Brick by brick

Dick MacGregor's house-in-progress is a labor of love that stands without a stick

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H e could huff and puff all he wanted, but the big bad wolf would have a difficult time blowing down Dick MacGregor's little brick house.

People passing by the unusual structure in the Heritage Park neighborhood off U.S. 40, usually do a double take.

The pinkish brown brick home is going up without the benefit of wood framing. This brick-by-brick type of construction is done in commercial buildings sometimes, but almost never in a residential setting.

"Four inches of wall becomes the only structure you have," said retiree MacGregor, owner, foreman, bricklayer and designer.

"There's no wood involved in it."

The task is a little more complicated than just slapping mortar in between bricks and stacking them on top of each other, said MacGregor.

The brick structure is made sturdy by adding steel rebar every 32 inches through the holes in the brick and filling it with grout.

Two-and-a-half inches of foam is attached to the inside of the walls (electrical wiring runs through this) and sheet rock is laid over that.

With normal brick houses, bricks are laid for decoration or used to cut down on maintenance like painting.

In MacGregor's home, the brick is the structure, not just a veneer. Like many homes, there are some steel beams inside the house to support the floor structure.

"There may not be another home like this in Colorado," MacGregor said.

With a white beard and ruddy complexion, and a twinkle in his blue eyes, MacGregor could pass for Santa Claus if he donned a red, fur-trimmed hat.

But unlike Santa, MacGregor doesn't have all those elves running around helping him out.

The 72-year-old retired bricklayer took on the project last July with only one helper.

"I've got a bad back and bad arms, but other than that I'm doing fine," MacGregor said.

"He (the helper) makes the mortar, carries the brick to me and we work out the details together."

One would have to wonder why MacGregor would take on such a huge project when many retirees his age are out fishing or cruising the Caribbean. His engineer wonders the same thing.

"I think he's a unique individual who truly enjoys what he's doing," said structural engineer Luke Studer, who called the project "challenging and fun."

But MacGregor also looks at his brick house as a work of art.

"Brick can be an art form and this is what I wanted to express," MacGregor said.

"It's very demanding but it's something I enjoy every day."

MacGregor's plans show a dramatic 14-foot arched entryway at the front of his home.

The arch design serves as its own support, so MacGregor's home will be full of arched windows, including a covered deck with a stunning 12 foot arch all made of brick. His bay windows that stick out from the walls are also designed with a system of bricks and glass.

MacGregor admitted it may not have been the easiest or most economical way of building the 3,800-square-foot house, but he said the house would be standing when others are falling down.

"This is many times more stronger than an average house," MacGregor said.

"It doesn't burn either" because there's no wood, he said.

And the fact it won't need any maintenance will certainly bring the cost down in the long run, MacGregor said.

With his rebar-reinforced brick walls, he also doubts he'll hear traffic from the

nearby highway.

Because such brick structures are rarely done on homes, MacGregor's engineer keeps a close eye on his client.

"We want to see how Dick's doing," Studer laughed.

Studer has to inspect the reinforcement of the brick to make sure it's done correctly.

"The difficult part has to do with the dimensional nature of the brick, which is different than most other framing material," Studer said.

"These bricks have fairly small grout spacing, so it's critical the reinforcing be placed correctly."

Studer said MacGregor even had a seminar held for local architects and builders on constructing this kind of brick home. But costs could deter builders from following MacGregor's lead.

Couple that with Steamboat's expensive construction climate, and builders aren't likely to jump at the Three Little Pigs' brick house, said Studer.

"The fact that Dick can do this on his own and his own schedule is a bonus for him," Studer said.

So far, folks passing by seem to approve of the house.

"Everyone who comes by just loves it," MacGregor said.

The two-story home may end up costing MacGregor up to $450,000 when all is complete and furnished.

MacGregor said he hopes to have the home done by October but isn't in any big hurry.

"It's the journey that's enjoyable, not the destination," he said.

To reach Frances Hohl call 871-4208

or e-mail fhohl@steamboatpilot.com

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