Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day Tips from EcoUrban

Earth Day Tips from EcoUrban

Use a programmable thermostat

Turning down the heat to 68 degrees in the winter can save 5% to 10% on heating bills, and even more when you turn it down when you sleep or are away from home. And in all EcoUrban —like the Solstice—your home is built with rigid foam insulation and great low-e windows—keeping the money you spend heating your home, in your home.

Carpool twice a week

Leaving your car at home twice a week can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1,600 pounds per year. And if an electric car is more your style, know that all EcoUrban garages come with electric car outlets.

Wrap your water heater

The $10 cost of a simple water heater jacket can save you up to 9% in water heating costs. And with EcoUrban homes our standard water heaters are built with foamed-in-placed, HCFC-free insulation, so the work is already done for you.

Install CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights)

They use less energy than incandescent bulbs, and one $10 bulb can save you $40 over its lifetime.

Unplug appliances

Even when turned off, appliances still consume electricity when they are plugged in. All EcoUrban home designs are designed for your land to optimize natural light using solar orientation and thoughtful architectural design, reducing your need for things that are plugged in even more as you enjoy the outdoors.

Assess your home’s energy efficiency

Complete a simple assessment to determine your home’s annual energy use compared to similar homes. Get started here or rest assured that your EcoUrban home is designed and built to be energy-efficient thanks to an efficient building envelope, double-paned windows and ENERGY STAR appliances.

Shower smarter

The average shower head disperses 2.5 gallons of water per minute. A ten minute shower every morning uses over 9,000 gallons of water a year. Cut back by installing a shower head that is EPA approved. And with all EcoUrban homes low flow fixtures are used throughout the home that meet EPA Water Sense guidelines. You even have the option to add rain water catchment systems to your home.

Set up a home recycling center

Recycling is an important way for individuals to reduce the waste they generate and reduce the negative impact of that waste. Not only does recycling reduce landfill overflow and reduce greenhouse gas methane it also has immediate short term benefits. All EcoUrban homes are built with recycled materials from their steel frames to countertop and flooring options.

Give up plastic and paper bags

Twelve million barrels of oil were used to make the 88.5 billion plastic bags consumed in the United States last year. It takes four times more energy to make paper bags! Invest in reusable shopping bags made of cotton, nylon, or durable mesh bags. EcoUrban cares about the environment as much as you do, and all our homes are designed and built to create a healthy indoor living environment for you and your family.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Backyard Tire Fire? Creative Waste Management Solution for Waste Tires by Local Company

The US generates approximately 290 million scrap tires each year. Fortunately, markets now exist for 80.4% of these scrap tires-up from 17% in 1990. These markets—both recycling and beneficial use—continue to grow but around 10% of tires disposed annually still end up in landfills or illegally dumped...which brings me to the reason for writing this post. 
It is sort of funny how things work when you own a vacant lot. In addition, to the annual warnings from Forestry Division that they now have the right to fine and cut without warning, you also get to look forward to calls from interested urban farmers; inquires from neighbors about our future plans - you also end up with trash and apparently tires.

Now I live very close to our vacant lot in the 3000 Block of Minnesota but I will admit that it isn't part of my daily routine to drive by. Lesson learned. Tires appear out of nowhere and fast. Here is what happens...first, you get a notice of violation from the Department of Health for "unlawful tire accumulation" and then the emails from neighbors you know, a call from the new Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia and even a text message asking me what we were doing with 24 tires on a vacant lot in the Tower Grove East neighborhood. Well, I don't know. Why is there 24 tires on our vacant lot? 

My only clue was that in the past, a community organization had created some raised beds using old tires and while they are buried and far from the property line...I'm guessing some local tire shop could somehow justify their illegal dumping as "giving back" to the community. Fail. The reason there were a bunch of tires on our vacant lot was because some idiots decided that was the best place to dump them to avoid the $7 per tire state fee. Maybe I was actually the victim of illegal dumping and not just speculatively accumulating waste tires for the hell of it. 

