Living Stone Lodge

It all started with an Idea…

What if Our Homes Were Designed

  • so they would be affordable to build?
  • to reflect our rich history and culture?
  • using the ancestral wisdom of earth lodges?

Our Vision & Mission

To become the standard for tribal home design and change the way the world builds tribal housing.

To provide an affordable, energy-efficient, easy-to-build home solution that decreases substandard housing and reduces the housing shortage on Indian reservations so that every Native American family has access to safe, healthy, durable, environmentally sustainable homes.

The Need

Native American Housing

Indigenous cultures around the world traditionally designed circular dwellings, reflecting the circular patterns found in nature. We believe there is deep wisdom in the circular flow of the earth lodge design, which contributed to overall family wellness, as well as the longevity of the home. Therefore, by incorporating our ancestors’ design concepts, we show them respect while carrying forward the same benefits.

The Living Stone Lodge (LSL) home design was created with Native American families, harsh climates, and energy efficiency in mind. In designing the Living Stone Lodge, all calculations were based on the wide range of temperature fluctuations seen in North Dakota. Winter temperatures reach minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit while summer temperatures frequently climb to over 100 degrees. All materials, supplies, building methods and heating and cooling systems were chosen with these factors in mind.

In the United States, forty percent of on-reservation housing is considered substandard (compared to 6 percent outside of Indian Country) and nearly one-third of homes on reservations are overcrowded. National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)

Housing that is cost effective and energy efficient, is in demand on Native American reservations. Living Stone Lodge is intentionally designed to decrease ongoing heating and cooling costs by its unique design and plans to incorporate renewable energy. It’s designed to be constructed using a large percentage of local workers for the labor force, therefore, lowering the overall housing costs and providing local employment during construction.

In addition, electricity and utility infrastructure can be unreliable in rural communities. On northern reservations, traditional affordable housing with its lack of insulation and thermal bridging is dangerous. When the electricity goes out in the winter, interior temperatures can rapidly drop to life-threatening levels. The Living Stone Lodge design, utilizing thermal mass in the floors and walls, can maintain safe indoor temperatures for up to 21 days without any power at all.

The design was shown at the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) Annual Convention and Trade Show in Denver in May 2019. Housing representatives from several tribes requested more information and expressed an interest in building the Living Stone Lodge home design on their own reservations.

The Prototype

Phase I

The idea took several years to design and in 2018 a prototype home was built in Twin Buttes, ND, in the South Segment of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation (MHA). With the vision of Councilman Cory Spotted Bear, MHA South Segment invested the funds to customize the design for their community and build the first Living Stone Lodge home. 

The prototype was constructed to determine if the design was buildable and to establish a construction process. This is truly a prototype, the first of its kind ever built. While efforts were made to hit energy and cost efficiency goals, the team had to adapt plans and design-build as they went.

During an Energy Audit performed by Home Energy Science, the auditor stated that the Living Stone Lodge home was the tightest home he’d ever tested in over ten years of audits. He also said it was more than twice as tight as the best home they had ever tested.

The Design

Living Stone Lodge is a round structure. A key benefit to a round design is the ventilation patterns which make it very easy to move heat energy around the house. Air flows without being blocked by corners or dead spaces that impact heating, cooling and air quality. The design enhances airflow by adding vaulted ceilings. A ceiling that slopes upward causes air to move and circulate more evenly.

The home is built with a thick earth and concrete mass surrounded by insulation. This is a thermal mass we call the Living Stone because it is designed to absorb passive heat energy during the day and deliver it back into the house at night. The concrete portion of the mass is lined with hydronic heat tubes centered in the floor slab. The heat tubes circulate warm water keeping the floor heated during the winter.

In summer, cool interior temperature is maintained because the thermal mass under the home is cooled by the ground temperature beneath the home. This principle provides natural cooling at the floor and lower walls during the summer months. The cool zone in the house is close to the floor with the warmer air rising up into the center of the vaulted ceiling.

 At the beginning of winter when outside temperatures were 10 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, a plan to change the programmable thermostats in the prototype home was implemented. It was necessary to lower the home’s interior temperature by five degrees to perform the upgrade. All heating was turned off. After seven days without any heat, the temperature of the home had decreased by only two degrees demonstrating that the thermal mass was effective in maintaining temperature.

A Modern Earth Lodge

The Lodge

The design has 2,000 square feet on the main floor with a 600 square foot loft area for storage and family recreation space. The home’s round shape mirrors the design of traditional Mandan earth lodges. Circular design has been a large part of Indigenous dwellings worldwide for hundreds of years.

