A Sustainable Off-Grid House Set In The Navajo Reservation

This off-grid house set in the Navajo Reservation in Utah, has been designed by the non-profit organisation DesignBuildBLUFF. Completed in 2009, the house is one of many environmentally friendly homes that the organisation has built.


DesignBuildBLUFF Studio - Navajo Reservation - Suzie Whitehorse - Off-Grid House - Exterior - Humble Homes

Every year DesignBuildBLUFF invites first-year graduates of architecture to design and build a home for a Navajo family. The buildings themselves are constructed with found and salvaged materials, which can be mixed with modern technologies and traditional construction techniques.


DesignBuildBLUFF Studio - Navajo Reservation - Suzie Whitehorse - Off-Grid House - Exterior Deck - Humble Homes

This house was designed for Suzie Whitehorse and her four children. Prior to this Suzie and her children were living in a 15 foot wide dome-shaped hut – a tight and cramped space for five people to live in. The new house provides several, much larger, living spaces, each of which is designed to fit in with both their needs and lifestyle.


DesignBuildBLUFF Studio - Navajo Reservation - Suzie Whitehorse - Off-Grid House - Kitchen - Humble Homes

The kitchen of the house features a rocket stove. The wood-burning stove can be used to heat the 55 gallon barrel that sits on top of it, providing warm water for the home. It also has a 20 foot flue made from cob, which when warmed-up, acts as the house’s primary source of heating. As a backup, there’s also an in-floor radiant heating system that’s powered by solar hot water panels on the south wall.

DesignBuildBLUFF Studio - Navajo Reservation - Suzie Whitehorse - Off-Grid House - Bedrooms & Living Room - Humble Homes

The approach to the design and construction of the building is relatively low-tech, and hence low on maintenance. The architects attempted to make use of passive design, rather than employ active energy systems. As DesignBuildBLUFF put it: “There is no HVAC system — really no mechanical system whatsoever, just the sun and a little bit of wood, and the breeze.”

DesignBuildBLUFF Studio - Navajo Reservation - Suzie Whitehorse - Off-Grid House - Floor Plan - Humble Homes

The entire building is raised off the ground by recycled telephone poles, promoting natural ventilation. On the south side, the window area and orientation has been calculated so as to provide optimum passive solar heating. The roof features a rainwater catchment system that leads to a 2,000 gallon cistern that’s buried in the ground.

For more off-grid houses check out The Shack at Hinkle Farm, a cozy retreat featuring a garage door as an operable window. Or this small island home off of Vancouver with a bed that can be pulled out into the openness of the surrounding forest. See all off-grid houses.

Via Inhabitat
Photos: DesignBuildBLUFF

Niall Burke

Structural engineer by day, tiny house designer by night. Niall has a keen interest in small spaces, green design, and sustainability. He started developing Humble Homes while studying for his masters degree in engineering. He is the founder and managing editor of Humble Homes.

  1. Niall, I was left with the impression by several Native Americans, that entrances to their homes must always face east. It has to do with their spiritual world. How did you reconcile this with your design?

    1. Hi Susan, this house hasn’t been designed by me, but by a group of graduates who participated in a program by DesignBuildBLUFF. I don’t remember the building orientation being mentioned in the source, so I’m not sure which way it’s facing, but I’m sure the folks at DesignBuildBLUFF have got it right given their track record.

  2. I LOVE all of these! ! I love this site! What would help me is maybe a ballpark figure on the cost..not the land just the house…

  3. They “lived in a dome shaped hut”. – you mean a traditional Navajo hogan (there are reasons for the shape of the structure). They way you stated it, sounds very disrespectful of Navajo culture. Apparently tiny homes are only OK if you approve of them. And why is everything called ‘cobb’? In the southwest US traditional building construction is adobe – which is very eco-friendly and energy efficent.And yes the entrance is to face east.

    1. Hi Mike, I apologise for any offence caused, it certainly wasn’t my intention. As far as I know, the only real difference between cob and adobe, is that adobe is formed into bricks, whereas cob is applied freehand. Also, I referred to it as cob in the post, because its what the architects stated was used.

  4. very creative and responsible design and build. I really like the rocket stove. I have lived where there were harsh winters and being able to come snuggle up to a warm hearth is a necessary pleasure. Cisterns are also a joy. I hope the family is happy there.

  5. The house you built for the Navajo Family was great, do you have future plans to build other houses for Navajo families and was it a humanitarian project. If so I would like to nominate my sister for such a project. She lives in Star Lake , New Mexico, and is going to need housing soon.

  6. Navajo High School students at Many Farms High School have built tiny hogan homes and other tiny homes for their community. They build them at the school and then transport in site. This sounds like a great and future partnership, empowering native students and also possibly feeding into the university.