that is virtually all trees with just a few homes here and there.  It is 90%+ built-out.   There's only one road in and out so it is a destination.  There is NO traffic - EVER.  If you like busy and noisy "ski-in/ski-out", BR is NOT the place for you.  But, if you enjoy a real neighborhood with many square miles of government owned land to hike and snowshoe on, BR is the best area west of Denver (my opinion).  Truly unique. 

Why would I EVER consider selling!   I don't need to tell you life brings unexpected turns. For me, it is health.   No need to go into details but my planned retirement of hiking, skiing and following my ham radio hobby to the age of 100 is now not possible.  I've held off for three years hoping that would change but it's not going to.  Still, I had 30 years (including all the years we rented places in Vail) of time following about every hiking trail that exists within Eagle county.   I have untold thousands of photographs.   I hate to sell but I'd rather see the home go to someone who can complete my dreams.  We have many memories to look back on so it's been great but nothing lasts forever. 

While I'm not expecting to find a "price is no object" buyer, I'm also not in a position of needing the money. So those with low-ball offers need not waste their time.   I have a successful business and no mortgage on the home.  I can wait until someone comes along who falls in love with the home and view willing to pay a full but fair price.  When I say, "fall in love with", that has been said to me many times.  All I can say is, you have to be there to agree.   But I guarantee you will. 

Construction Details and Unique Features

So much for the general comments.  Here's what you're really looking for. 

1.  Lot purchased in 1993.  The lot is designated lot 47S.  47N and 47S were originally one lot.  A speculator managed to talk the county into letting him split the lot into two lots.  The "building envelope" (your house MUST fit into it) for 47N is "creative" to say the least.  My driveway is shared with 47N.  Successive owners have (here's that phrase again) "fallen in love with the view" and bought the lot without doing "due diligence".  If they had, they would have learned getting utilities to the lot will ad $10,000 to the building expense, the water meter has NOT been paid for (no matter what a realtor may say - it runs $5,000+) and the building envelope only allows designs that would be most unique.  It is a small "foot print".  Because of the current price of the lot, a house on it would have to be at least $750K to justify itself.  That would mean an eclectic (probably) four story home with some much use of angles and creative ideas.  The lot goes from one owner to another but I'd guess it will never be built on.  Most people just assume it is part of my lot.  As a history buff I spent weeks at the courthouse tracing the ownership lineage of not just my lot but the entire area. I have the papers with the Indian who sold it in the 1880's with his "X" for a signature.  All of those documents go with the house.  Until I discovered it, many of my neighbors did not know they had built garages and the like in the middle of sheep grazing easements.  I think they're safe as the county missed it too.  But grazing sheep in many yards is completely legal!  But not expected. 

2.  I spent a year working on the design.  I did all the design work myself not being able to find an architect who understood what I wanted.  I wanted GREAT views from every spot in the house and views that looked DOWN and OUT.  Not UP which is the norm for homes built in mountain valleys.  I spent much time visiting lake homes in Missouri picking up ideas of how best to do things (you look down toward a lake).   Everything meets "code" and the drawings are all done by a professional architect but only because Colorado requires that. In fact, in the construction, I went WAY over code in virtually every aspect.  From the lumber to wiring to you name it.  It is WAY over what you find in a spec home built to turn a profit.   NO corners were cut.  I found a young architect who was willing to take my drawings, redraw them then get them signed off.  But the design is all mine.  I spent months learning how to be an architect and it was great fun -- but I'd never do it again!  

3.  Construction began in the summer of 1994.  As is the way of all construction in the mountains, "tomorrow" means "maybe next week".  I lived in a rental condo most of the time the house was under construction.  I had to hire a general contractor but the supervisor was really me.  I paid the "general" a lot of money for doing very little but it was money well spent.  Why?  He was, and is, a well-respected builder and he is able to attract the absolute very best sub-contractors in the "Valley".  From the plumber to the carpenters to --, they were the absolute best.  Still, I was there most of the time and everything was done to my standards.  I'm sure I drove some of them nuts.  I'm an engineer who once did quality control audits on aircraft as well as nuclear weapons so my idea of a tolerance is plus/minus ZERO!!   It has to be exactly right.  Fortunately, I had real craftsmen built my home so, with just one exception, the workers enjoyed building a home where they could show off their true abilities.   I got what I wanted.  An experienced builder today will look at the areas most people don't notice and would swear the house was built last month.  I skimped on absolutely nothing.  I planned to live there to age 100 and I planned for the house to outlive me!   It will outlive whoever is there 50 years from now -- that I know for sure.

