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Northern energy efficiencies, design & architecture.

The elders knew. When winter came to Anaktuvuk Pass, homes built into the ground were warmer and more habitable. Then came "conventional" housing and homes became harder to build and harder to heat. In the Brooks Range and accessible only by plane, this tiny Nunamiut community currently has wood-frame structures built on pilings in the 1970s--exposing the homes to the intense winds of the mountain pass.

When the Cold Climate Housing Research Center arrived in Anaktuvuk Pass in 2008 to begin a research study of the area housing, Aaron Cooke, CCHRC architectural designer, said he heard from community members: "We used to bury our dead up in the air and live in the ground where it was warm. Now we bury our dead in the ground and live in the wind. We've been cold ever since."

By listening to the traditional knowledge and combining it with lessons learned and innovative technologies, CCHRC and its partner, Tagiugmiullu Nunamiullu Housing Authority, a tribally designated housing entity serving the North Slope, designed a prototype home. This prototype is being used to test an experimental active venting sys tem, a roof truss system designed to hold solar panels, and sprayed polyurethane foam insulation sealed with a spray-applied elastomeric liner to insulate the walls, floor, and roof and provide a weatherproof exterior finish. The home is also bermed with soil as insulation and a wind buffer and has a foundation of two feet of gravel fill topped with a synthetic waterproof membrane that supports the home's light frame that is filled with spray foam insulation. The new house sits directly on the ground.

Cooke said traditional homes in many rural Arctic areas "sat very lightly on the earth, so we're experimenting with returning to on-grade structures. In areas of deep permafrost, you want to keep the ground cold. If you build a house on piles, you don't have the melting permafrost problem but now you have to heat the floor as well as the walls and the roof. Keeping the ground cold feels less admirable if you have to keep yourself cold to do it."

Cooke describes the "floating slab foundation" that CCHRC has developed as a prototype for building in permafrost: "We've come up with a monolithic raft foundation--a rigid, sprayed foam foundation with joists embedded in it. It keeps heat from escaping into the ground and keeps the house down on grade and out of the wind. We've even done earth-banking around walls to lessen the heating load of the building."

CCHRC is one of a handful of Alaska organizations that have taken the traditional knowledge of the indigenous peoples and melded it with developing technology to create new solutions for Arctic challenges. The Institute of the North's Week of the Arctic, August 12-18 this year, will feature presentations and case studies from many of them. Cooke is scheduled to present case studies during the morning session of the Northern Energy Efficiency, Architecture and Design track.

In addition to the housing prototype for Anaktuvuk Pass, Cooke plans to discuss another prototype developed for homes in Quinhagak, a village at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River.

"Here, we're working on a foundation that can be leveled by the people living in the home. No contractors, no heavy equipment. You just need a large wrench and a jack to bring your house back to level," Cooke says. The home began as a single prototype but is now in production entirely by the village. He adds that CCHRC now has prototype homes in a half dozen Alaska communities, including on the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks.

Arctic Challenges

"We're very excited about the engineering and design innovations taking place in the Arctic and about being able to forward those this year during the Week of the Arctic," says Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Institute of the North. "Our focus at the Institute is to inform public policy and to engage the citizenry on Arctic issues, and there's a week of presentations and events planned to focus on just that. We are always looking for new and better solutions to the challenges of the North."

Andreassen says with the changing climate, the new ice breakers, deep-water ports, and the relationships we have with other Arctic nations, that there are political issues that must be addressed and some of that will happen during the Week of the Arctic. "Each session will produce a white paper with findings and questions that still need to be addressed. They will be put onto our website, given to policy makers--such as the State Department--and they will inform our agenda for the next year," he adds.

One of the events happening during the Week is a session about the Arctic Council's working groups with people who have participated in discussions of current issues and Alaska's role. The Arctic Council is an organization composed of eight Arctic nations (United States, Canada, Iceland, Denmark--through its relationship with Greenland--Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia). Andreassen said there are also six permanent seats for indigenous peoples of the North, four of which are in Alaska--the Aleut, Inuit, Gwitch'in, and Arctic Athabascan. China and Singapore are represented at the Council but do not have a voice or a vote, Andreassen adds.

Dan White, director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Institute of Northern Engineering, says UAF specializes in circumpolar Arctic engineering and has worked in Russia and Canada as well as Alaska.

"The impact of our research reaches across the Arctic," White says. "The technology and engineering practices developed at the engineering institute for keeping foundations frozen are used worldwide today. The Chinese recently built a railroad in an arctic climate and the technology to keep the roadbed frozen was mostly developed here."

White says UAF's institute also does research on very small power grid systems that are common in Arctic regions. "Power supply and grid technologies developed and tested at the Institute's Alaska Center for Energy and Power are developed for the Arctic but are exportable to rural regions worldwide," he adds.

"Much of what we do here revolves around heat transfer. We work a lot with technologies to keep foundations frozen. The institute also has worked on access roads to state resource leases," White says. "We've done the arctic hydrology for the roads which helps state engineers determine where to put culverts and how large to make them, among other things. It's work for the state that also benefits industry."

One of the issues on which the Institute has worked with communities is that of drinking water. White says they're looking at the traditional ice-harvesting methods as they research ways to deliver water to meet the needs of communities. "We also do a lot of climate-change research here," White says. "There's a healthy discussion about the landscape, precipitation changes, and how the climate is changing. We're looking at how the water resource has changed through the oral traditions. What have those changes meant to the people and what would changes in the water system mean culturally? How would the culture change with water change?"

