Montana’s Green Building Resource Provides Sustainable and Environmentally Friendly Building Supplies

By Kim Thielman-Ibes

Since she was young, Alexa Calio’s passion was to work in a field where she could make a positive impact on the environment. Armed with a degree in Wildlife Biology, Calio moved west to conduct research in Yellowstone Park. As it turned out, the first habitat she worked on was her own.

“I went into the wildlife field for several years and got sidelined building my log home,” says Calio. “We felled, peeled and set the logs. When it came to chinking, I did it all myself.”

After this experience, Calio started Roche Jaune, Inc., Chinking and Plaster Specialists, which she has owned and operated for twelve years. “When I found out Refuge was for sale, I saw it as an opportunity to tie my experience in construction with my degree in ecology. It’s a good segue between my education and experience.”

Calio bought the business from partners Dave Schaub and Steve Bruner. Schaub spent ten years as a teacher specializing in environmental education and was a do-it-yourself environmentally aware home remodeler. It was this background that propelled him to start Refuge in July 2004 after moving from Seattle to Bozeman. Old college roommates, Bruner and Schaub reconnected at a sustainability fair in Livingston. Bruner’s M.B.A., his laid back attitude and shared values made for the perfect partnership. Schaub’s family moved to Spokane, Washington and the partners decided to sell the business to Calio in 2010.

Calio closed on the business on June 1 and by June 14, Refuge was open in its new, 2400 square foot location at 1203 North Rouse. Calio moved the business from its original building on Mendenhall to increase exposure and thanks to the eco-friendly mindset of the developers, they’re in Bozeman’s green zone. Refuge is now surrounded by other environmentally friendly companies, creating a buzz and energy all their own.

Refuge focuses mostly on interior-based products that are on the leading edge of sustainability like American Clay (a natural earth plaster), Paperstone Countertops (a solid surface countertop produced from multiple layers of recycled papers), Deco-Paz (an inexpensive mock concrete resurfacing material), low VOC paints and sustainable flooring. They also carry recycled denim and recycled foam insulation, along with window packages from Sierra Pacific, a window manufacturer that manages the forests they use and in the process produce more energy than they consume.

“I think the biggest misperception we have is in terms of product availability and cost,” says Calio. Refuge’s goal is not to compete with building warehouse stores, but to provide a range of quality products produced through sustainable manufacturing at a reasonable cost. Under Calio’s leadership, the company also plans to grow their product line and explore expanding their retail locations beyond Bozeman.

Refuge is also an education depot for sustainable product knowledge and education. First Calio and her staff make it their business to develop their own knowledge through LEED green building certifications, the National Association of Home Builder’s green building program, and eco-friendly manufacturers’ product seminars.

“We all have a personal commitment to the environment, which motivates us to find the best products available and be knowledgeable about the industry.”

The retail store offers workshops on products and installation, including American Clay and Deco-Paz. They’re also involved in promoting eco-friendly products to the building and interior design communities through educational seminars.

“Refuge is a current member of SWMBIA, Southwest Montana’s Building Industry Association,” says Anders Lewendal, chair of its green building committee and owner of Sustainable Building Solutions, Inc. and Anders Lewendal Construction. Lewendal says Calio’s insights are valuable to the Association and to the green building committee.

Calio and her staff are earnest in their desire to help their customers know that they can make the right choice to use a product that is recycled, sustainably harvested or sourced locally, and that it doesn’t mean it has to cost more than a standard-quality building product.

Refuge Sustainable Building Center in Bozeman has changed ownership and location, but its commitment to the local green building industry is stronger than ever.

For more information of Refuge Sustainable Building Center call 406.585.9958 or visit refugebuilding.com