The Unique Features of Mountain Properties

A custom mountain home nestled in the woods surrounded by towering pines and wildlife has obvious appeal to many people.  Such properties are one of a kind which often adds to the appeal.  There are several features mountain homes share.  They include items such as wells, septic systems, wildfire mitigation, access issues, and the presence of wildlife.   When buying or selling a home in a mountain community, engaging a real estate professional that is well educated and acquainted with the area can save both buyers and sellers a lot of heartache and confusion, as well as time and money.   Some of the most common asked questions related to those unique features are listed below.

  1. Wells

What are the different types of wells?    It is important that homeowners understand the legal use of their well and verify that their well is permitted.  There are two main types of well permits that are of concern to the private homeowner.  There are household-use only permits and the domestic well permits.   The household-only well restricts the use of water to inside the house where a domestic well allows for limited livestock watering and irrigation of lawns and gardens.   To verify that a well has been permitted and to obtain a copy of it, you can contact the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

How do I know if the well water is safe to drink?   Currently, there are no regulations on individual well water quality in the state of Colorado and it is important that homeowners understand that.  The only way to protect yourself is to do routine water testing of your well.  Different areas may present different water quality issues.  There is not a “catch all” test.  Local well water consulting and equipment service companies can help homeowners identify what routine tests to run.  This may include testing the water for things such as bacteria, nitrates, chemicals and possibly radon to name a few.   They can also recommend water treatment options as well.

How do I know how much water a well will produce?  Local well water consulting and equipment companies can conduct what is referred to as a flow test.  A flow test will determine how many gallons of water per minute a well can produce.  If the production rate is low, they can also assist in designing a water storage system.

  1. Septic Systems

Do I need to have the septic system inspected when buying a home?  Some counties require what is known as a “Use Permit” be obtained before the property can transfer possession.  In order for a Use Permit to be issued, the septic system (also known as the onsite wastewater system) must be pumped and inspected by a licensed system cleaner.  An application must accompany the inspection report and be submitted to the county health department.   In the event that the system passes inspection, a Use Permit is issued and is valid until the property closes or for six month, whichever comes first.   It can be renewed one time, for an additional six months.  Most often, the responsibility of obtaining the Use Permit falls on the seller but this can be negotiable.  If a Use Permit is not obtained, the responsible party is subject to a penalty.  In areas where a Use Permit is not required, it is still recommended that a septic system be pumped and inspected prior to the inspection deadline.  There are many different types of systems and drainage fields.  It is important to understand what type of system you have and how to maintain it.  Proper maintenance can lengthen the life of the system.

  1. Fire Mitigation

What is fire mitigationFire mitigation involves creating defensible space around a home.  This is done by removing and reducing flammable material and vegetation.  Depending on the slope and type of vegetation, defensible space should extend out between 30-200 feet from the home.  Tree limbs that are within 10 feet of the ground should be removed as well as those overhanging the roof, chimney or gutters.  Wood piles and propane tanks need to be at least 30 feet from all structures and all flammable vegetation around them needs to be removed.  Building materials should be non-combustible.   For complete guidelines on defensible space, go to

Why is it important?  Not only can proper fire mitigation increase the chances of a home surviving a wildfire, it will also improve a homeowners ability to obtain homeowners insurance.    Insurance companies will likely be unwilling to write a policy on a property that has not mitigated fire hazards in accordance to Colorado’s Firewise program, as well as local fire codes.

  1. Access/Easements

Since there is a driveway that leads to a property, can it be assume that the homeowner has the right to use it?  Unfortunately, the answer to that question is, “no”.  In mountain communities, it is not uncommon for driveways to cut through other people’s property.   Although one of the attributes to owning land is the right to gain access to it, there are a lot of rules and regulations around it.  “Access” may take many forms.  Typically it takes the form of an “easement”.  An easement is a specific grant to use a described parcel for a stated or limited purpose.  When purchasing a home, it is highly recommended that the potential new home owner verify that the easement documentation has been recorded in public records at the Office of the County Recorder.

  1. Wildlife

When living in a mountain community what precautions do I need to take to keep my family and wildlife safe?  Make sure trash is stored in a bear proof container, a shed or garage and put trash out on the morning of pickup only.  Refrain from placing bird feeders around your home as well as take steps to not leave uneaten pet food outside.  Food residue left on BBQ grills can attract wildlife as well.  It is best not to leave windows and doors open, especially those that are on ground level.  Pets and children should be supervised while outside.  Be especially careful at dusk and dawn.  It is best to refrain from running and playing outside at those times.  Leave lights on outside your home if leaving or returning in the dark.  It is also best to remove food from inside of your car.

