Gallery: Off-Grid Rammed Earth House On Navajo Nation Catches The Wind

The Colorado students playing with their shadow on the rammed earth wall after the home was completed this winter.

Back in May 2010, 22 grad students from the University of Colorado Denver started planning Maxine Begay’s new home and then started construction on it in September. This is the first semester a student group outside of the University of Utah designed and built a house on the Navajo Nation and the results were just as successful. The Windcatcher House relies on local clay for its hand built compressed brick and rammed earth walls on the south and east sides of the home. Thermal mass, shading and careful placement of windows help keep the home nice and cool during the hot, dry summers and soak up heat during the winters, which can get surprisingly cold. The rest of the exterior is clad in your basic, inexpensive cement board and cleverly attached to the structure of the home.

The 1,100 sq foot, 2 bedroom home, located on Begay’s family’s homesite, also features a carport alongside the home. The family doesn’t actually have a car, but plans to use the carport as a barn for their animals. Rainwater is collected off the carport’s roof and pours into a trough and a irrigation system for the garden. As with all homes on the Navajo Nation, the Windcatcher House is totally off-grid – as there is no grid anywhere close enough to connected into.

The 30 ft wind tower is the most striking feature of the home and also an integral part of the design. Air moves across the open tower and travels down the shaft where rainwater soaked pads facilitate an evaporative cooling effect and naturally ventilate the entire home. Traditional framing and a slab on grade foundation are combined with recycled, reclaimed and salvaged materials in this fantastic off-grid home in the desert. We’re certain that Maxine and her family are enjoying their new home. In total, the home cost $46,000, not including some materials that were donated.

Students from the University of Utah are already hard at work on the next DBB house near Bluff, Utah. This semester the Utah students will be working on a prefabricated home that will get installed later this spring.

+ Design Build Bluff

Images ©Design Build Bluff


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  1. Betterfields February 5, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    In many ways the American Indian Nation is poised to set the example on green building methods. Reservation land is not subject to County building codes as the rest of the USA. We envy your position, as we are looking for suitable land to build our Eco-Community. We find it interesting, the new arrivals to America were given the “freedom” to build America and oppress the Indian Nations onto reservations. Now, through our own laws & regulations we are the oppressed & you have the “freedom” to build the Green example to save this World on many levels.

    Betterfields Community

  2. Alaskaman February 4, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Very nice. I have heard of rammed earth but have never seen one and it is 75 mile of my home. I would like to learn more about the techniques of construction. I have built solar but never with earth.

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