Breaking New Ground - Page 2

With smart planning, attention to detail, and patience, Eichlers show they can be rebuilt with their original flair
Rebuilding
Architect John Ehlert's basic rendering of the Heidenreich front exterior.
Rebuilding
Heidenreich surveys the loss a few months after her Eichler burned.

When a fire burns an Eichler, emotions come into play before any rebuilding—shock, sadness, open hearts. Then, after a couple weeks, neighbors usually start to worry—"Uh-oh, monster home on the way."

That almost happened in Orange, Laule says.

She remembers standing in front of what Ross described as "burned-down rubble" when the property came on the market, being sold by a trust for the longtime resident who had lost his life in the fire.

"I had a heart attack listening to people talk," Laule says.

When neighbors found out Ross intended to rebuild the home as an Eichler, he says, "I was the hero from the get-go."

But the true heroism of rebuilding an Eichler in a way that stays true to the aesthetic, to greater or lesser degrees, takes more than intent. It takes planning, aesthetic judgment, engineering, architectural and construction skills—and patience.

The first task is to determine what sort of rebuild to do.

Heidenreich's initial plans to rebuild her home as a near-exact replica sounded great in concept.

To produce plans, her architect, John Ehlert of JR Structural Engineering, visited a neighbor who owned an identical model and "spent four hours measuring every single thing in the house—doors, windows, you name it," Heidenreich says.

Originally Heidenreich intended to restore all the original features. Radiant heat? "Of course," she said in May. Original Eichler siding? Yes.

But then the process and the problems commenced.

While she was living in a rented home paid for by her insurance company, Heidenreich's contractor, she recalled, "came back with an astronomical bid. It was going to cost well over half a million dollars, which my insurance wouldn't cover."

So she switched contractors, choosing the same one her neighbor was using to repair a roof and other damage from the same fire.

"The most frustrating thing of all is how long it is taking," she says. "I'm so tired of answering the question 'when are they starting on the house?'"

Getting bids, making decisions, and especially getting the permit all took time. Heidenreich's daughter, Karen Tsubahara, who has worked with contractors before, is helping.

But Heidenreich is worried that the home won't be complete by mid-April 2015, when her insurance company will stop paying for her rented home. She is gratified, however, that her current builder believes he can get it done within budget.

"Because I don't have a lot of money, put it that way, I'm cutting some corners," she says.