Other areas of Arctic research at the Institute include oil and gas, mining, transportation, communications, and infrastructure, White adds.

Engineering Teamwork

Putting much of the research by the Institute of Northern Engineering into practice, PDC Inc. Engineers is an Alaska firm created from mergers over the years of four Anchorage and Fairbanks firms--with a history in the Arctic going back sixty years. The PDC name was adopted in 1998.

"We work across all Alaska regions," says Steve Theno, PE, a principal in the firm, "and we've done projects in Greenland, Antarctica, and at the South Pole. Our passion, however, is Alaska."

Theno adds that there are dramatic differences in the Arctic--a vast area that can have extremes in weather throughout the year. "It's a fragile environment," he says. "Alaska ranges from a temperate, rainforest climate in the Southeast to a tough marine environment on the Chain where temperatures always hover around hypothermic to the vast plain of the north."

A project on which PDC worked closely with Maniilaq Association was the health center in Kotzebue, a stateof-the-art facility completed in 1995.

"The original hospital was a slab-on-grade foundation," says Robert Posma, PE, a senior associate at PDC, "and there were a lot of different levels across a totally flat hospital. We provided the mechanical and electrical engineering for the original hospital then helped with the design and construction of an elder care facility that was incorporated into the hospital. We worked especially closely with the folks who would take over the operation and maintenance of the facility to make sure there were spaces for Native artwork to make the facility more familiar and comfortable for the elders who would use it."

Danny Rauchenstein, PE, also a senior associate, points out that over the years the firm has worked in the north, improvements have been made in helping the community that builds a project continue to operate and maintain it. It's a commissioning process, he says. "A project isn't truly sustainable without the local resources--so the approach has changed. Now, there's a lot of attention paid to local knowledge and traditions and there's a much better success rate."

One of the biggest issues to building anywhere now is the price of fuel to produce the energy. "It's skyrocketed," Rauchenstein says, "particularly in rural villages. We've always been huge advocates of green energy, but trying to convince our clients has sometimes been problematic. Now, our clients are the first ones to bring up energy-saving projects. It's cool to have clients like this."

A good example of energy-conscious engineering lies in the recently completed Margaret Murie Life Sciences Building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The university produces the steam to heat its own buildings during winter but when temperatures can reach into the high 90s, cooler air is a necessity.

"All buildings on campus use electrical chillers to cool buildings and they use an incredible amount of power," Rauchenstein says. "They didn't have any use for the steam in the summer."

PDC's solution was to use radiant-floor tubing to cool the building through steam-absorption chillers. It's one of the first such energy-saving systems in the nation, he adds.

Although PDC won't be a presenter at this year's Week of the Arctic, they will be participating in breakout sessions, says Lori Kropidlowski, marketing director for the firm. Rauchenstein adds that PDC has good experience to contribute to the discussion.

"We presented a paper last year on innovative energy ideas at the 7th International Cold Climate HVAC 2012 Conference in Calgary [Alberta]," Rauchenstein says, "and a few international organizations involved with standards and guidelines got together and wrote a cold-climate design guide. We were invited to contribute a couple of chapters. When it's done in about eighteen months, it will provide strategies useful to building in the Arctic."

Energy Efficiency

Also concerned about energy use and sustainability, the Renewable Energy Alaska Project is a statewide non-profit organization educating and advocating for renewable energy. Chris Rose, executive director, says arctic countries share many opportunities and challenges regarding energy and adds that we all need to keep abreast of what the other countries are doing in this field.

"For instance, on one of the Institute of the North's policy tours, we learned how the Norwegians work with the oil industry and how they've built a huge wealth fund about twenty times the size of Alaska's Permanent Fund. On another trip, we learned how Iceland is putting geothermal energy to use and keeping energy prices stable," Rose says.

He notes that much of Alaska's housing and commercial building stock is inefficient. "It was built long ago and uses lots of energy," Rose adds. "New construction can use less energy through better heating technology, more insulation, and better control systems." The session Rose is scheduled to moderate at the Week of the Arctic, according to the Institute of the North's schedule, is the reporting out of all the morning discussions. Each group will present its findings and recommendations to help create a road forward.

To attend this session or any Week of the Arctic event, go to institutenorth. org or call the Institute of the North at 907-786-6324. The Institute's Andreassen says there will be events each day of the week. "Some will be presentations, some are work sessions, some are recognition events, and some are receptions or dinners and they will be at different venues around Anchorage," he says. Registration is suggested and those interested can register online or by phone.

"There's no reason why Alaskans can't borrow building designs from Germany or Scandinavia, but we have tremendous ability here in Alaska to produce our own designs and innovations," Rose says.

"We're some of the biggest energy consumers in the world and we have the opportunity to develop our own technology. In addition to saving energy, [and] developing better building technology, it would diversify our economy and reduce our dependence on imported knowledge," Rose says.

Freelance writer Gail West lives in Anchorage.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL SECTIONS: Building Alaska & Environmental Services
Comment:Northern energy efficiencies, design & architecture.(SPECIAL SECTIONS: Building Alaska & Environmental Services)
Author:West, Gail
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Geographic Code:0ARCT
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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