Planners have high hopes for low energy costs at UA Fairbanks ‘Sustainable Village’ housing 

The Republic | FAIRBANKS, Alaska — When the drone of a massive air compressor chugged to a halt Friday morning at a construction site near the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Jack Hebert said with a smile that it would be the last time any fossil fuel would be used there.

Hebert, the president of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, was joking — but not by much. CCHRC and UAF are joining together to build a new student housing complex with the experimental buildings that they believe will function year-round without burning any on-site oil.

Planners for the development, dubbed the Sustainable Village, unveiled designs Friday for four new buildings at the site near UAF’s lower campus. By using super-insulated buildings, solar heat systems and biomass, they hope the project will ultimately help a region struggling with high energy costs.

Planners behind the development are setting expectations high from the start. Hebert thinks the lessons learned from the Sustainable Village development could transform cold-weather home-building techniques.

“We want this to be a worldwide example of what can be done at this latitude, and I think we’ll accomplish that,” Hebert said.

The project is unusual not only for its ambitions, but for how it has developed. CCHRC sought design ideas from UAF students last fall, and the winning five-student team joined planners this winter to come up with a prototype for the development.

The more ambitious elements of the student design, such as a “living machine” that would treat wastewater with plants and micro-organisms, didn’t make it into the buildings that will go up this summer. But the basic layout for the homes — boxy designs with flat roofs, an outside deck and big, south-facing windows — was largely intact from the student blueprints.

They’ll be integrated with a heavily insulated envelope, a solar-hydronic heating system and, most likely, a pellet stove for a mid-winter boost. Two different types of foundations will be used, along with four different types of wall systems. A 14-kilowatt array of solar panels at the site was funded by a UAF sustainability grant. Read more

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