Welcome to the official blog for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC), a private non-profit corporation that promotes sustainable, durable, healthy building technologies in the Circumpolar North.
Our research includes product development and testing, policy analysis, energy efficiency R&D, and public education. We also design and demonstrate prototype homes for rural Alaska that match the climate, resources, culture, and economy of individual communities.
We receive generous support from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation as well as other government agencies, corporate sponsors and our valued members. We would love to have you join us!
Just by way of introduction, I have been the Home Improvement Editor of VICTORIAN HOMES MAGAZINE for over 23 years. I thought my passive solar house project & website might be of interest to you and your website.
A little over a year ago I designed and built a new traditional style 4000 sq. ft. affordable passive solar home for $125.00 a sq. ft., assembling technologies and incorporating design features that enable it to heat for $2.50 a day ($900-1200 a year in the cold Upstate, NY region with crude around $100 a barrel). The website is: http://www.SolarHouseProject.com. The website explains how the home was built and how it functions. Dollar for dollar this traditional style passive solar home far exceeds the cost-to-benefit ratio of any “green” or “zero energy” home today. Heated by the sun, it cost about the same as a comparable size new ENERGY STAR qualified home but uses less than 70% of the energy of that comparable new home. 80% is possible if this home was built in a comparably cold climate but was not in my Snow Belt area and had regular height ceilings.
When I owned my previous home, I was unaware that trying to save energy in an existing home was just playing in the margins of energy conservation. It became clear to me that existing 20th century homes are obsolete energy sieves that will take Herculean measures to bring up to speed in the 21st century. This passive solar home can become the model for 21 century home building and rekindle a housing boom in our collapsed building market into the foreseeable future.
An article on the Kosmer Solar House Project is in the current Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publication NEW HOME annual and another article on it is in the quarterly summer issue of NYS regional magazine Kaatskill Life.
Below is an hourly chart I made of the outside/inside temperature of the home on 1/3/08 that shows that on a sunny cold single digit day the house was heated only by the sun for 10 hours. It was the acid test for the house and is amazing.
Fly Creek Kosmer Solar House Project Day Heat Chart 1/3/08
Sunny all Day – No Heat used from 8 AM – 6 PM
Time Outside Temp Inside Temp Difference
8 AM -10 68.7 —
9 AM – 6 69.9 1.2
10 AM – 2 71.6 1.7
11 AM 2 73.5 1.9
NOON 5 75.5 2.0
1 PM 7 75.7 .2
2 PM 7.2 75.7 0.0
3 PM 7.7 75.0 – .7
4 PM 7.1 72.3 -2.7
5 PM 3.6 70.3 -2.0
6 PM – 0.4 68.7 -1.6
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Folks who visit this site may be interested in a new Sustainable Communities Initiative announced by the U.S DOT and U.S. HUD. These two federal agencies have formed a partnership because they recognize that you cannot separate housing costs from transportation costs when one talks about sustainability.
The planning literature is replete with discussions of urban sprawl. One only has to look at the Mat-Su Valley or the Fairbanks area to see this at work in our state. However, sprawl is not confined to the roadbelt. Bush Alaska is experiencing its own form of rural sprawl. Rural sprawl can be defined as low-density residential development on the periphery of existing villages along with the dispersed placement of civic and public facilities.
Why is sprawl occurring? It seems that we are replicating the patterns of the Lower 48. Is it because the funding for rural development is coming from federal agencies that have little knowledge of how circum-polar communities can be made sustainable over the long-term? Or is it because Alaska does not have an indigenous advocate for sustainable Nordic community growth? Professionals in Alaska should be asking each other these and other similar questions. When development creates sprawl, it carries a price tag that everyone must pay. It’s not just the loss or rural subsistence areas or forested acres. It’s not just a diminshed quality of life and loss of the frontier. It’s real dollars. Rural sprawl increases the price tag for public services. Each new project brings benefits in the form of improved shelter, better public services or enhanced access. But they also carry the cost burden for operations and maintenance. The more spread out the projects are, then the heavier this burden.
The costs of extending these public services – public safety, fire, roads, airports, schools, medical centers, sanitation facilities, boardwalks and garbage collection – in a sprawled community is inherently greater than in a more compact community.
It is a common occurence each winter to read about another village community having to shut the doors of civic buildings because there was no money to pay for heat or electricity. The State has provided operating support to lighten this load but local villages find it increasingly difficult to be self-sufficient. Is it because becacuse public agencies have funded a community design that is inherently unsustainable within significant State subsidies?
What would a more sustainable northern village look like? the Ouje-Bougoumou community demonstrates how it is possible to plan a village so that the various components are integrated and mutually reinforcing for the long-term benefit of the community and makes a contribution to current thinking about “sustainable communities” and provides practical expression of sustainable development.
The village design is circular, with shaptuwan (traditional place for feasts) central and at the top of the hill. The inner two rings are lined with community buildings, reflecting the culture of sharing.
Does Alaska have to mimic the inappropriate community designs of the Lower 48 or can we use our northern wisdom to craft sustainable and nourishing communities? Can we provide real growth opportunities to Alaskans that give them a choice or have we resigned ourselves to present community designs that fall within the comfort zone of the dominant funding agencies?
As the costs of operating and maintaining our Nordic communities increase, it may be prudent to expand the dialogue beyond just housing. Urban and rural sprawl in our sub-arctic and arctic environments is unsustainable without significant subsidies. It may be time to engage each other in a real discussion about how housing needs to be integrated with community design if we are to create really sustainable northern places.
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