Indigenous building techniques: Cold Climate Housing Research Center goals--efficiency and sustainability.

Author:Swagel, Will

Alaska has the toughest winter weather in the United States; and Fairbanks "enjoys" one of the more unforgiving climates in the state. Temperatures there can drop below minus fifty degrees in winter and soar above one hundred degrees in the summer. For home builders, Fairbanks provides an excellent place to test the efficiency of housing designs and building techniques in an exceptionally rigorous climate. And that's just what they do at the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC), located in Alaska's second-biggest city.

CCHRC was the brainchild of a group of members of the Alaska State Home Building Association who recognized that Alaska needed building techniques that matched the realities of life in the state.

"CCHRC was an idea that was shared among several of us in the building industry that we really needed to do research in Alaska and not just borrow technologies from Canada and the Lower 48," says Jack Hebert, CCHRC's president, CEO, and founding chairman. CCHRC receives strong support from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and from Alaska Native Corporations and regional nonprofits.

Now fifteen years old, CCHRC staffers work on a dizzyingly wide range of projects--testing home designs, building materials, construction methods, and heating and ventilation systems. Along with research in Fairbanks, CCHRC conducts projects across Alaska, from North Slope villages to the rain-soaked towns of the Panhandle.

Sustainable Northern Communities

Hebert spent his early years wintering in the mountains of northwestern Arctic Alaska and his summers in the "old" Denali Park. His mentors were Alaska Natives and Alaskan pioneers, people with deep connections to the land. Hebert has spent nearly forty years building homes in Interior Alaska, through his companies Taiga Woodcraft and Hebert Homes LLC, and still does. Even though he runs a research center, he describes himself as "someone who is happiest with the tool belt on."

In 2008, CCHRC began a program that merged the two sides of Hebert's life. The Sustainable Northern Communities program was charged with working to provide affordable, energy-efficient, healthy, and economically sustainable housing for both rural and urban Alaska. Since then, CCHRC has helped more than twenty Alaska villages combine traditional knowledge with twenty-first century techniques and technologies to design and build homes for residents.

In the southwest Alaska village of Atmautluak, for example, CCHRC...

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