It took a few calls and emails but I eventually received offers of support from the Refuse Department and Alderwoman Ingrassia to possibly install some mobile cameras to catch the culprits. Seemed like a good story-line for a reality TV series "Waste Bandits" but I was hopeful this was a one-time event but it was nice to know that there were some more aggressive options in place should the problem escalate.I was impressed with the show of concern from the 6th Ward and my neighbors...but a bit frustrated that the assumption was that I was breaking the law. More frustrating was the fact that no one seemed to know what to do with the tires.

So, I picked up the phone. The City Health Department representative who wrote the violation made some loose recommendations but didn't have any immediate solutions. I did learn that to avoid a fine I could place the tires on pallets and cover them to avoid water accumulation (I assume to ward of West Nile) and that I could dispose of three tires per residence on bulk pickup day. All good information, but no solution for my 24 tires that were so generously donated to me. Frustrated but determined, I did what any property might do when faced with illegal tire dumping...wait, you mean knowledge of tire disposal isn't a skill that everyone in a Rust Belt city automatically knows? Nope.

I hit up Google and started making calls. My first lead was with Tri-Rinse on the riverfront who require a minimum a 50 tires and then charge $3 per tire for disposal. Seemed pretty straight-forward but I was 26 tires short of their minimum. That said, I'm overwhelmingly confident that like a bad case of urban dust bunnies more tires would find their way to my property and I could just wait...and pay $3 more per tire. I was hoping for a less ridiculous solution that didn't involve me waiting for more tires to appear and me making 5 trips in my station wagon.

My next call was to Tire Shredders out of High Ridge, Missouri who even offered mobile pickup. Talk about service! Sadly, they weren't keen about picking up at a vacant lot. I expressed my desperation for a solution and even offered to meet the driver myself to load the tires. Two weeks. Nothing. Finally, I called and was told they would put me on the list for pickup and at $2 per tire with no minimum (that I was told) it seemed a solution had been found. A few days later, I got a call from a driver who said he was 20 minutes away and couldn't have asked for a nicer guy. He told me I didn't have to assist in loading the tires but I insisted and even decided to add tire tossing to the list of Urban Olympic events at the upcoming Midwestival event coming in fall 2013. Start practicing now for the illegal tire toss!

Tire Shredders is a rubber tire disposal company.  It takes tires and shreds them into one-inch chips. In Missouri, the tires are taken to AmerenUE and burned with coal to increase the BTU output from the coal. Illinois chips are shredded smaller and used for playgrounds and horse arenas. Tire Shredders is known for its record of keeping the area clean by working with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the EPA.

Really fantastic business model. Free material that people PAY you to pick up and business is good! Tire Shredders has 4 trucks out every day and picks up over 2,000 tires per day that could otherwise end up in rivers, ravines...and did end up in our South City vacant lot! Pretty amazing story and good lesson to learn. Despite the frustrating experience, hours of lost time and $54 dollars ($6 fuel surcharge) I now can claim knowledge of what to do with waste tires both legal and illegal...and so can you.

More information on scrap tires here from the EPA.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Visionary Clients select EcoUrban to develop LEED Registered Modular Construction to Feature Solar & Geothermal

This week EcoUrban will break ground on the LEED for Homes registered Carlsson Residence at 6153 Pershing in Historic Skinker-Debaliviere Neighborhood.

This sustainable residential solution is being developed in partnership with Homeway Homes, Hoffman Brothers, Microgrid, Superior Walls, Mwanzi Green Building Supply and ASERusa.

Here is a hit list of the features:

- 2,176 square feet with 3 bed / 2.5 bath and first floor den/office/bedroom flex room.

- LEED for Homes Registered - Tracking Platinum designation / Preliminary HERS score of 49 with ASERusa serving as our energy modeler and LEED rater.

