Anyone who has traveled -- or, better, lived -- in Alaska's villages can remember seeing homes provided in government programs that made no sense in Alaska. These were homes that couldn't stand many Alaska winters and left their occupants with warped walls, frozen pipes and little faith in Uncle Sam. That's changing.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks are working together on two modern houses designed to cut construction costs, maximize energy efficiency and fit the traditional layout of homes in both the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and the Arctic.
Each home would run about $200,000 -- far below the costs incurred for most building in Bush Alaska, where shipping costs alone can put housing prices out of sight. Each would be much easier to heat in winter, using as little as one-fifth the fuel of the typical house now.
Housing and fuel costs are two chronic challenges in rural Alaska. They stand in the way of sustainable economies by thwarting numerous enterprises aimed at improving prospects, from recruiting and retaining good teachers to creating jobs and steady income opportunities to complement seasonal subsistence living.
The two building projects will provide researchers, villagers and housing officials with a real-world test of the designs. How well will they withstand the weather? How well will they fit families' needs? Will the promised fuel efficiencies pan out?
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