Tall Timber

The home of WVU’s Dana Holgorsen is the first luxury residence in the U.S. to be built completely of cross-laminated timber.

Plenty of houses in Cheat Lake are big and beautiful, but none are as bold as WVU Head Football Coach Dana Holgorsen’s. Modern, forward thinking, and environmentally conscious, the 8,000-square-foot residence is a marvel set in the woods in the Falling Water development.

Dana has been living in the house—the first all-inclusive cross-laminated timber (CLT) structure in the U.S.—since Thanksgiving 2013. The masterpiece is the product of LignaTerra—the company of Nick and Steve Holgorsen (Dana’s brother and father, respectively) and third business partner and Germany native Ralf Meier. Dana may often be on the road, but when he’s home, he’s pleased. “I’m so happy with the quality, the efficiency, and performance of the house, and the design functionality for when it comes time to entertain friends and family, alumni and boosters,” he says.

The architecture itself puts you in mind of a modern-day version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. The exterior of the house is done in larch wood and stone, and Steve says the wood is five-quarters of an inch thick, when most lap siding in the U.S is three-quarters thick. Inside and out you’ll find German products and inspiration, from the doors to the automatic shades on the outside of the house, but you’ll also find local touches in every room—including the beautiful birdseye maple cabinetry and the dining room table made by Hardwood Interiors out of Morgantown. Hardwood Interiors also created the open staircase just off of the entryway, which takes you upstairs to Dana’s kids’ living area and bedrooms or down to the entertainment wonderland in the basement—everyone’s favorite space. “The lower level is my favorite place to go. We can easily have 300 people there and on the back patio without it ever feeling crowded,” Dana says.

Being a CLT structure makes the home energy-efficient, even despite its size and seemingly extravagant features like the nearly 20-foot-high sloping ceiling on the main floor. “Utility bills have been less for this home than the one I owned in Houston, which was one-fourth the size, due to the efficiency of the structure and the systems we implemented,” Dana says.

Nick describes the CLT method as laying a bunch of timber in the same direction, coming across it with adhesion, then coming back across with more of the same material at a 90-degree angle, repeating the process layer after layer. The product is sent to a big machine press, and another machine cuts out parts as needed. “They built this house in the factory in about two days,” Nick says, adding that the process creates an energy-efficient envelope.

The large wood panels for Dana’s house were shipped from Austria in a dozen 40-foot containers, and the house was under roof in 15 days. “Because most of this process is done in a factory, it’s very precise. There is zero tolerance in the wood elements. You can pre-order all of your windows and doors, your cabinetry, and all of that can be done at the same time. When you ship to the site and you piece it together, it’s exact,” Nick says. “It’s like Legos for adults.”

Nick says most of the people working on the house were local, too, with the exception of one German who came to assist with assembling the panels. “It’s quite simple,” he says. “If you can follow directions, you can put one of these together.”

While the house is spacious, you simply can’t deny its comparatively low costs. “The operating costs and the utility costs are on par with a conventionally built structure of around 2,500 square feet,” Nick says. “It’s highly efficient, depending on the operator. Dana has been known to have parties with 20 TVs going at the same time, so there are instances when the bill might get jacked up a little bit,” he laughs. Steve adds, “But then there’s times he’s hardly here.”

The shades on the outside of the house are one of many energy efficient components. When shades are inside, heat still comes through and enters the home, which can change the room condition. “Europeans put them on the outside to keep all that heat on the outside,” Nick says. He says the system can be programmed so that when there’s enough solar gain the shades automatically flip shut.

Steve says 12-inch thick walls add to the structure’s efficiency and a high R-value, meaning resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power, while U-values measure how effective a material is as an insulator in buildings. “We get an R-value in excess of R-30, where if you look at a house with 2-by-4 walls, you’ve probably got R-13 and multiple thermal bridging points. It’s more important for us to focus on the U-value, which takes the walls and roofs as a system.” Many of the windows in the house tilt out—both for ventilation and easy cleaning—and all are European. The high-efficiency toilets in the house are all European-style, too. “We’re trying to save energy and resources everywhere we can,” Steve says.

Dana’s house is the first all-inclusive CLT structure in the U.S., according to Nick. The way the timber is layered creates an airtight envelope. “As long as you use good windows and doors, you can create a very controlled envelope,” he says. “Some people would come in and say, ‘Well, you can make a house too tight and start getting mold and have circulation issues.’” In this house, there are two heat recovery air exchange units. “They take the stale air in the house, run it through the units, capture the heat from it, and exchange it with clean, fresh air, Nick says. “Even though we are airtight, we maintain a very healthy air quality.”

Heating and cooling also run through the floor so, in the winter, that smooth, shiny, epoxy-finished floor you see on the main floor and in the basement is warm; in summer it’s cool. “The forced air system is kind of like a honeycomb channel underneath the concrete,” Nick says.

The house itself is just plain smart. Shades can be controlled using wall switches, an iPad, or iPhone, just as Dana can control all of the audio/video, security cameras, and lighting of the house. “Dana can access the network when he’s recruiting in Houston or wherever he is, and he can check the cameras or turn the temperatures down,” Nick says.

Behind Dana’s house is a smaller guest suite of the same style that went up in just one day. Similar to the main house, it’s decorated in browns, grays, and blues, a masculine design that is warm and contemporary with big windows letting in lots of natural light. Essentially a one-bedroom villa set back in the forest, it has a large shower—also with automatic shades outside its floor-to-ceiling windows—and a small kitchen.

Most of the year Dana lives in the main house alone, but come June, young kids seem to be everywhere. “Dana’s kids are here for the summer,” Steve says, adding that Nick’s children were in town this summer, too. Often Dana’s colleagues’ kids also come over to hang out. “We get all these kids in here and they just destroy the place,” Steve laughs.

Of course it’s not just school-age children who love the house—the college kids do, too. The basement is like heaven for many of them. “The one request Dana had was, he said, ‘I want three TVs on my back bar, and I don’t want them any smaller than 55-inch,’” Steve recalls. There are six TVs total in the basement, not including one over the bathroom urinal and the projector in the home theater. “We can put a different football game on every TV,” Steve says, miming the players turning their heads back and forth from game to game. “They absolutely love it. On one of the last big recruiting trips (last year) just prior to signing day, some of them we got to commit said the highlight of the weekend was being able to go to Coach’s house.” If the TVs aren’t enough to keep guests busy, there’s also a pool table, poker table, basketball arcade game, and Golden Tee game.

Of all of the four bedrooms, three baths, two half-baths, and other living space, Dana’s other favorite space—aside from the basement—is his home office. “He was really glad when we got this done,” Steve says, standing in the office. “When the furniture finally came in he said, ‘Now I have two rooms to go to.’ He comes in here and turns the music on and does his thing. If he’s in his office at work someone is always bugging him, so when he gets home he can just sit down and pay bills or whatever and not be interrupted.” Off of his office is a “tilt and turn” window that turns into a door and leads out to stairs and a small rooftop patio. It’s another oasis, with perhaps a different purpose than the main outdoor space Steve calls “the party deck,” where hundreds can gather for special events.

The house was still getting some finishing touches over the summer—a waterfall was still to come outside as well as more shrubbery, and some furniture was still being ordered for the main floor. Dana was thinking of adding a putting green out back, too. Even so, the space is remarkable. “The completed house has exceeded my expectations,” Dana says. “It’s overall an amazing place in an amazing West Virginia setting.”

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