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Site work begins for Eco Village

The excavators have begun bringing their equipment to the site of St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity's Eco Village on River Falls' west side. Gary Zappa of Zappa Brother Excavating and SCVHFH Executive Director Jim Farr stand with an articulating 35-ton haul truck, a cat and a compactor. <i>Judy Wiff photo</i>

St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity's Eco Village project in River Falls moved from the planning to the implementation stage this first week of May as the excavation contractor began site preparation work.

Zappa Brothers of Hudson started moving in heavy equipment Monday with the intention of starting work Wednesday.

Along with filling and grading on the site itself, workers will reconstruct Apollo Road on the edge of the development.

The plan is to build six houses this year.

Those six families have been approved and will be working on their homes alongside volunteers, said SCVHFH Executive Director Jim Farr.

If things go according to plan, holes for the houses' foundations will be dug the third week in June.

The Eco Village project began in 2009. Original plans called for 32 houses, but that number was dropped to 18 to give residents more space for lawns and gardens.

The village will be built on seven acres donated by the city.

The site is on Apollo Road near its intersection with West Maple Street. The land, which over time has been used by the city as a compost site and some winters to pile snow, consists of a flat area backed by trees on a slope with some erosion, said Farr.

The city forester has evaluated the growth on the site, identifying many scrub trees that will be removed as excavators stabilize the hill before house construction begins, said Farr.

"(The land) is a generous gift, but it requires a lot of work to make it workable," said Farr, explaining the intent to turn "a grey field into a green field."

And "green" is definitely the theme of the entire project.

"It's cutting edge in green design," said Farr, predicting the homeowners will save $200 to $300 a month of what the owner of an ordinary house would pay for utilities.

He said the "envelopes and design" of each house will be so efficient that the homeowner will almost be able to heat it with two hairdryers.

"They're going to produce almost as much energy as they use," said Farr, noting that the plan is to build single and twin homes so well that they can earn the LEED for Homes Platinum designation.

The houses will be built with solar panels.

An early plan had been to also use geothermal energy, but the envelopes (building shells) are so efficiently designed that won't be necessary, said Farr.

Some houses will be built into the side of the existing hill and will have walk-out basements. Others will be built on slabs.

There will also be a small solar array at one edge of the property to generate enough energy to power lights on pathways and perhaps provide some electricity for the village's community center.

The engineering firm for the project is Auth Consulting & Associates of Hudson. The architects are Frisbie Architects Inc. of River Falls.

The biggest problem for the families who qualify to Habitat homes is coming up with the down payment for a new house so the program lets them use 500 hours of their "sweat equity" as their down payment.

The keys to keeping these houses affordable are the volunteer work that goes into building them and donations of materials, said Farr.

He particularly praised this project's four "anchor sponsors," who are not only donating to the project but are all providing work crews.

"These companies are kind of walking the talk," said Farr.

These are the "anchor sponsors":

  • Andersen Windows, Bayport, Minn., is donating all the windows in the homes.
  • Thrivent Financial is providing a grant.
  • DOW is donating all insulation material.
  • Uponor, Apple Valley, Minn., is donating all the materials needed for the plumbing and for fire suppression systems -- fire detectors and sprinklers similar to those used in commercial buildings.

For more information about the project, go to

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.