Category Archives: Northern Living

What you need to know about correct ventilation and installing duct work

Q: My home has condensate on the windows. I want to put in a new bathroom fan, but I need to know the correct way to vent a bathroom exhaust fan and the correct size of motor the fan should have.

The airflow through a bathroom fan is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM).

A bathroom needs a minimum of 50 CFM intermittently or 20 CFM continuously. Fans are labeled with a CFM rating, but the duct work you attach to the fan will affect its flow rate.

If you run ducting in long, 30-foot runs and/or lots of 90 degree turns, you will need to double the fan capacity to 100 CFM. Ducts for a bath fan exhaust can be run with plastic, such as ABS or PVC, or metal, such as 29gauge warm air snap seam.

Ducting made of smooth materials will let more air flow than the flexible slinky-style duct materials, which are only appropriate for very short lengths, approximately 5 feet.

Another use is for the connection between the fan and the ducting, in order to reduce vibration.

If the ductwork passes through the attic, or any unconditioned space, it will need to be sealed and insulated to prevent heat loss.

There are several local companies that can assess your situation and install the right system or sell the appropriate hardware if you want to do the job yourself.

If, after installing and using your fan, you continue to see condensation on your windows, you may want to consider a more substantial ventilation system for your home. Today, most building codes require some form of mechanical ventilation.

This can range from an appropriately sized exhaust fan operating with fresh air inlets installed in the living spaces to a Heat Recovery Ventilation System (HRV).

Regardless of which type of system is used, it must be sized and installed to meet the needs of the home it will be serving.

The truth about soy-based insulation

Q: I heard that there is spray foam insulation that is made out of soy rather than petroleum.

Is this available anywhere in Fairbanks and does it work well?

One of the latest advances in spray foam insulation is a partial soy-based insulation. However, “soy-based” can be misleading, as the “petrochemical-based” is more accurate.

Spray foam works by combining two components, commonly referred to as the A & B components. The Acomponent is a diisocyanate (a petrochemical), which is mixed on a one-to-one ratio with the B-component that can contain modified natural or petroleum-based oils. In order to get the chemical reaction to work, the proportion of natural ingredients cannot be too high. Spray polyurethane foams can approach 40 percent natural oil, such as soy or canola oil. The total mixture, when foamed, is likely to be on the order of 20 percent to 40 percent natural oil content, depending on the recipe.

In terms of its effectiveness, the spray foam provides an R-value that is as high — or sometimes higher — than foam that do not contain soy. Spray foams are also measured in their resistance to water absorption, called a “permeability rating.” The rating of spray foam that contains soy is comparable to foam that does not contain soy.

In Fairbanks, there are spray foam installers that use soy in foam. Contact a local spray foam business for additional information.

Few show up to address upcoming borough air quality changes

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Friday, January 14, 2011:

Only a few residents addressed the upcoming air quality ordinance during public comments preceding the sparsely attended Borough Assembly meeting Thursday evening.

The air quality ordinance (2011-03) was reframed after voters in October’s municipal election approved a proposition eliminating limits on the types of wood stoves that can be used and prohibiting the fining of borough residents for smoke emissions or burning certain items.

The revised ordinance will be up before the assembly for public comment at its Jan. 27 meeting.

At issue is the borough’s attempt to meet federal clean air standards by 2014 without turning air quality regulation over to the state.

Senator unveils plan to fund energy projects statewide

From The Tundra Drums, Thursday, January 6, 2011:

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, this week pre-filed her proposal to create a mechanism for funding energy projects throughout Alaska, said a press release from the Legislature.

“Over the last two years, the Legislature has made a concerted effort to address the energy challenges facing Alaskans by fostering renewable energy, encouraging innovation, and increasing efficiency,” said Senator McGuire. “Although we have made substantial progress, the challenges ahead are daunting. Billions of dollars need to be invested in energy infrastructure over the next 10 years in every part of Alaska. With oil production declining and our long term fiscal future in question, we cannot continue to rely on the same old solutions and regional politics to solve our energy challenges.

Senator McGuire’s proposal, Alaska’s Sustainable Strategy for Energy Transmission and Supply (ASSETS), would expand the authority of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) to invest in energy infrastructure projects. The bill proposes the state expand AIDEA’s balance sheet by investing $2 billion in surplus revenues into AIDEA over the next three years and that AIDEA’s authorization to issue bonds for energy infrastructure projects is increased to $2 billion.

Continue reading: Senator unveils plan to fund energy projects statewide

Heat ventilators and snow on the roof: How to handle both of them

Q: I have an HRV (heat recovery ventilator). I have been told it needs to be balanced.

What does that mean and how do I do it?


This is the darkest, coldest period of the year when people spend the most time indoors, so having a properly functioning ventilation system is particularly important. A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) must be balanced and tuned so that it delivers as much air as it exhausts. Because the resistance to air flow varies with different lengths and types of ductwork used in the system, an unbalanced system may deliver too much or too little air, and operate inefficiently. Balancing an HRV involves measuring and adjusting the airflows through the unit, and it should be done by a professional with the proper metering equipment. A sticker should be placed on the HRV noting when it has been serviced.

A homeowner can still perform a basic inspection.

This includes cleaning the filters in the unit, and making sure that the intake and exhaust grilles on the outside of the home are clear of snow and debris. In the rooms, the supply and exhaust grills should also be examined to be sure they are open, clean and moving air without obstruction.

