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A house that shows its metal

Christine Metz

— Greta Newton-Brunken said she has been told she sells steel like a television evangelist sells salvation.

As the finishing touches were being done to close in a light-gauge steel-frame on a house in Steamboat’s Silver Spur development, Newton-Brunken gave a tour, preaching the virtues of steel in residential construction.

The owner of Rocky Ford International said metal is sturdy, light and environmentally friendly. But above all she said it’s fire resistant.

Fire-resistant houses are something that the businesswoman and native Georgian knows is a timely subject in wildfire-ravaged Colorado.

“Steel frame houses don’t burn,” Newton-Brunken said. “I want people to be educated about steel houses.”

Randy Dodd, a 30-year Steamboat resident, is a representative for Rocky Ford International and steel framed houses in Steamboat. It is his house in Sliver Spur that is being built.

In the early 1990s, Dodd built a sound studio out of light-gauge steel and has been a fan ever since.

“The biggest reason for me, I’m building a house that won’t burn,” Dodd said. “It is stronger, lighter and faster to build and I’ve always been kind of a trendsetter.”

Dodd said construction of the 4,000-square-foot home is ahead of schedule and under budget. He had budgeted $300,000 for the cost of building but thinks it may be closer to $250,000.

Since Carl Dunham starting working at the Routt County Building Department in 1990, he has seen only two or three houses made of steel. His house was one of them.

“The building department allows different types of material. Homes have been made out of tires, wood and straw,” Dunham said. “There are a lot of products that are not used that are very viable. Steel is one of the things that is not common, but as time goes on there may be a change in how buildings are built.”

Dunham decided to use steel because he said it was more efficient and less expensive than wood.

Because steel rarely sees dramatic swings in prices and the cost of wood goes through seasonal fluctuation, Newton-Brunken said contractors could give better estimates for projects if steel was used.

“If you are a contractor and you bid a house out of wood, you are going to go to the highest level because you don’t want to get killed,” she said.

“You don’t have to do that with steel.”

Newton-Brunken said steel-frame houses save on time and waste because the studs are cut to be exact and the job site is clean. At the Sliver Spur site, she pointed to the ground and commented on the lack of sawdust.

Her company has used steel frames to renovate historical buildings, build five-star hotels, apartment buildings and all sizes of houses.

Dunham said steel frames have not been used in Steamboat for residential houses mainly because builders are not comfortable working with metal.

Newton-Brunken believes it can be done on a larger scale.

She said her company takes plans that are sent to them, designs buildings, does structural analyses, supplies the steel and supervises project as steel frames go up.

The company is a full-service engineering firm and can work with plans drawn on kitchen napkins to detailed architectural sketches.

“We do as much or as little as they need us to do,” Newton-Brunken said.

Newton-Brunken and her husband, Charley Brunken, who was a project engineer on Catamount 25 years ago, founded Rocky Ford International 16 years ago and both have lived in Steamboat.

Newton-Brunken said when she was 14 years old a fire consumed her house, an antebellum that had been in the family for six generations.

She lost everything except the clothes on her back and when her husband built the first steel house her promised her she would never lose her home to fire again.

While steel is much more fire resistant than wood, Dunham, who issues building permits, noted steel frame buildings are still combustible, and fires can get hot enough to melt steel.


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