Santa Fe Habitat collaborated with students from the UNM Department of Architecture + Planning to build our organization’s first modular ‘house in a box.’

In 2020, our nonprofit collaborated with the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture + Planning EcoMOD Project to help build our first prefabricated home. 

Thanks to the hard work of University of New Mexico (UNM) students, our AmeriCorps members, and Santa Fe Habitat’s construction staff – the framing and flooring of this modular unit was constructed in a warehouse in Albuquerque, shipped to Santa Fe on trailers, and unloaded onto its respective foundation in Oshara Village. Building materials were financed by our nonprofit and the structure itself, built by a combination of student volunteers and the Santa Fe Habitat team.

To date, seven EcoMOD homes have been produced across the country. Our affiliate received “EcoMOD7, which, according to John Quale “is one of the best designs yet!” The EcoMOD design is environmentally friendly – reducing energy, water, and home maintenance costs, which is in-line with Santa Fe Habitat’s commitment to green building. 

This innovative ‘house in a box’ project will soon become a home for another Partner Family!

The Prefabricated Solution

EcoMOD is a unique program that was founded in 2004 by John Quale, aiming to provide affordable housing and test prefabrication as a workable solution for the country’s lack of available and well-designed housing. As a Department Chair and Professor at UNM’s School of Architecture + Planning, Quale instituted this building initiative as a student-led project in 2014.

EcoMOD partners with local affordable housing organizations to create energy-efficient and low impact housing units. This program utilizes a volunteer model similar to Habitat’s to reduce labor costs. The construction team consists of students who participate actively in the design, construction, and evaluation phases of the project. For EcoMOD7, students built together on Saturdays to advance the project.


The sustainability of the EcoMOD mission lies in its construction process. By constructing the modular house inside a warehouse and procuring the materials ahead of time – huge amounts of petroleum can be conserved. “We want every material, tool, and piece of equipment ready to go! When building conventional homes, there are lots of trips to shops like Home Depot or different locations. That involves a lot of back and forth. If you have a lot of driving, that wastes petroleum as well and significantly impacts the sustainability. When you have everything in a factory under one roof. You can build an EcoMOD house in two weeks,” said Quale. Ideally, the program will grow to a factory-format, where homes can be constructed assembly-line style to produce more homes, faster!

Purchasing alternatives to petroleum products can be cost prohibitive. Quale’s team aims to use as little petroleum as possible, while also prioritizing cost-efficiency. In the future, the EcoMOD team hopes to gain additional licensing for student builders and to also use continuous, eco-friendly Mineral Wool insulation. “EcoMOD is never perfectly sustainable, but we do the best we can to eliminate as much petroleum usage as possible due to cost constraints,” said Quale.

A Helpful Partnership

Santa Fe Habitat is always exploring eco-friendly ways to ensure sustainability and efficient housing. This partnership bridges Santa Fe Habitat’s green building initiatives and Net Zero Energy certifications, with EcoMOD’s goals of building homes that balance the fine line of sustainability and affordability. The fruit of this labor is a well-designed and environmentally-conscious home for a Partner Family!

The partnership proved beneficial for all. UNM students learned a diverse range of skills and gained hands-on construction experience to inform their career goals. Santa Fe Habitat enjoyed working alongside UNM students to help with the construction process. The EcoMOD project is now firmly planted on its foundation in Santa Fe. Our construction crew will see the project through completion. 

Santa Fe Habitat’s Executive Director, Kurt Krahn shared, “Anytime we can do partnerships with the community it’s amazing. This project falls in-line with our goal of building Net-Zero homes which we’ve achieved.” 

Santa Fe Habitat prioritizes sustainability and green building. In 2020, we received the Piñon Visionary Award for innovation in building and sustainability. To read more about our Net Zero Energy initiative, click here