What is a “Remote Wall”, and why do we care?


Sep 21, 2009

Alaska’s Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) is aligned with Alaska home builders in conjunction with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.   Their mission is to promote and advance “the development of healthy, durable and sustainable shelter for Alaskans and other circumpolar people through applied research”.  Much of their research is being tested today in a new Research and Testing Facility (RTF) built on the university’s campus in Fairbanks.  Improved building standards and techniques will lead to better quality, cold climate, energy-efficient homes.

The RTF in Fairbanks “is a living laboratory with nearly 1,000 sensors incorporated into the building” that addresses “real-world building problems by testing built-in components under real environmental conditions as well as in controlled laboratory situations.”

The cold climate housing researchers have a great video about the RTF, their research, and their findings.  If you are interested in learning more about cold climate housing construction techniques, just click on the video link at www.cchrc.org.  Various building aspects of cold climate foundations, roofs, and much more are discussed, as well as a mention of Alaska’s five different climate zones, with their individual construction issues.  Here are just a few bits of info gleaned from their video:

Unlike ordinary house construction that has insulation and a vapor barrier on the INSIDE of the framed wall, the cold climate house has a “remote wall” with rigid insulation board and a vapor barrier located OUTSIDE the ordinary framework of the house.  This remote wall protects the house from cold and moisture which, otherwise, leads to condensation and mold.  The remote wall construction also increases the structure’s ability to retain warmth. It’s a much better design for the Alaska winters.

Potable water is used for drinking and washing in the RTF, then reused as “gray water” for flushing toilets, which yields “black water”.  The black water is then treated in a sewage treatment plant on-site, which brings the black water back to a gray water standard again, whereby it is reused.

They have taken 1,000-year old technology and are using it to heat their modern RTF building: a high-efficiency masonry stove burns hot, then radiates the heat efficiently by using old technology that works well today.

The researchers have come up with new formulas for concrete.  They know how to maximize the use of local concrete-making material used in construction so that it sets faster and cures better in colder temperatures.  This extends the building season, saving money, while it also reduces the need to heat the area around the newly poured concrete, thus saving MORE money.

Shoot, just go check out the video.  It’s encouraging to know that Alaskan researchers are implementing their findings not only in the new Sustainable Northern Shelter home completed in Anaktuvuk Pass, but are also starting to work in conjunction with some other rural Alaskan communities to build more new homes that combine the best of a community’s old ways with new technology.  It’s a step in the right direction for our rural friends!


One Response to “What is a “Remote Wall”, and why do we care?”

  1. Secret TalkerΔ Says:

    I am enjoying these articles on homebuilding. Some of the information is not difficult to implement , it just requires thinking about homebuilding in a new way: for example -changing the location of the vapor barrier and insulation.
    Thank you for posting ….

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