Q: I have a roof with a very steep pitch. I’m worried about snow sliding off my roof and damaging my gutters. What can be done about this?

Because of November’s icy rains, unprotected gutters may be more vulnerable than usual this year, particularly those made of plastic which may not be able to handle the additional weight.

Unfortunately, it may be neither safe nor even physically possible to deal with the problem now. Next summer, when the roof is clear of snow, there are several things you can do to prevent snow from damaging gutters. If the roof is metal, then snow stops are often cheap insurance and will not only protect the gutters, but any people or property that could be struck by melting snow in the spring. Vulnerable areas such as chimneys and entryways can also be protected by a cricket, which creates a berm that will divert sliding snow to either side.

If you plan to buy new gutters, then professionally installed seamless gutter systems are worth a look.

Metal gutters are typically made on-site in long sections using a forming machine. They are attached through the fascia with long fasteners and are, in general, much stronger than standard gutters.

Since the snow will likely stick to the roofs in Fairbanks with greater tenacity this year, keep an eye on those areas that could be vulnerable to falling snow when things start to thaw — it may be wise to put up some temporary signs to warn passersby.

Report: Fairbanks should invest in energy efficiency instead of new sources

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Thursday, January 6, 2011:

We try to get the most mileage out of our cars, clothing, food and other commodities before buying more. But we don’t make the most of the electricity we have, a new report states of Fairbanks.

The report states it can be cheaper to invest in energy efficiency than in new sources of energy. It shows Fairbanks can cut its energy demand almost in half by investing $100 million in efficiency. That doesn’t mean turning down the heat but rather insulating and installing more efficient appliances and patching up other electricity-sucking devices.

A panel of state and local officials and energy experts convened Wednesday morning at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center to discuss the report and the potential of energy conservation in Fairbanks. They said energy efficiency would save money, improve the local business climate and create jobs.

“Energy efficiency and conservation will always be our best economic value and most secure investment. It comes with a high, tax-free rate of return,” said Todd Hoener of Golden Valley Electric Association.

The report, titled Fairbanks First Fuel, was commissioned by the non profit Alaska Conservation Analysis. It explores how Fairbanks residents, businesses and industries use electricity and how they could reap savings by investing in efficiency. It recommends measures for different sectors and gives costs and paybacks of various technologies.

Indoor winter ‘farm’ is producing micro vegetables

From The Anchorage Daily News, Tuesday, January 4, 2011:

In Alaska, giant cabbages and other huge plants generally rule the garden.

But a couple of local growers are going the opposite direction — they’re cultivating micro produce. Sioux-z Humphrey Marshall and Rusty Foreaker have teamed up to create Northern Latitude Controlled Environment Agriculture.

In a 1,300-square-foot warehouse on Arctic Boulevard, they are growing “micro greens” indoors in a custom-designed hydroponic system. Among the greens they produce are broccoli, pac choi, arugula, beets, cress, endive, basil, cilantro, radish, pea shoots and corn shoots.

“People are familiar with sprouts,” Marshall says. “If you wait a little longer, you have micro greens. You harvest them when they are between five and 20 days old.

Continue reading: Indoor winter ‘farm’ is producing micro vegetables

Vehicles needed for exhaust emissions research project

From The University of Alaska Fairbanks, Tuesday, January 4, 2011:

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, with help from the Fairbanks North Star Borough, is conducting a study to measure wintertime fine particulate (PM2.5) emissions from gasoline-powered light duty trucks and cars in Fairbanks. Vehicles of all ages will be considered, but 1986 models are needed most. Vehicle owners will be paid $50/day if their vehicles are selected and used for emission testing, which is planned for two to four days in early January and two to four days in late January or February. Testing will be conducted at the FNSB Transportation Department at 3175 Peger Rd.

If your vehicle is selected, you will be contacted in approximately one week for additional vehicle and usage information, and to arrange a physical checkout of your vehicle at the borough’s transportation department. Testers won’t be able to test vehicles with exhaust leaks, liquid leaks, or other testing safety issues. All test vehicles will be fully insured against damage. Participant transportation to home or office will be provided once the vehicle has been dropped off and for vehicle pickup following the testing.

If you are interested in volunteering your vehicle, please call or e-mail Nadine Winters at or 457-6258 with the following information: Vehicle make, model, model year and your daytime phone number or e-mail address.

UAF is proud to work with the borough on this program as well as other research efforts related to air quality in Fairbanks. This work is in line with UAF’s commitment to making our campus and our community a more sustainable one for those who work, live and learn here.

Our Alaska: Living off the grid

From Alaska Dispatch, Sunday, January 2, 2011:

When general contractor David Doolen and his wife Dale bought land far up Rabbit Creek Valley more than 25 years ago, they weren’t planning on disconnecting from the municipal power grid. But back then the muni would have charged the Doolens $60,000 to run up a line to connect the house to city power, so they decided to keep the lights on using solar power and a generator. Today they’ve got two solar panels in addition to the diesel generator, which is connected to a 300-gallon tank that needs filling about twice a year. One side benefit of this unique setup: When the rest of Anchorage suffers through a blackout, the Doolens’ lights stay on. “We always feel pretty smug when that happens,” David said.

Watch the video: Our Alaska: Living off the grid