The Cold Climate Housing Research Center serves the need for safe, affordable, sustainable housing in Alaska. This need is particularly strong in rural Alaska, where shipping in modern building supplies by air can be cost prohibitive. Many families are forced to live in housing that is drafty, inefficient, or even shifting dangerously on a thawing permafrost foundation. Building and insulation methods that work in the lower 48 don’t always swing it up here. That’s where the scientists, architects, and researchers of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center come in.
Alaska has many microclimates, and a well-built dwelling in Utqiagvik will not necessarily meet the needs of a home on the windy, wet coast of western Alaska. CCHRC pilots projects in communities across the state, to set new standards for building homes that are comfortable, efficient, and affordable. Their hope is that these models will inspire the adoption of custom building practices within each village or town.
You can tour CCHRC’s Research and Testing Facility on the second Thursday of each month. Meet in the lobby at 2:00PM. Your group will include visitors and locals looking for the best information for their latest building project or home renovation. The facility is a valuable resource for first-time and experienced builders.
The center serves as a demonstration building, which means that all of its systems are being tested and modeled for use in residential and commercial properties. The building includes 1200 sensors in the walls and floors that measure everything from temperature to daylight, to occupancy.
Inside, you’ll learn about statewide projects of CCHRC as well as the systems within the facility. The concept is that each building is a “living system” which (at best) can contribute to the health and wellbeing of its occupants and the surrounding environment, or (at worst) cause “sick house syndrome.”
The newest innovations in solar thermal heating, solar electricity, graywater collection, and green roofs are incorporated into the design (complete with a rooftop garden lined with snap peas). The tour guide will show you a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) with a clever system of air exchange to heat incoming air with building exhaust. You’ll learn the best techniques for insulating walls for temperatures of -60°F, and how to build a special foundation to keep floors warm and dry.
Proven technologies have their place, too. In the lobby, visitors can admire a masonry stove built of large rocks that radiate heat over a longer period of time than a typical wood stove. This technology is 400 years old and still works like a charm.
The center is the farthest north LEED Platinum facility in the world, certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. It consumes about half the BTUs/sq ft. of an average building in Fairbanks and was named a runner-up in the “Smartest Building in America” challenge by Siemens. The entire building has the ability to be raised or lowered on either side if the permafrost underneath should thaw and cause structural tilt.
On your way in (or out), you’ll pass the UAF Sustainable Village, which is a joint project with the University of Alaska Fairbanks The village is a sustainable housing option for students that doubles as a research facility for cold climate technologies.