Spotlight On…. Tamarack Builders with Owner Mike Potts

Upper Peninsula of MI green builder, green building, energy conservation, green remodeling, sustainable building practices, sustainability, UP holistic business, UP wellness publicatioin

Tell us what Tamarack Builders is all about.

Tamarack Builders is a small company primarily doing remodeling and light commercial construction in Marquette since about 1998. We specialize in older buildings, some that might be considered tear-downs. I like that kind of stuff compared to more modern houses and buildings.

Very nice, talented, thoughtful people work with me. When we’re doing projects, we make sure things are done correctly. Sometimes previous work by others has to be corrected. It can be easy to breeze by those things and say they’re fine, but we try to make sure things are done properly.

For example, with remodeling for energy efficiency, we do insulation and venting to prevent ice dams, which can be a huge issue here. Water infiltration issues, proper flashing techniques—all are very important. By doing so, you extend the life of that building, increasing its energy efficiency and decreasing the likelihood that it will get torn down later.

By extending the life of a building, you’re minimizing its carbon footprint because of the embodied carbon in the materials.

For instance, concrete lasts a long time but it’s really carbon-intensive to make. If you can save a building, you’re preserving that embodied carbon. When things get torn down, it all goes in the landfill, plus you use new materials that have their own carbon footprint.

A lot of these old buildings in Marquette were built with old growth lumber. As they get torn down and their components are thrown away, it’s just gone. I try to save building materials. It often doesn’t take that much effort to save stuff. I put old two-by-fours in a pile. When you get enough stuff, you can make something—countertops, sheds—out of the recycled building parts. I’m a little bit of a hoarder of vintage building materials and try to re-use them the best I can. Old studs are beautiful. I try to save those for re-use.

The other day when it was raining, we had enough stuff saved up that we could build a couple of things at the shop out of recycled materials. It’s rewarding and fun to be able to do that. Not always cheaper, but very rewarding. We built a small boat shed entirely out of recycled materials. We installed a couple of recycled doors using recycled materials and re-purposed what we took out. Small stuff but it adds up.

It’s a personal thing.

It feels really good to be able to put something together, like a boat shed, from salvaged materials. It’s good practice for my employees to think it through and make things work. It’s always good for people to practice all these techniques, use them on a small scale. It’s a good way to gain more experience with something like this.

Three good-size commercial projects we did recently were in buildings that were in really bad shape. Little updating had been done to them; one even had some original wallpaper. We spent the time and money to bring them up to code. One building was far from meeting current codes. If there had ever been a fire there, it would have been devastating. We extended the life of these buildings for a very long time.

One of them was the McLean Chiropractic building on Third Street. It had been slated to be torn down for the last twenty years. Now since we’ve done the work on it, it’s up and running, and good for another hundred years.

I’ve worked on a lot of historic buildings—Donckers, Downtown Eye Care, Evergreen Market, what’s now Queen City Running Company on Baraga, the previous flower shop there, and many vintage residential buildings. I really enjoy that. It’s a lot of fun.

How did you get into this line of work?

I’d worked as a carpenter on Mackinac Island in the ’80s and ’90s. I moved to Marquette and building was a way I could make a living with my skill set, and offered a flexible schedule. When I had kids, I could take time off to be with them, go to their events, drive them around, or whatever. was needed. That was a huge draw for me, enhancing my life and hopefully the life of my family too. Having the ability to take care of someone when they’re sick is important. You can’t do that as easily if you run a retail store. Contracting gives a little flexibility. I extend that flexibility to my employees too. It usually doesn’t make a huge difference if we need to take a few hours off. People need that time to have a healthy balance. Work-life balance is number one. I’m not doing this to get rich, and that’s okay because my work-life balance has been very good.

What do you find most challenging about your work?
Doing the paperwork–billing and trying to keep track of that end of the business is not something I like to do. I love being on the job, being with my employees, and working on projects.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
As a builder, I think people should know these old buildings are worth investing in. It’s worth coming up with a systematic, comprehensive approach. These older structures are valuable and contain a lot of embodied carbon. If we have any hope for climate change, we need to take care of them.

It’s astounding to see what’s thrown away—it’s unreal, all the building materials. It’s heartbreaking to see what goes in the landfill. I’m not saying we can recycle everything, but we can do more. We’ve got to make efforts toward sustainability. I’ve encouraged green building, energy efficiency, and presrvation. The luxury of building a new green structure is not achievable for a lot of people, but in every structure, there’s potential for comfort, energy efficiency, and financial savings.

Excerpted from the Winter ’22 – ’23 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

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