Tag Archives: Northland College

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.

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!!