DesignBuildBLUFF Announces Completion of Little Water, our 13th Sustainable Home for Navajo Family

University of Utah students design and build energy-efficient home on Navajo Nation reservation

BLUFF, Utah, Sept. 27, 2012 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- As part of our continuing mission to give architecture students the opportunity to design and build a sustainable home for a deserving family on the Navajo Nation reservation, today DesignBuildBLUFF is proud to announce the completion of Little Water, our latest home.


Little Water was designed and built by twelve first-year architecture graduate students from the University of Utah as part of the year-long DesignBuildBLUFF program. It is the 13th home completed by DesignBuildBLUFF.

Little Water was built for Ben and Sara Jones. As an elderly couple with limited mobility, they required full ADA-accessibility to accommodate their needs, a DesignBuildBLUFF first. Completed in just over five months, the 1,060 square foot Little Water features two bedrooms, one ADA bathroom/shower and an open kitchen/living space.

Little Water, named after the surrounding region, is a study in passive heating and cooling techniques. The house is made up of five major systems designed to heat and cool throughout the year, including an insulated thermal berm wall, a straw bale wall, a solar oculus for natural ventilation and night flush cooling, a ventilated second roof and a rocket stove.

In order to use the earth's energy to moderate the home's interior temperature, an insulated thermal berm wall was created by laying up to five feet of soil next to the retaining wall. That was then covered with straw, cardboard, waterproof membrane, gravel, foam and a final layer of soil.

Opposite the berm wall is the highly insulated straw bale wall, designed to cost effectively provide the insulation needed for the other heating and cooling systems to do their jobs without losing energy from the home. Local clays were gathered and used in the construction of this wall.

The solar oculus is designed with vents to release hot air from the house during the summer, allowing for natural ventilation and night flush cooling. Earth tubes run from the oculus through the back of the berm to provide fresh air, supplemented by an evaporative cooler which acts as a sand filter and backup cooling method. In addition, the solar oculus functions as a skylight.

Created with a layer of 2x6 lumber laid out on top of the lower roof then finished off with water proofing and aluminum sheets, the second roof is designed to shade the lower roof and allow for free flowing ventilation to keep the house cool during the scorching hot summers.

In the winter, Little Water is heated with a mass rocket stove constructed of earth block and cob. This stove is designed to use all of the heat generated from burning small kindling throughout the day. The exhaust heat is drawn through a pipe in the clay bench which acts as a thermal mass, absorbing the heat and slowly letting it into the space for several hours after the stove has stopped burning.  

The project began last autumn when DesignBuildBLUFF partnered with the Navajo Nation to choose a deserving family who wished for a home incorporating innovative sustainable design. The students then worked throughout the semester on the design phase at the University of Utah. Once the Joneses and the team agreed on a final design, the students left the comfort of the university and relocated to Bluff to build the house themselves.

The project was overseen by Hank Louis, architect and DesignBuildBLUFF founder, and Andrew Foster, Chief Operations Officer and site foreman. Although they assisted and instructed throughout creation and construction, the lion's share of the design and labor was completed by the students, who live together in Bluff for the semester and are required to commit to the completion of the project.

DESIGNERS: Students of DesignBuildBLUFF Studio/University of Utah
BUDGET: $25,000
CLIENT: Ben and Sara Jones
PHOTOGRAPHER: Scot Zimmerman

DesignBuildBLUFF is a non-profit organization that builds environmentally sustainable homes in the Navajo Nation. Our work introduces first-year graduate students in architecture to the culture and history of Utah's desert southeast, where they design, and ultimately build a home for a Navajo family. The program exposes students to the social implications of architecture, the appropriateness of alternative building methods, recycled materials, unknown and untried innovative solutions, and to soak up the knowledge, wisdom and motivation of visiting professionals. Our projects incorporate salvaged and found materials, modern technologies, and traditional building methods. With a focus on physically building the homes they design and integrating sustainability into every facet of the project, our vision is to not just build a home for a family in need, but to build the architects the future deserves. Learn more at

Media Contact: Whalen Louis DesignBuildBLUFF, 435.901.1533,

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