He Had a Vision: to Build an A-Frame Cabin Almost Entirely Out of Beetle Kill Pine

Colorado has faced epidemic levels of bark beetles. Here’s how one construction company executive made it his mission to put their damage to good use.

On a hillside overlooking Steamboat Springs, a tandem A-frame sits perched, its wood exterior practically glowing in the snow. Dubbed Alpine House, the lodge is the fruit of an idea that owner Larry Lantero came up with during the pandemic: to build a house in Colorado made entirely of wood killed by bark beetles.

Lantero—who serves as the Vice President of Abbott Construction, a Southern California company that builds hospitals, government buildings, and hotels—decided to create his family’s Colorado house after selling Abbott in 2020.

"I had a bit of spare change, and I wanted to do a passion project," he says. "I was getting sick and tired of building the same square boxes and things that don’t really have much life to them, and I was trying to use this as an outlet for the creativity and skill that I’ve developed over the years."

Lantero had attended college at the University of Colorado–Boulder and lived in the state for a few years after earning his degree. He also has family in Winter Park, a ski town roughly 100 miles southeast of Steamboat Springs. So when he and his wife decided to pursue this project, their sights naturally fell to Colorado, and they chose Steamboat Springs after a long weekend in the town with their children.

Lantero bought a parcel of land from an owner of a local western clothing shop. Located outside of town, the land is up the hill from Steamboat Ski Resort and has a clear view across Yampa Valley to the Sleeping Giant, also known as Elk Mountain, which stands 8,700 feet tall.

The property—and the view—demanded more than the prefabricated structures Lantero originally considered to shorten the construction timeline, so he started fleshing out ideas and looking into materials.

To avoid supply chain problems and increase sustainability, source materials locally

The pandemic had already impacted the lumber market. Prices were high and certain materials were hard to find. In an effort to source supplies locally, Lantero reached out to a lumber mill down the road from his family’s Winter Park ranch. That’s when he found out about beetle kill pine.

The two structures that comprise the home are connected by a breezeway and a Nordic sauna. 

The two structures that comprise the home are connected by a breezeway and a Nordic sauna. 

Since the early 2000s, Colorado has faced epidemic levels of bark beetles, which bore into trees and ultimately kill them. One species, the mountain pine beetle, was estimated by the Colorado State Forest Service to have killed 3.4 million acres of forest. Those dead trees litter the woods and provide ample fuel to wildfires. Forest, the owner of the lumber mill Lantero worked with, made it his business to find uses for beetle kill pine. He introduced Lantero to a logger who knew how to get the wood.

"The logger helped us facilitate rights to a section of forest," Lantero says. "Then he went in and logged all the existing dead trees."

If you’re aiming to build sustainably, follow Lantero’s lead and see what materials are available nearby. Sourcing local timber might be more expensive and time-consuming, but it will decrease freight emissions involved in your project and ultimately result in a home that reflects the surrounding environment.

Make sure the wood is sturdy for construction

Because the trees were already dead and Colorado’s arid climate had dried them out, the material didn’t need to be kiln dried like typical commercial timber. But being long dead meant that the wood could have problems—rot, holes, or other flaws—that would make it unsuitable for certain construction uses.

Finely-milled wood creates the distinctive shape of the A-frame cabin. 

Finely-milled wood creates the distinctive shape of the A-frame cabin. 

Even typical timber requires inspection, so Lantero knew he’d need to work with a lumber mill qualified to grade the wood. "I was only able to find two or three in central or northern Colorado that actually had someone on staff who was certified to grade and stamp the timber for structural grade," he says. Luckily, Forest was one of them.

After the wood was milled, Forest inspected it for knots, cracks, and seams, and graded each piece. The process was time-consuming, but over several months, they milled enough wood to construct most of the house.

If you’re sourcing local timber, you’ll need it inspected for grade as well. To find a qualified lumber mill for softwood grading, identify your region’s lumber agency (in the U.S. and Canada, these should be accredited by the American Lumber Standard Committee) and search their member directory for a certified lumber mill near you. For hardwood, search the National Hardwood Lumber Association’s member directory. Be sure to confirm that your chosen lumber mill has current certification.

Find architects who grasp the vision

Meanwhile, Lantero enlisted David and Susan Scott, of Scott and Scott Architects, a husband-wife duo based in Vancouver, Canada, to design the eventual house. He had an idea already: a large A-frame cabin with a smaller A-frame attached to the side.

 For the Scotts, who’ve designed and built ski cabins for clients in remote parts of Canada, the Alpine House was a fairly straightforward project. In order to accommodate building height restrictions in the town, Scott and Scott designed the larger A-frame so that its second story breaks about halfway through the depth of the house. The back portion of the second story rises to the traditional, narrow A-frame peak, while the front portion steps down, exposing the back as if a layer has been removed from a sideways piece of cake. Both gables are walled with glass, drawing natural light inside.

The sauna that connects the two structures, lined in beetle kill pine.

The sauna that connects the two structures, lined in beetle kill pine.

The second, smaller A-frame is attached to the first by a breezeway and Nordic sauna, entirely lined by beetle kill pine. "The sauna is the social connection between the two cabins," says David. "They both have their own entrances and their own autonomy. You can go to one without feeling the other one, but then there’s that point where people can meet up in between."

Get subcontractors on board and, if necessary, do some work yourself

Drawing from his corporate construction experience, Lantero managed the subcontracting himself. One challenge was aligning builders on using the beetle kill pine in lieu of other materials.

"We ended up doing basically everything we could to eliminate bulk process plywood," Lantero says. "It upset the norms of the traditional building process, where our structural engineer would give us the details and they would all have plywood everywhere, and we’re like, ‘No, no, we’re not using plywood. Get rid of that. Put tongue-and-groove [boards] in.’"

Lantero ended up building the sauna and the slat walls throughout both A-frames himself. He also hired Beau Kerner, a Vancouver-based cabinet maker working in Denver recommended by David Scott, to custom-build kitchen cabinets, handles, and closet rods.

Custom-built kitchen cabinets are one of the few features in the interior not built from beetle kill pine.

Custom-built kitchen cabinets are one of the few features in the interior not built from beetle kill pine.

Kerner’s contributions are the rare features not made with beetle kill pine. Although Lantero ended up buying two-by-four and two-by-six studs commercially and using plywood for the roof, he estimates that 70 percent of the house is made of the specially logged beetle kill. The wood is everywhere—the eaves, the stairways, the breezeway—giving bright warmth to the house. It’s new life for wood that would otherwise lie dead on forest floors. Here, it has form and function.

Lantero has hiked the area that his home’s wood was clear from, a forest roughly 20 miles from Alpine House. Since the dead wood was removed, the forest floor has sprouted new life. "You have all these brand new trees growing up in the area," he says. "You’re not tripping over deadfall everywhere you have to go. It’s cool to see it actually helped."

Top photo by Cannon Schmidt

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