A Yorkville, Ill.-based startup that designs green communities and provides the technological support to implement their development and construction plans to have 20 manufacturing plants operating within the next 18 months. At full production capacity, each of the factories could be producing an average of 2,200 steel-framed homes per year, at which point the company, ECO Lifestyle Homes, would be generating $500 million in annual revenue.
That is the scenario laid out by ECO's president and co-founder, Robin Webb, during interviews with BUILDER on Wednesday. Webb spent 30-plus years developing and selling medical devices and briefly ran a development company before he helped found ECO Lifestyles, which for the last four years has been perfecting technologies and systems to accommodate developers and individual buyers that are looking for a greener residential alternative.
So far, ECO has assembled only a few houses in New Orleans, made by its plant in Durant, Miss. It has announced plans to build a 120,000-square-foot plant in Chipley, Fla., and intends to open a third in San Jacinto, Calif. The Mississippi and California plants are licensee agreements, but future plants will all be company owned, says Webb.
Each plant will cost about $5 million to build and get going, he says. ECO's financing is coming from private equity sources as well as from developers with which ECO is forming joint partnerships on specific residential developments. ECO provides the design for those communities, makes the product, and manages their assemblage. Webb says his factories can produce a house in two work shifts, have the shell up in a few days, and deliver a completed product in less than a month.
The houses ECO has made for the New Orleans market were pretty basic and sold for $59,000. But Webb said that his company's sweet spot would be homes ranging from 3,500 to 5,000 square feet (he didn't want to get specific about pricing) although customers will be able to customize the size and type of house and amenities they want from "thousands" of plans. "The key to setting this up has been to be as versatile as possible for the owner or developer," says Webb.
ECO Lifestyle Homes touts itself as a green builder because it uses steel framing that Webb says is more "environmentally friendly" than wood. (The steel is being supplied by Nucor Steel in Charlotte, N.C., which also supplied the short video on the virtues of steel construction that's running on ECO's Web site. Webb admits that site is somewhat slapdash now because "we're still a work in progress, too.") ECO's integrated wall panels include insulation, plumbing, electrical, windows, doors, exterior fascia, and interior drywall or paneling, sent as a unit to the jobsite for assembly. These biodegradable forms resist mold and insect infestation.
Because the plants will be fully automated, ECO can keep its costs competitive by reducing labor expenses 60 percent. The factories can also provide developers with homes that include integrated green features such as a solar panel system built into the roofing or a distillation system for markets where water supplies are problematic.
ECO is a joint-venture partner in a development in Panama City, Fla., which is entitled for 360 homes and is looking to strike a similar deal with a developer in Hawaii that wants to build 1,600 homes. ECO is also looking beyond the U.S.; it has supplied homes for buyers in the Dominican Republic and is eyeing Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad, and even India, where Webb says his company is considering a "total management package."
Learn more about markets featured in this article: New Orleans, LA.