By Ivona Borisenko

For The New Mexican

The spirit of the pioneers is still alive in the Southwest. Amanda and Alfred just set a precedent and became the owners of the first fully permitted container home in New Mexico.

“Two to three hours every day, for a year and half, of research, visits at the state offices and interviewing the potential contractor,” said Alfred Stein, thirty-something entrepreneur. He is originally from Florida and his wife, Amanda Sweeney, is a busy and successful jeweler, also from Florida. This is the fourth home they have owned together.

“People ask us how do we do it, that we always buy a place that makes us money? But we buy because we like to live in the place, not because it will make money,” he said.

They started as many others, simply wanting to buy a house in New Mexico. But what they saw was either too expensive or simply was not a house they could fall in love with. A year ago, an opportunity presented itself to buy 12 acres on N.M. 14, at a discounted price. They purchased the land and decided to look into the small-homes movement. After many phone calls and conversations, they chose the Missouri firm Custom Container Living.

“We spent several weeks looking around for companies that had reasonably priced standard designs as well as full customization options,” Alfred said. “We were also trying to keep the company as close as possible in order to reduce shipping costs once the project was completed.”

Custom Container Company not only provides the service from the design to the delivery, they even clean the house for you after they place it on the permanent foundation. Top-rate service! And the company specializes in units that can be expanded later if desired.

Amanda and Alfred will not be able to move right away: they still need to hook up all the utilities and dig the septic tank.

The house is almost 100 percent off the grid, yet it has all the luxuries of modern living.

“Yes, we will have all the comforts of a traditional house, with some luxuries as well,” he said. “Our focus was on sustainable luxury and what fits in our lifestyle.” It is a two-bedroom, one-bath home with a full sized kitchen, washer and dryer, living room and open dining area. The house is fully sealed from the outside. There is a full-size bathtub, 5-burner stove, air-conditioning and heating units, and a full-size refrigerator. Floors are reclaimed hardwood, the kitchen counters are made from recycled glass, and the handrails to the upstairs loft, from pipes. Recycled wood pulp and concrete siding, meant to last about 75 years, cover the outside of the house.

I was impressed with all the green solutions of this design. Can you tell us more about off-grid living?

Well, off-grid brings up images of rough living and uncertain winters; we did our research to figure out what would give us everything we need while producing our own energy, as well as energy for a work shop. As with most off-grid properties, our appliances and lighting is all very energy-efficient. Our expected annual utility bills should be under $10. Part of designing an off-grid building is having back-up for power and water. We are designing a simple graywater system with the intention of having a large growing area.

How easy was it to obtain the permits for this “unusual” solution?

The graywater system was the most difficult part as the State Engineers does not have ready answers. Gray water is from laundry, showers, etcetera, and for the safety of anybody on our property we have to have signs in four languages that prevent anyone from drinking it or using it for anything else than watering the grounds or flushing the toilet. With the help of the state, we did it and the path is open now for others.

What other obstacles did you face?

Finding a contractor who would be willing to work with us and not expect this to be a $100,000 contract. We have plans to place more structures and we for sure will work again with Will Mee, Sierra Encantada Contracting.

What does a “fully permitted container house” actually mean?

There are several odd issues when it comes to a container home in New Mexico. A container home is considered a mobile/manufactured home while in transit and during construction. Once a container home is welded to the foundation, it is considered a single-family home. This gives you both flexibility in permitting and difficulty dealing with some offices at the state/county. In the end, both for resale purposes and insurance, we decided to get our structure permitted as a single-family home.

Is a container home a tiny house?

It is a small home, but too big to call a “tiny house.” The square footage including the loft is about 700 square feet. The ceilings are quite high, and the windows are designed to let in a lot of light to make sure you never feel closed in. Plus you can add on.

What are the costs of these homes?

Custom Container Living has some smaller homes for as little as $30,000. The basic version of the unit we selected is the Empty Nester, which starts at $65,000, and with our upgrades our total was around $100,000.

What is next?

In addition to the 12 jujube trees that are already in the ground, I am planning to plant an orchard and start producing cider and vinegar. The house is just the beginning of better things to come.

Ivona Borisenko is a Santa Fe resident and an associate broker with Santa Fe Properties. Contact her at 505-930-0203.