What if someone could build an energy-efficient home in the far north for $150,000?


Sep 20, 2009

They did. It’s called the “Sustainable Northern Shelter”.

Jim Crawford referenced the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation in his commentary, “Creating a new vision for housing in Alaska” (Sept. 16). Apparently, the AHFC works with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) based in Fairbanks.

This summer, CCHRC’s new “Sustainable Northern Shelter”(SNS), a 1,000 square foot house, was built on-site in Anaktuvuk Pass in far northern Alaska for less than $150,000 in about four weeks.  That total cost included shipping all the materials to the community on one DC-6 airplane.  Click  HERE!

The home, an “energy-efficient, culturally-based, and environmentally-appropriate building”, is expected to require only 110 gallons of fuel a year, instead of the customary 1,400 gallons or more. The self-contained sewage treatment plant buried behind the home uses exhausted air from the bathroom to treat waste, which is then leeched into the ground.

For an interesting slide show about this house, click HERE!

“The basic construction method…involves a light steel frame structure with an interior plywood skin. A soy-based, polyurethane insulation with an r-60 is applied to this framework. This insulated layer is covered by a spray-applied coating, which is durable, waterproof, and resilient. Earth-banking and a sod roof are used to buffer the structure from strong winds and drifting snow. The home makes use of natural lighting, water conservation, and other energy-saving techniques. To further reduce the home’s need for costly energy, the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council installed solar panels and will be adding a wind power system to produce renewable energy.”

Other articles on the same house can be found in two parts with photos at PART ONE and PART TWO

More excerpts from the links:

“Like traditional sod homes, the prototype house is bermed into the soil for insulation and a wind buffer. The foundation is 2 feet of gravel fill topped with a synthetic waterproof membrane that supports the home’s light frame.”

“The walls are technically inside-out. The frame is made of metal studs sandwiched between half-inch sheets of plywood. Soy-foam insulation, which would go inside the frame of a Lower 48 house, encases the frame here in Anaktuvuk Pass. As a final layer, a 1-inch coating of elastomeric liner, the same material used in truck bedliners, forms a tough waterproof shell.”

“In this climate, the insulation should go on the outside not the inside because of the condensation point,” says Judith Grunau, designer of the project. “You get moisture problems when the cold meets the warm. The insulation has so much R-value (thermal resistance) that the cold doesn’t ever meet the warm.”


8 Responses to “What if someone could build an energy-efficient home in the far north for $150,000?”

  1. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    With all the talk of water and sewage treatment in rural Alaska, I found this info provided about the prototype house very heartening (if true and do-able):

    “The self-contained sewage treatment plant buried behind the home uses exhausted air from the bathroom to treat waste, which is then leeched into the ground.

    “They say you could drink the water,” says John Howlett, a plumbing teacher from Barrow who is on hand to learn the new equipment.”

    But does this work with permafrost conditions?

  2. Jim Says:

    Although my Anchorage house is fairly new and has a good energy star rating, we can consume close to 1 million BTUs in 24 hours when the outside temperature is 20 below zero. (one BTU is the amount of heat it takes to heat 1 pound of water 1 degree fahrenheit). That’s right– when it is 20 below, each 24 hours it takes the same amount of heat to warm my house as it would take to warm a million pounds of water 1 degree!

    One gallon of heating oil provides about 140,000 BTUs. If the 110 gallons/ year of “fuel” they’re referring to is heating oil, that would amount to about 15 or 16 million BTUs/ year to heat the Sustainable Northern Shelter, which is the same as about 2 weeks worth of cold weather heat for my “energy efficient” Anchorage home.

    My house and garage are about 3 times as large, but this is still remarkable. I see they have both an oil and a wood stove, but there is not a lot of wood at Anaktuvuk Pass– they are north of the tree line.

    I love the design aesthetic and the way it merges with the landscape. Reminds me of New Mexico traditional dwellings. I’d love to see some winter shots after it takes on snow.

  3. elsie09 Says:

    Hey, Martha, they should soon find out. That house was built in the central Brooks Range, up in the North Slope Borough. Is that considered “permafrost”? I saw somewhere the high temperatures in that little community in the summer generally only reach the 50s.

    “This is the first green home in Arctic Alaska, where people brave the world’s coldest weather and priciest fuel. The house is a prototype conceived by Fairbanks researchers to supply affordable, sustainable housing to Bush Alaska. The design melds new technology — like soy-foam insulation and solar panels — with ancient Eskimo wisdom, such as living underground for warmth.”

  4. Jim Says:

    The community of Anaktuvuk Pass is definitely built on permafrost. They have long, cold, harsh winters.

  5. Secret TalkerΔ Says:

    The house is very interesting and the exterior finish is amazing.I suppose it is the same stuff I have in my truck bed although mine is black. I wish there were even more photos. I wonder about the load bearing capacity of the roof under a lot of snow. I wonder about fire retardation. I once discussed building with the steel frame, and asked if it was a fire deterrent. I was told that the steel would melt but not burn- no real difference to wood.I would also like to see the house in winter when the snow provides more insulation. All in all it is a creative and practical house and I hope it is not just an excercize but something that might really take hold for homebuilding in Alaska.

  6. UgaVic Says:

    When I toured the Fairbanks facility this past winter my understanding was that they wished to make this a very “doable” project/home that can be duplicated throughout rural AK.

    They were supposed to be teaching a few local people when they built this with the idea it can be passed on and not just something coming out of Anchorage.

    They had a shell with lots of measuring devices out in their ‘backyard’ to hopefully give them some pre-knowledge of what the actual winter conditions will bring.

    I am glad to see it up and being lived in!!

    Let’s hope this can information can be spread far and wide very quickly!!

  7. aspiecelia Says:

    I had an energy efficient and more green type cabin in Homer which is in the greenbelt of Alaska. But, the reason I mention it is the owner is an architect from California whose interest is in buidling energy efficient housing and he talked about people working on coming up with new ideas for homes in the arctic regions. He talked about a building in CA which was totally independent from any outside energy to heat or cool the buiding. It was 100% self contained. There are people all over working on new ideas so hopefully this can help people continue to live in the arctic and subarctic.

  8. alaskapi Says:

    We have lost an Alaskan dedicated to making regional, sensible solutions to housing problems available in bush Alaska…

    We have lost a good and decent neighbor…

    “Cancer claims Anaktuvuk Pass mayor
    By Chris Freiberg

    Published Thursday, September 24, 2009

    FAIRBANKS — The mayor of Anaktuvuk Pass who championed sustainable construction in rural Alaska has died.

    George Paneak was 60. He died Saturday at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital following a battle with cancer.

    Paneak’s father, Simon, was the founder of Anaktuvuk Pass, settled by the last remaining Nunamiut Inupiat Eskimo community who looked to trade in their nomadic lifestyle for life in the village…”

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