Bringing Ideas to Reality : Life at University of Alaska Fairbank’s Sustainable Village

Ahoy Readers!

As some of you know, I have been living and working in the Sustainable Village here on campus and it’s been a really significant part of my life here; I wanted to spend a little time talking about my experiences here so far.

Once I knew that I was coming to grad-school I immediately started looking for positions at Residence Life. I worked for two years as an RA at my undergrad at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin (www.northland.edu) and one year as hall director; I was in charge of a staff of five and accountable for all of the residents in my building. I learned a lot during those three years, and had great experiences and relationships with my residents which made it worthwhile. During my graduate study I looked to continue what I had learned  and wanted to use Residence Life at UAF as a way to integrate myself into the campus system and meet new friends and people. I felt my experience as a graduate student would be beneficial to my residents, who I assumed would be largely undergrads. I went through the interview process and ended up landing a position at the UAF Sustainable Village which is a perfect place for me;  I feel my previous background and ideas fit into this position in a fate-like fashion . The Village was established in 2012 and was UAF’s first sustainable housing development. It integrates a community style living approach and sustainable-living guidelines in an approach that matched much of what I learned from Northland’s environmental mission. I was genuinely excited for the position as it offered a strong leadership role with almost endless amounts of innovation and self-motivation. When I came in, in fall of 2013, it was the second cohort of students and we are still setting precedence for what a cohort of students will look like in the future.

As part of my involvement in the Village I have had great interactions with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC; http://www.cchrc.org/) which were responsible for the design and construction of these buildings; however, it should be noted that the original design concepts of these houses were generated by a student based competition, which is very cool! CCHRC is interested in understanding sustainable development in the arctic; they are an outstanding research group and built the Sustainable Village with several systems that have not necessarily been attempted or tried before in hopes of improving housing for the future. Although I’m sure my list is not exhaustive, here are just some of the concepts demonstrated within the four houses:

  • Above-ground contained septic treatment
  • Heat Recovery Ventillator (HRV)
  • Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV)
  • Superior Envelop design
  • Solar-thermal, radiant floor heating
  • Insulated floors (r-60)
  • Polyurethane floor Raft (to protect the permafrost)

These concepts are all designed to make the houses energy efficient and sustainable in a northern climate where we have already surpassed -40 degrees this winter (as of 11/21/2013) and will continue to do so through March. So, how effective are these houses? CCHRC published their first year results here : http://www.cchrc.org/docs/snapshots/SustainableVillageSnapshot.pdf. An important graph from that publications shows the usage of energy from the Village houses compared to the average house in Fairbanks.

SV_energy_use_graph
The average house in Fairbanks uses 76,400 BTU/ square foot for heating and hot water (or about 920 galloons of fuel oil for a 1,600 square foot house) according to the Alaska Finance Corporation’s Alaska Retrofit Information System database (ARIS). The average new *BEES energy efficient home of the same size uses 660 gallons of fuel oil a year. In summary, the Sustainable Village homes use less than half the energy of the average new home in Fairbanks, and significantly less than new energy efficient homes in Fairbanks.

The graph demonstrates pretty well the effectiveness of the design of these houses! Of course sustainability is more than technology driven and should contain lifestyle changes as well. The residents at the Village are required to compost and recycle. The compost is used for community vegetable gardens, which are tended in the summer. The residents are asked to think consciously about their energy and water consumption and use alternative forms of transportation such as walking, biking, public transportation, or carpooling when a personal car is necessary. Community is a critical part of mission of the village and is something I play a critical role in; it my interest and job description to create programming that residents can have fun with and learn from. As part of the demonstration of this, I had a great opportunity to put together this video of life in the Sustainable Village. If you watch it all the way to the end I will say you get to see some very special footage from above the Sustainable Village which demonstrates its relation to the UAF campus, as well as some of the beauty of winter here!

Thanks for checking in everyone! Have a great Thanksgiving which is next week, and Christmas will be here before we know it which is a much anticipated break for this college student!!

8 thoughts on “Bringing Ideas to Reality : Life at University of Alaska Fairbank’s Sustainable Village”

  1. Well done, Ian! We have 3 degrees above this morning. Not nearly as cold as you are in Fairbanks however the systems used in the village houses could certainly be applied here in Minnesota. Loved the aerial footage:) Thanks to Jonathan for the assist in creating the “tour”.

  2. Hi Ian – Thanks for the lesson in sustainable housing & living. It’s a whole different aspect & perspective of life to consider. You appear to have adjusted well to your surroundings & colleagues. Happy Thanksgiving to you.
    Peg & Phil (choir buddies)

  3. Ian, I conmtine to be amazed at the high level of positive environmentat concerns you and your group pursue. I really like all the energy efficient efforts. Which house are you living in? and how much of what is being attempted in Alaska would apply to us here in Maine?
    We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I trust you did, too. It was a great lift to have you with us via web last Sunday and to hear from you, let us know you’re doing well. Peace to you and Merrry Chirstmas & Happy New Year.
    Peter

    1. Thank you Peter. I’m living in the “willow house”. Houses like this ours would be very applicable in the Maine region, in fact I know one person who built one much like these houses in Augusta (just south of town). He has a really great place with well insolated walls, orientation that maximizes sun orientation and a 3 story, but open design that heats the house well from just a wood stove downstairs. It’s a gorgeous place.

      It was really great to see you all! Looking forward to tuning into more services, say “merry Christmas” to everyone for me! I’m looking forward to venturing back to the Lower 48 for the Holidays – get into Minnesota the 21st.

      Merry Christmas!

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