4.  The first of the "Malibu Fires" of the 90's were underway when I was designing the home.  I paid attention to not disturbing the woods but I also cleared brush 50+ feet from the foundation.  Forbidden in the covenants (at the time).   Fire danger has changed everyone's thinking greatly and my home is now used as a model of how to build in the mountains with fire in mind.   I specified materials unknown in Colorado in some cases.  I imported the steel roof (pebbles, sand and epoxy on tiles shaped to look like concrete tiles) from Australia.  I had to bring in out of state craftsmen in several cases. I had to bring a crane onto the property to place the main (steel covered with wood) ceiling beam in place so I could have a great room with no posts.   Also, to put into place the largest single window Weathershield Windows had ever built.   All double pane gas filled windows.  It won a national award by the way.  In fact, the house won four national awards for various features and use of material.  I was determined to build a home that was as fire-resistant as humanly possible.  I had to fight the county constantly because I was determined to do so many things they'd never seen before but I won each time.  NOW, both the county and the home owner's association uses some of what I did as the RECOMMENDED method or material to follow or do when building or remodeling!   With a stucco exterior, a steel roof and other fire retardant material plus risking a big fine by cutting back brush FAR beyond what the law allowed at the time, I believe the home is, by far, the most fire retardant home on the mountain.   Plus, the materials I used turned out to be of much better quality than what is "typical".  The roof has a 50-year guarantee for example.  There's a layer of Bitchethane under the roof tile. Bitchethane is the rubbery material used in "puncture-proof" tires.  It is pliable and "melts" around the nails.   Leaks are still possible but most unusual.   

5.  I doubled the amount of insulation in the walls from what is "spec".  I also had insulation put into some interior walls.  Why?   To make the house even quieter.  Most of the bedrooms have insulation in the walls so people can be in the next room watching TV while someone else is in a bedroom still being able to sleep.  All doors are heavy solid wood for the same reason. 

6.  I paid for all the material and paid all the sub-contractors directly.  Nothing went through the general contractor other than his fee.  By, in many cases, by paying early, the subs showed up for work while putting others at the bottom of their lists.  Still, it took almost a year to finish construction since, as I say, everything had to be perfect.  I used upscale material in all cases.  You'll find granite and marble counters throughout.   High-end ceramic tile entryway and bathroom floors, high quality hardwood floors in the kitchen.  The builder told me hardwood could not be used above 6,000 feet as it is too dry versus the altitude.  Wrong.  It works if you use the best quality pre-dried wood and hire contractors who like challenges.  After 12 years, it needs polishing but not a crack or peal back anywhere.

7.  The same with the two (zoned) furnaces.  I was told forced air gas heating was not possible over 6,000 feet.   I worked with engineers at Lennox to modify existing furnaces that (now) work fine at the house's altitude (8,720 feet).  It took a year of work to get it right and I became a layman furnace expert but I did NOT want the standard wood burning/pellet/electric heat/water vapor heat/etc. heating system other homes on the mountain use.  So the two furnaces are serial numbers one and two of what is now a very popular series of Lennox "high altitude" propane forced air gas furnaces.  BTW -- they can be converted to natural gas if natural gas ever comes to the mountain and all the conversion parts are there.  Most new high altitude homes of late now use these furnaces that were designed on site by Lennox.  The propane tank is buried in the south yard.  Because of the extreme insulation of the house, one to two fillings of the tank (1,000 gallons) will usually last a winter.  I sited the house and designed overhangs and interior material to store heat so it heats well on a winter day (with the sun out) but stays cool in the summer.  Even at ten below, windows still sometimes need to be opened to keep temperatures comfortable on a sunny day.  Utilities run me 25%, or less, of my utilities of my home in Kansas City.  There is a fireplace, of course, but almost never turned on.  It's mostly ornamental.   As most gas log fireplaces do, it pulls more warm air out of the room than it puts heated air into the room. 

8.  Only an expert builder would notice many fine points of the house.  The "instant hot water heater" next to the hot water heater for instance.   I paid an extra $1,000 for larger, heavier electrical wire from the street so that there is no dimming of lights even if you have all 200 amperes in use.  "Dimming" is so common in most homes on the mountain.  But not in mine.  The house is alarmed, of course, with fire and low temperature alarm options added.  I say "of course" as there are only a few homes on the mountain that have alarm systems.  There has never been a burglary on the mountain I'm aware of.  Many of the full-time residents work from home and there is just one road up the mountain so that deters burglars right there.  I have alarm signs posted and so forth. 

