Sustainable project born from tragedy


Fire destroyed original home

An environmentally friendly home is under construction in the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant from the ashes of the 2007 Witch Creek Fire.

“We took the tragedy of losing our home and converted it into a whole new way of building,” Gene Magre said.

Magre is building his new home on Zumaque using 60 percent reclaimed lumber - everything from beams to cabinets and doors will be made of recycled wood.

The lumber in the green home comes from 14 different countries and close to home - some of the wood comes from the village school, which was built in the 1920s.

Magre is a general contractor who has spent the last 20 years restoring historic houses in the Covenant with his company Historic Ranch Inc. On this project he is working closely with Starrett Construction, a partnership that has been successful throughout the years.

Magre started building in March and should be done by October, making the process only eight months.

The home is being rebuilt using a technique Magre calls “building backward.” To make things more efficient, cost-effective and faster; the whole house is designed and built off site. The pieces are brought in by truck and can be quickly installed.

“All you need to do is slip it into place,” said Clay Merritt of Historic Ranch.

Merritt said slipping in the custom wood floor will take a day and it only took two men five days to install 85 custom-made doors and windows.

“It saves a lot of frustration,” Merritt said. “As projects get longer they get more expensive. Here all the decisions are made beforehand.”

Uniquely green

Magre lost two homes in the fire, one that overlooks Lake Hodges and the one on Zumaque. Of the 21 Covenant homes destroyed, six of them were on Zumaque.

As the fire blazed, Magre and his significant other Annie Fonte stayed on the roof of their barn, keeping their horses alive. They watched as their home burned and they lost everything they owned.

Fonte told Magre she wanted to rebuild, but in a different way.

Their new 5,500-square-foot house will sit on their scenic seven and a half acres.

“It’s a rustic, cowboy kind of house, handsome and strong,” said Magre, who can often be spotted wearing a cowboy hat and jeans with big, shiny belt buckles.

Originally from the east coast, Magre settled in Utah for a span, where he said he fell in love with the West, its style and way of life.

Instead of the standard marble counters found in most modern kitchens, this kitchen will have a beautiful glossy wood countertop, trimmed with antique tin. The tin will reappear as accents in the ceiling’s boxed beams and some of the doors. One door leading out to the backyard is made entirely of the rustic tin.

While solar panels are restricted in the Covenant, the house will be energy efficient by using a micro-fueler. The micro-fueler is a new technology that converts liquid bio waste such as coffee, tea or juice into ethanol. The ethanol runs a generator that powers the house.

The green home is also built using San Diego Structural Insulated Panels. The panels are a new innovative material that combines insulation and framing made from recyclable and sustainable resources.

Continuing on his green theme Magre also had the tennis courts removed to create a lake, which provides a peaceful gathering spot for deer and other animals.

Magre hopes others will follow his lead and borrow from any part of his process or use of green materials. The house is open for tours, to schedule an appointment call 756-5714.