- 3 ton geothermal heating / cooling with (3) 200' vertical loops from Hoffmann Brothers Heating & Cooling with Aprilaire ERV and tankless hot water.

- Solar prewire conduit from Homeway Homes for easy install of Microgrid Energy's SolarWorld 250 3 kw solar off-grid power producing 3,873 kWh annually or roughly 50% of the home's power!

- Modular 2x6 construction with hybrid foam/batt R24 wall insulation / Low-E Energy Plus windows from Quaker Windows with a White TPO "cool" rubber roof constructed by Homeway Homes.

- Superior Walls precast foundation system with built-in R-12.5 insulation and ready-to-build out for future lower level space.

- Masonry, stucco and corrugated metal exterior siding for a modern look that fits into the neighborhood.

- 2-car garage / native landscaping

- Estimated completion date of 11/15/11

EcoUrban: Building Sustainable Solutions
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Friday, June 17, 2011

Great Opportunity to Learn about the State of Construction & Demolition Recycling in St. Louis

Getting tired of trips to the dumpster and landfill? Think there must be a better way to manage all the construction and demolition waste you face on job sites? Well...then you should join EcoUrban next Wednesday for a deeper look at the current situation and what can be done to increase landfill diversion and developing opportunities for profiting from construction waste.

The St. Louis Region and the Midwest are blessed with much open space, which means that it is easy to overlook where our generated residential and commercial waste ends up. Our landfill tipping fees, i.e. “the cost to dump”, are relatively low compared to other parts of the United States as a result of the abundance of landfill areas. Many consumers, businesses and contractors think nothing of throwing things “away and out of sight.” However, it is not environmentally responsible to dispose of items that could be salvaged, recycled or reused. It is also irresponsible to think of our landfill space as unlimited. One day there will not be an “away” for our waste disposal.

With support from St. Louis Jefferson Solid Waste Management, USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter, ReSource St. Louis and Missouri Enterprise have partnered to address the need to better understand C&D waste resources in the St. Louis area and build a business case for increasing waste reduction with the ultimate goal of reducing waste in our landfills and preserving the environment for future generations.

Join us for a free educational seminar on the State of Construction & Demolition Recycling in St. Louis.


Acquire a comprehensive background on the present “lay of the landfill” as it relates to common and existing practices for dealing with C&D end of project materials.

Identify current best alternative practices for dealing with C&D materials in the greater St. Louis area, encouraging a shift away from current dead-end strategies.

Examine the recycling needs of the building community, as they relate to LEED requirements and personal best choices.

Capture and expand upon possible business case options as they relate to LEED requirements and personal best choices.

Explore barriers to C& D recycling, dispelling the myths and offering sound metrics to encourage an embracing of recycling as opposed to dumping.

Recognize national case studies of technologies and approaches already in place elsewhere which provide significant monetary and environmental savings to communities and states.

Thanks to the Project Team who managed the focus groups and developed the C&D Toolkit and this Education Session!

Gary Steps – Butterfly Energy Works – Instructor

Jay Swoboda – EcoUrban – Instructor

Jen Loui – Butterfly Energy Works – Project Manager


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

3:30 – 5:30 pm


6301 Knox Industrial Drive (63139), Second Floor Assembly Room




Online on the AGC-St. Louis website:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's Next: Middle Class Green or Small Homes?

Check out the link below that discusses some real world green prefab buyers from "Prefabulous + Sustainable" by Sheri Koones...a book EcoUrban was featured in from 2010 - with a pretty snazzy forward by none other than, Mr. Robert Redford. I read the USA Today article, and had to wonder: Is EcoUrban just building green for the middle class?

To date, all of the homes built by EcoUrban have sold for under $180,000 (which doesn't exactly leave much room for profit margin on our 1600 square foot homes) and recently we partnered up with some local community development organizations to build 8 homes with a $96,250 mortgage after a ton of subsidy from HUD and a local housing trust fund.