9.  There is plenty of storage above the garage.  The garage is heated by a large electric heater.  The garage is an oversized two-car garage with room for a work bench, tools, bikes, etc.   I wanted a three-car but it would not fit in the building envelope and it is impossible to get the county to grant a variance from getting too close to your property line.  The rear deck is 1/4" inch away from the county limit.   They made me have two separate survey companies survey the distance costing me an extra $1,000.   There is also a high-end gas starter BBQ on the deck I intend to leave with the house. 

10.  All plumbing is the best the manufacturer had to offer.  Kitchen appliances are the top-of-the-line models of the manufacturers.   I designed the kitchen as a "gourmet kitchen" because of my wife's love of cooking. 

11. What is a glass block window doing in the floor in front of the fireplace!  One of my many design criteria was to have enough natural light during the day into every room so that, except for very cloudy days, a light would never be needed.  My calculations showed there was not enough light in the lower family room so I added the glass block window to bring light from the skylights to the lower level.  My mistake.  I had forgotten to include the fact that, at 8,720 feet above sea level, there is 60% more sunlight than at sea level.  So the window isn't needed but it is a conversation item.  It's humorous to watch people carefully step around it.  Actually, with the steel frame it sits in, it is stronger than the rest of the floor.  As you'll see if you visit the house, I really went overboard on the windows.  As I mentioned, the huge double pane gas filled (are are gas filled) glass that is the main window in the great room is the largest window Weathershield had ever attempted to construct and put into a home at any altitude.  It took a crane to get it into place.  But I accomplished my goal of having a continuous view of the mountains and windows below instead of a series of smaller windows as my general contractor told me was the only way possible.  I ended up doing many "first time ever" things and were all mostly done against the advice of the general contractor.   He now incorporates many features of my home in homes he builds as do other builders in the valley.  The windows won Weathershield and their local dealer a national award and the front cover of a window industry magazine. 

12. I have all plans of the house from the first hand sketch to the voluminous blueprints and sales literature data sheets on just about everything in the house.  Boxes and boxes of paper.  They all go with the house.  Over the years I've made copies of various parts of the plans for use by other builders. 

13. How much more did my attention to detail and "pushing the envelope" on design as well as only using the very best of material (and craftsmen) cost me?  I'd guess 25%.   If you look up the appraised value on the Eagle county Web site, it shows the house valued at LESS than the house to the south.  That's because the county never had a way to correctly value the house.  And I had no incentive to help them raise the value for taxes!  I paid for all material and labor myself.  So the only person who has a good idea of what it cost to build is me.  While my neighbor's house is very nice, rest assured my house is at least $250,000 above it in material, construction, workmanship and features.   But the true value of the home will not be established for the county until the first time it is sold. 

14. I'm in the industrial electronics business and have friends who are in the consumer electronics business.  By swaps and friendship I was able to obtain $10,000 plus of speakers to include a high-end throughout the house sound system for much less than that.  And that's just the cost of the speakers.  Professionally installed by a local hi-fi dealer the system would have cost about $20,000.  

15. At present, my preference is to sell the house furnished.  Everything is negotiable.  Unless you are an amateur radio operator then you'll want the radio tower removed.  The sales contract would have to include a reasonable time period after the sale for me to remove it and the thousands of feet of coaxial cable and wire I have buried in the yard.   I would return the yard to it's present condition after the cable is removed.  The many tons of concrete at the base of the tower is there forever but is flush with the ground so it could be easily covered up.  There is AC power running to it so a new owner might want to construct something there (a lighted and heated gazebo?).  The wall where radio cables runs in would be sealed and the wall plastered to return it to a simple wall. 

16. I could list another 100+ unique features of the home but I'll stop here.  As I say, I had planned to never sell the house so "cutting corners" was not on my list.  On the other hand, all of the other homes on BR that I know of were built either "spec" or "cost plus" giving the builder an incentive to "cut corners".  Some are well-built while others really show "cost cutting" (at least to me).  Still, the friendliness of the neighbors and the peace and quiet of the area makes EVERY home on BR a treasure.   Please feel free to ask me any questions you wish.  My e-mail is gyantis@midtec.com and my home phone number is 913-441-6593.  

Best regards,
Gary Yantis