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Navajo Housing Authority«

August, 2012

Residents participating in master planning charrettes. Some housing on the Navajo reservation is scattered site, and remote from infrastructure. These houses are typical clustered housing development on the Navajo Nation.


Located in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, the Navajo Nation is the largest tribe in the United States with 27,000 square miles of land. The Navajo Housing Authority (NHA) administers more than 8,000 housing units. But the tribe needs more than 34,000 units according to a recent housing self assessment.

To help meet that need, NHA has a full upcoming year. NHA has asked Sustainable Construction in Indian Country (SCinIC) to provide technical assistance to assist NHA and its contractors as they implement three projects: construction of 1,200 housing units, master planning in each of its five districts, and development of a sustainable communities design standard.

NHA is already moving toward more sustainable housing designs. They are increasing use of Navajo FlexCrete, a solid fiber reinforced aerated fly-ash concrete material produced by the Navajo Nation by a subsidiary of the Navajo Housing Authority. FlexCrete decreases heating and cooling loads, reduces air leakage, and is fire and termite resistant. SCinIC provided energy modeling of proposed units and offered recommendations for potential energy efficiency improvements to current and future housing plans including reorientation for passive/solar, adding insulation in the roof and to the slab, and changing unit heat systems.

Currently residents can pay more than $3,000 in utility fees in units heated with propane. To cut heating costs in half, SCinIC recommends switching to a ductless mini-split heat pump. Lacking experience in this technology, NHA construction staff is hesitant to implement it on a big scale. (Also, this technology is not feasible in all locations due to periodic power outages.) NHA is considering conducting a pilot program to evaluate cost savings and ease of maintenance.

NHA has contracted with Swaback Partners to conduct a master planning project. SCinIC participated in several charrettes hosted by Swaback in July, which helped residents begin the process of identifying available land and considering how housing development fits into community development. The individual chapters will eventually develop or update their chapter master plans. In addition to providing NHA with input during the master planning project, SCinIC plans to build on the master planning effort to develop a local design review guidelines and process that will help NHA evaluate and offer recommendations on the chapter plans and housing to be developed for these.

The SCinIC team has already demonstrated two tools that can help NHA select housing designs that fit its desire to increase sustainability. SCinIC presentations include energy modeling and digital 3D modeling. These common tools help communities analyze and improve proposed housing developments by providing data on the best payback and utility savings.

SCinIC will also work with NHA in developing a new Sustainable Communities Design Standard. One of the advantages to developing a local standard is the ability to shape that standard to fit with the local economy, region, and the challenges of that community. For example, many sustainable standards require that materials be procured from less than 500 miles. This is not always possible for remote rural communities. NHA will be able to develop a standard that encourages sustainable and energy saving housing within the context of the community.

All of these projects are supporting NHA in its aim to consider housing decisions within a sustainable framework that actively integrates economic and community development and reflects the voices of community members.

SCinIC was invited to present their findings and initial recommendations to the full staff and board of the Navajo Housing Authority at their 50th anniversary celebration and annual retreat in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the end of August.

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