We spend a lot of time & effort pushing for affordable new construction green as something that everyone can own, but the fact is that without subsidy we've got a non-sustainable business model. How do we compete? I've learned that to walk-away from new construction projects with the hybrid modular/site work model we've developed with a 15% profit - that we need to sell the final product with land for $140 per square foot - or $225,000 for a 1,500 square foot home. Sadly, this number just isn't supported in our region with so much affordable historic homes and distressed properties. On the other hand, show this number to someone in California and I tend to think these homes would be flying off the shelf.

So, what gives? Maybe we just need to educate consumers more that new construction, energy-efficient intelligently designed 1,500 square foot homes for $225,000 is a freakin' great deal! Sure you can buy a historic shell for $2,000 and spend $150,000 (if you can find a 203K lender in the mood) re-creating a home in some of our amazing historic neighborhoods - it has been done and continues. Seriously though, why spend over a year banging your head against the wall to live with uninsulated brick walls (or losing space to furred-out insulated walls) if the sustainable new construction option is within reach and takes less than 4 months? I just don't see how EcoUrban's model can compete if buyers are willing to accept inefficient charm over sustainable efficiency...moving on!

So, if I can beat 'em at the historic vs. new homes game what about creating a new market? I've been obsessed the with idea of pushing our buyers to accept smaller footprint homes - something that national trends toward smaller homes just don't seem to support yet. It seems buyers with limited budgets still want all the features - so, perhaps the opportunity is there. I've always wanted to explore EcoUrban getting into the backyard cottage or ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) market, but wasn't sure there would be a customer base. Can you imagine EcoUrban developing something similiar to the following as a solution to that constant challenge for extra square footage, home office, or an easy rental addition? If I could develop a model that puts a 576 square foot rental unit on top of a 2-car garage for $75,000 - is there a business?

Check out the following links of small footprint homes and let me know if I'm crazy:

Lots of great ideas...but is St. Louis ready? We shall see...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

EcoUrban 3.0: Building Sustainable Solutions Kicks Ass

Reboot. EcoUrban 3.0.

It has been a long and bumpy road from idea to execution, but I think we've finally found EcoUrban's sweet spot. Having pioneered infill green-certified housing over the past 5 years with our first homes changing owners for the first time, we have found a way to keep the lights on and continue to push residential housing toward a more affordable and efficient future.

In September 2010, Nate Forst headed west to pursue his MBA at Portland State University with a focus on sustainability and all reports to date have been encouraging and while the office is much emptier we wish him the very best.

Over the years, we have learned that we excel in the conception, promotion and execution of authentic green solutions to residential, commerical and regional challenges. We've learned to be better partners & collaborators where we lack necessary skill sets. And we believe, that EcoUrban has a lot more to offer our clients than well-built energy-efficient dwellings. We also have learned that we have a lot to learn!

Yes, EcoUrban will continue to offer a range of historic & modern construction design services including residential, commercial and prefabricated design, but our services are being expanded to incorporate new opportunities.

Currently, our to-do list is focused on a sustainable consulting project where we were awarded the Regional Construction & Demolition Waste Research & Education project that we've partnered with
Butterfly Energy Works & USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter to deliver in-depth research, focus groups and on web-friendly online toolkit to educate our region about the opportunities for increased construction waste diversion.

We launched
Sprout to activate dated or soon to be vacant commerical space in need of focused tenant solutions. This works allows us to engage entrepreneurs and small businesses in specific fields seeking a collaborative office environment with building owners in need of energized new tenants. Look for the development of a creative/media focused Sprout, as well as another Sprout focused on community development, architecture and artists.

We continue to believe that making green building affordable to all is our long-term goal and common thread, and to this end, we plan to continue to seek out multi-family rental opportunities across the region, affordable housing developments in urban and rural areas with a focus on access to public transit and developing walkable neighborhoods.