The home is built with ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) for the exterior walls. The insulated walls are set into the ground and rest upon an insulated footing encapsulating a concrete and earth thermal mass located under the main floor. This allows a positive energy effect from the natural earth temperatures in both winter and summer months.

The concrete foundation is being designed to utilize a proven thermal conductive admixture, a tested, engineered product of ENZO, to increase thermal transfer of heat. Steel fibers are also a new design to be mixed into the concrete to strengthen and replace the need for rebar, thus reducing labor costs.

The roof is constructed of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) supported on wooden glu-lam beams that are joined together by a steel compression ring and beam saddles at the wall locations. This type of roof system requires no support from the interior walls which allows for flexible interior wall placement and room design. This feature supports any type of floor plan design, such as a duplex or triplex, using the same basic building structure.

The home is heated and cooled predominantly with renewable passive solar gain and heating or cooling realized from the insulated ground connection. A small modulated boiler supplements heat in the winter months and a small mini-split AC unit provides additional cooling in the summer.

A future design modification is planned for an easy access mechanical chase from the outside of the home to the mechanical room located in the center of the home. This design will provide a large opening into the interior of the home to allow ducts, pipes or wires to pass from the outside through the living space into the mechanical room. This access will allow a variety of renewable energy options such as solar, wind or geo-thermal to be added or upgraded at any time to support the ultimate goal of net-zero for the Living Stone Lodge homes.


Phase II 

The second phase of the project includes building an additional three homes in 2019 using the knowledge and experience gained from construction of the prototype. Several processes, materials, and plans have been adapted to increase energy efficiency and affordability.

The additional LSL homes are currently being built in Twin Buttes on the Fort Berthold Reservation. MHA Nation South Segment is committing the funding for this next phase of the project.

To create a performance baseline it will be necessary to quantify and document the actual energy efficiency of the design. MHA Nation South Segment was awarded a grant from the State of North Dakota to install a monitoring system using the latest technology to collect internal and external energy data. The system will collect daily detailed performance data on one of the three homes constructed in 2019. This will be completed by DMA Engineers of Colorado, an independent engineering firm. The data collected will document how the design performs utilizing passive solar gain, as well as the effectiveness of the thermal mass and concrete slab combined with ICF wall and SIPs roof construction.

These homes are being built on land owned by MHA Nation South Segment for tribal housing rentals for qualifying tenants.


Phase III

The ultimate goal is to make Living Stone Lodge an affordable, easy-to-build home available to tribes across North America. To be poised for this, several activities will be undertaken.

Renewable Energy

First, design drawings for architectural; structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering will be modified to improve affordability and energy efficiency and to incorporate renewable energy. The ultimate goal is a net-zero home.

Manufacturing & Commercialization

Detail drawings with all specifications for manufacturers to produce components will be completed. Manufacturers will be engaged to price and begin producing parts for two additional test homes proposed to be started in the spring of 2020.

It’s also necessary to develop a mold for the 22.5 degree ICF corner blocks for mass production. Amvic Building System, global leader in ICF Products, and the only manufacturer of an R30 wall block, currently produces the ICF blocks for the Living Stone Lodge design. The company is a partner with the project and will fabricate a custom mold for the corner blocks that decreases the cost and makes the walls easier and more accurate to construct for untrained workers.

Builder’s Construction Manual

The Builder’s Manual will provide step-by-step instructions for local workers, plumbers and electricians to use when constructing the home. The Builder’s Manual enables the home package to be dispersed widely and quickly to people waiting for a sustainable, affordable housing solution and is a key component in the commercialization plan.

Living Stone Lodge home design is a structure mostly made up of parts which can be pre-fabricated and delivered to the building sites. This improves the affordability even more and provides jobs to local workers. The prototype home was built largely with workers without construction training.

Although it is a simple home to build compared to conventional construction, it does require some guidance to ensure a successful outcome. Without a Builder’s Manual, building a Living Stone Lodge home would require specialized contractors trained in ICF construction which would substantially increase the cost.

Commercial Applications


The Living Stone Lodge design can be used for a variety of commercial applications. Because of the self-supporting roof, all interior walls can be flexible to build duplexes, tri-plexes, small grocery stores or community churches. The buildings may be linked together to create structures for residential rehabilitation centers, senior living centers or other community facilities.

The Dream

The Reality



Geordan Traver, Project Specialist



To become the standard for tribal home design and change the way the world builds tribal housing.
Mission Statement
To provide an affordable, energy-efficient, easy-to-build home solution that decreases substandard housing and reduces the housing shortage on Indian reservations so that every Native American family has access to safe, healthy, durable, environmentally sustainable homes.

© 2022 Twin Buttes South Segment-MHA Nation