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Housing for the elements: Alaskans warm and dry thanks to efforts of Cold Climate Housing Research Center.

Science isn't on the minds of most Alaska homeowners when winter weather hits. I suspect gratitude is more the thought of the day--thankful for the homes that keep them warm and dry. Those who aren't grateful are likely contending with one of the many things that can, and do, go wrong with furnaces, insulation or plumbing in cold climates.

At the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC), we think about our homes too--and the science that keeps them functioning in Alaska, one of the world's most famous cold climates. What's the best method to insulate Alaska's homes? What the most efficient way to heat them, light them, and keep them functioning comfortably?

Unfortunately, not enough is known to answer these questions definitively. In 2000, the Alaska State Homebuilding Association (ASHBA), an industry-based association, decided that there wasn't enough science and research on the effectiveness of current building products and practices in cold climates. The homebuilding association knew that more energy-efficient, affordable, and sustainable structures could be built in Alaska, so ASHBA established the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) to develop and advance healthy, durable, and economically sound shelter for people living and building in the north.

A Few of Our Accomplishments

CCHRC immediately launched into product development and testing. Just a few of our accomplishments so far include:

* The Emergency Egress Window. One of the most important home, life and safety developments for northern Alaska in some time, this window will not freeze or jam shut. Designed and tested with one of our private-sector partners, the window is a dependable fire escape route--withstanding the pressures of shifting foundations and the coldest weather while still being affordable. It is a huge safety improvement and can be purchased on the commercial market.

* The Mobile Test Lab. The Mobile Test Lab is a mobile unit that tests doors, windows and walls against the conditions and climates in Alaska. Currently in Southeast Alaska, we are using it to test different wall sections for resistance to moisture. The lab can be driven, shipped or barged to any community in the state to help us identify the best building practices for every region and climate.

* Residential Exterior Membrane Outside Insulation Technique (REMOTE). A new approach to residential wall construction in Alaska, this design extends the life of a house by treating the wood elements of the wall structure as an internal component of the building. CCHRC adapted the technique from a Canadian method to resist moisture intrusion and condensation in the wall cavity, eliminating mildew, rot and mold. Framing lumber in a REMOTE wall essentially shares the same interior environment as the furniture, potentially lasting for many lifetimes.

Over the past five years, CCHRC has developed strong private and public-sector partners, across Alaska, the nation and the world. This has resulted in a successful capital campaign to fund the construction of a $5.2 million, world-class research and development facility. Those partners include the state of Alaska, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, Familian Northwest, Thermo-Kool, Spenard Builders Supply, Siemens, Western Insulfoam, Denali State Bank, Mount McKinley Bank and the Alaska State Home Building Association, to name a few. Currently under construction on the south side of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the research facility will be a lab for testing building materials and methods for Alaska's weather-from the brutal cold of the far north to the relentless rains of Southeast. The building itself will serve as a model facility using cold climate construction methods and materials.

Make no mistake--while this is state-of-the-art science and research, it is also practical and applicable, and will result in better products and better homes. Builders are already incorporating the results of our research to construct better houses. Additionally, the research has implications for other cold climates worldwide; CCHRC is leading the way in cold-climate housing research.

Science won't replace gratitude, but what we learn from our research will allow more Alaskans to be thankful when nothing happens when winter weather hits.

Jack Hebert is the president and CEO of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center.
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Title Annotation:BUILDING ALASKA
Author:Hebert, Jack
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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Next Article:A building that talks back: CCHRC research and testing facility to be completed this summer.

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