House Gods: Sustainable Buildings and Renegade Builders

Jim Kristofic’s initial intention with his new book House Gods was to expose Navajos to the possibilities of sustainable building techniques and at the same time lessen the footprint of buildings on the environment. Jim was raised on the reservation at Ganado, Arizona. “There are not a lot of passive solar buildings on the reservation and the people who live there don’t have them.” he said.

He spent five years researching and writing House Gods. It is based on his interviews – and apprenticeships – with a handful of the renegade builders of Taos, New Mexico. These builders explain how they use the sun and gravity, how they wield a sledgehammer to compact earth into tires, arrange straw into bales, and compress earth into bags.

Woven into his informative essays are glimpses of the personal lives of the builders, descriptions of dramatic landscapes, of surviving extreme cold, of relationships with rescued canines, of a look at the history of adobe and of the Navajo world view.

Jim said an impetus for the book’s focus grew out of a chance meeting with Willy Groffman in 2014. Groffman introduced him to his greenhouse with it large water barrels along the south wall, catching light through the windows and heating the water inside the barrels. Thick east and west walls are made of adobe mud and cordwood.

A fireplace of cobblestones in his home acts as a heat sink. Groffman said, “Come on into my church. This is where I come to worship the sun … This is where I get inspired. I build to the sun.”

The book takes its title from the House God, or Calling God, who lives at the door of the hogan, or of any house, the prologue states. The House God represents strength, wisdom, good health and integrity. The House Gods of the book are the builders.

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