Do I need to call Colorado Parks and Wildlife if I see a bear or a mountain lion?    No.  Colorado Parks and Wildlife only need to be notified if the wildlife is presenting a danger to itself or others.

Working with a real estate professional familiar with mountain properties can not only help buyers purchase a home with their eyes wide open but it is also beneficial to sellers.  A mountain area specialist will be able to better market the property as they are familiar with the unique features listed above.  The distinctive features of custom mountain properties often make it difficult to find comparative properties in the area and a seller would greatly benefit from having the help of someone familiar with these features listed above to determine appropriate market value.  There are educational designations available to Realtors such as the Certified Mountain Area Specialist (CMAS) offered by the Mountain Metro Association of Realtors.  This designation identifies those Realtors that have completed a series of extensive continuing educational classes specific to mountain properties.  When interviewing mountain real estate professionals, be sure to find someone that has the above mentioned designation, the equivalent or is very familiar with mountain features specifically.


Building a Home with Wildfire in Mind

For so  many, the dream of building a log home comes with the idea of situating it high atop a mountain surrounded by trees and breathtaking views.  The reality of it is, however, that this dream comes with an increased exposure to wildfire danger.   There is a lot that can be done in the process of building a home to reduce that danger and increase the chance of a home’s survival.  Things to consider include:  location, building materials, and defensible space.

  1. Location.   When choosing a lot and a building envelope, avoid building on a steep slope.  Fire tends to run uphill very quickly.  Find out which direction the prevailing winds come from during peak fire season.  Possibly situate a driveway on that side of the home to increase defensible space.  Be sure that access roads and driveways are designed to be wide enough for fire trucks and other equipment to be able to pass through.  That would mean a width of at least 10 feet with a 2 foot shoulder on either side.  Trees will need to be trimmed up to 14 feet high.  Designing a circular driveway,  or one with an area where large vehicles can turn around is preferable.  Many fire departments will not attempt to access properties where they may end up trapped.  If a bridge is necessary to access the property, be sure that it is designed to withstand the weight of a firetruck.  If a gate is installed that needs a code to open, it is important to give that code to the local fire department.   It is also important to consider which direction the lot is facing.  Although it is appealing to have a sunny south facing lot, it will also dry out quicker.  A north facing lot will hold moisture much better.   Be sure your address is posted in a very visible spot with large numbers that can be seen even at night.


  1. Building Materials. There is good news for those whose dream home includes log construction.  Full logs are amazingly fire resistant.  They are rated just below concrete and stone.  If constructed well, log homes stand a much better chance of survival in a wildfire than a typical stick frame home.  It is important to choose fire-resistant and non-combustible building materials when designing a home.  Metal roofing is particularly fire resistant and solid core exterior doors are a good choice.  Although very appealing, large plate glass windows are more vulnerable to breaking from the heat than smaller windows.  Double or even triple pane windows are also a good choice.  Consider hardscaped patios over wooden decks.  Building a home puts the homeowner at an advantage as it is often much more expensive and at times impossible to retrofit fire-resistant and non-combustible materials into the design of an existing home.


  1. Defensible Space . Reducing natural and manmade combustible material around a home can slow an approaching wildfire,  allowing firefighters time to defend it.  It can also decrease a fire’s intensity.  For a home situated in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) defensible space recommendations have been broken down into three zones.  Zone one is defined as the area 0-30 feet from the house.  It is recommended that all flammable material be removed within that area.  Ideally all trees should be removed, grass should be well irrigated and clipped to no longer than 6 inches, needles and woodchips should be removed.  Woodpiles should not be stored within 30 feet of the home.  If a tree has been retained within zone one, it should be considered part of the structure and the distance of the defensible space should be extended accordingly.   Zone two is defined as that area 30-100 feet from the home.  In zone two, trees should be thinned so that there is at least 10 feet between crowns, ladder fuels should be removed, tree limbs should be removed up to 10 feet from the ground, and again grasses should be kept trimmed.   All dead and diseased  trees should be removed.  Woodpiles should be stored uphill from all structures.   Finally, Zone 3 is defined as the area 100 feet and beyond the home.  It is a transitional area, that depending on the area, may need to be thinned but preserved for wildlife habitat.

Every resident living in wildfire prone areas (WUI) needs to know the risks their properties present.  Local fire departments are a great resource.    They can help residents identify those risks as well as methods of mitigating.  In addition, there are many foresters that will inspect properties and make recommendations with regard to adequate defensible space.  It is important to note, that even if a property meets the recommendations of the local fire department, it may not meet the requirements of all insurance companies.  Therefore, it is important that homeowners consult their insurance agent to be sure they have met all insurability requirements.