I'm hopeful that you'll continue to tell your network of family, friends and collegues about our efforts and services and with your support we'll be able to continue our efforts to build sustainable solutions!


Jemal Swoboda, Project Manager
EcoUrban: Building Sustainable Solutions
314-231-0400 ext. 4
314-662-0392 (cell)

Monday, June 21, 2010

South City SIPS!

Take a walk over to 4268 Hartford (intersection of Hartford and Morganford) in the Tower Grove South Neighborhood and check out the greenest residential project going in STL. EcoUrban is proud to have worked with Blue Brick Construction to envision a unique home made of Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPS). The technology pairs traditional building materials with up to 9.5 inches of foam insulation that is structurally sound and provides an the equivalent of R30 insulation value. Basically, it's the same line of thinking that allows you to hold a 180-degree cup of coffee in a foam cup that's 1/8 of inch thick without feeling the heat. The owners of 4268 will soon be enjoying some of the most efficient construction offered anywhere. Easy on the environment, and easy on the monthly bills. If you're over near Morganford Ave, stop on in and check out progress. It's a quick walk over from the Cup games you're undoubtedly enjoying at the Amsterdam Tavern. When finished, the owners will pursue a LEED Platinum rating for this home!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pre-Regeneration Regeneration

Lots of NorthSide talk these days. Lots.

Even if you do, in fact, live under a rock in the St. Louis region, I'm willing to bet you still have an opinion about the proposed changes afoot in North St. Louis.

I've participated in, heard, and seen (online) enough discussion to realize that if ever something could be considered the definition of "lightning rod" for our region, it is this proposed development. No conversation on this matter, it seems, is complete until it has devolved into a series of cliches rehashing much of the bitterness, divisiveness, and acrimony that have marred our region's (and so many others, to be fair) cultural landscape for as long as anyone can remember.

This is good.

Not the name-calling and related bluster, but the fact that many of us are actually engaging with folks we normally wouldn't. Sure, a lot of it is online and anonymous, but a lot isn't. Many different individuals, City and County, Big Developer and grassroots rehabber, Northsider and Southsider and yes, Black and White are sitting down at the same proverbial table to discuss this. Isn't that one of the things that's supposed to make a city great?

You've heard it all before: St. Louis is full of walls. Walls between neighborhoods, wards, municipalities, high schools, races, the list goes on and on. But right now, while the discussion is undoubtedly ugly... at least it's happening. And maybe it's catharsis...

Because while I'm not sure the North Side project will succeed, I am positive it will fail unless we continue the dialogue, and continue working to ensure that all of us have a role in the regeneration.

Coming Soon: Actual EcoUrban news!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

EcoUrban 2.0

Lately we've been looking into some pretty exciting green multi-family housing developments. They have the potential to be pretty transformative, but given the current economic climate it's definitely going to take continued time/hard work to get things going. We'll keep you updated as we move forward.

In the meantime, we've also been working with the very talented architects over at Ebersoldt + Underwood to reimagine our 1-story homes. What they've come up with is, IMHO, awesome.

One of our biggest challenges has been balancing forward-thinking architecture with demand (and a city) that leans towards a more traditional approach. It's a tough row to hoe, because you need to push the design while still addressing context. No one's really been able to pull it off here, and we all know brick facades with vinyl siding ain't gonna cut it.

I think E + U nailed it:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ameren Joins the Party

Well, better late than never.

Yesterday, Ameren UE announced that it was going to offer incentives to Green Developers. While obviously benefiting commercial developers more than folks like us, it is definitely a step in the right direction.

This comes on the heels of an announcement earlier this month regarding several residential energy efficiency programs to help customers manage their energy usage.

Glad these guys are finally getting on board (I'm sure national politics has nothing to do with it). I just hope some of the other folks that got there first left them some cheese and crackers.

Next up: Ameren plans to redevelop their "website" into something that doesn't look like it was created by the Venezuelan ministry of information!

We'll keep you posted...