EcoUrban Homes makes green building affordable in St. Louis

EcoUrban Homes makes green building affordable in St. Louis

by Robin L. Flanigan

EcoUrban Homes is the first company to make a LEED-certified prefabricated home in Missouri. Based in St. Louis, the company opened its first precision-built home in June 2007 after just 25 days of on-site construction. The 1,900-square-foot Solstice model has three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a two-car garage, full basement and achieved LEED platinum status. The company's display model, it's on the market for $275,000.

EcoUrban Homes concentrates on conventional green-building features, such as EnergyStar lights and appliances, high-performance windows, renewable bamboo floors and low-emitting finishing materials, paints and stains. In addition, the prefabrication process for the Solstice reduced construction waste by roughly 75 percent over traditional building methods, according to EcoUrban Homes co-founder Jay Swoboda.

"There are lots of ways to look at building green," Swoboda says. "We went for energy efficiency and health and comfort without having to build a home that was more than $300,000. And modular construction is built with 2-by-6's instead of 2-by-4's so you have two extra inches of insulation. It's just like putting on an extra blanket when you go to bed."

Other prefabrication models include the entry-level Element, which starts at $120,000 and offers three bedrooms, two baths and 1,100 square feet. The two-story Equinox is 1,400 square feet, has two bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths and is priced around $180,000. An extended version of the Equinox, with an extra bedroom, two full baths, a bonus room and 2,000 square feet, is expected to sell for around $259,000.

Every EcoUrban home is anticipated to attain at least a LEED silver rating, what Swoboda calls "a pretty obtainable goal." The design and manufacturing of LEED-certifiable specifications in a prefabricated home does have its challenges, however.

"Prefabricated homes in themselves are technically a little more difficult than a normal home because it's one more element that has to be coordinated prior to the construction," explains Garen Miller, president of AGM Inc., the architectural firm working with EcoUrban Homes. "And considering that is such a large element, the model manufacturers have certain ways they do things. You can't just go into a Ford plant and ask for a Chevy, and to some degree, we did that."

Meanwhile, the first new construction project in downtown St. Louis created to achieve LEED gold certification is Roberts Tower, which will mix luxury residences with commercial, retail and hotel space. Residents will have their pick of sustainable design materials and energy-saving appliances. The project is slated for completion in 2009.

With a new St. Louis ordinance requiring that all new city buildings larger than 5,000 square feet meet LEED silver standards, builders like Swoboda are hoping more homeowners will decide to pursue residential green-building certification. Right now, Swoboda has the only LEED-certified hhome in St. Louis, although a handful more have registered for the program, according to LEED Provider Jeannine Reynolds. In addition, the Home Builders Association of Greater St. Louis offers a third-party program through its Green Building Initiative.

"Green building here in St. Louis is something people are still very much trying to figure out," says Swoboda. "We find ourselves really kind of having to be an educator rather than a builder right now."


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