Category Archives: Alaskan Efforts

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.

Gardeners: Go chemical-free in 2011

From The Anchorage Daily News:

As the New Year approaches, many will be making resolutions. What of the gardeners?

My wish is that each and every one of us will resolve to turn our backs on the use of chemicals.

It isn’t very hard to build a case that no gardener should use chemical fertilizers, insecticides and the like. In fact, it isn’t very hard to build the case that no gardener should be ALLOWED to use them. Gardening, after all, is just a hobby.

It is undeniable, for example, that nitrates and phosphates from modern agriculture — and, yes, horticulture — have leached into the aquifers, streams, rivers and waterways of our land in excessive amounts with incredibly deleterious impacts to the health of humans as well as Nature (as if the two can be separated). Chemicals with unpronounceable names, bearing labels carrying dire health warnings, have become such a mainstay of our hobby that some of us deem their use one of our “rights as Americans.”

No matter that the poison you spray on your lawn drifts up to 75 miles when there is even just the slightest breeze, impacting the innocent child playing in the yard in the next town or the moose in the forests you may hunt and consume as much as it impacts the dandelion which is its target.

Continue reading: Gardeners: Go chemical-free in 2011

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

Fairbanks borough pollution plan goes before assembly for final touches

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Wednesday, December 29, 2010:

An air pollution plan that has so far taken more than a year to push through for the Fairbanks North Star Borough will no longer carry any fines or enforcement power if a revised version is approved next month.

Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins revised the air quality ordinance to comply with a ballot measure passed in October banning the borough from regulating home heating devices. The proposed ordinance will go before the Borough Assembly for first reading Jan. 13.

“We had an air quality plan passed. We barely entered winter, to see if it would have an effect on the large emissions we have in our airshed, when voters said ‘No thanks’ in October,” Hopkins said.

Now enforcement falls to the state and could end up being tougher than local control would have been, Hopkins said.

An advisory panel unanimously approved the updated plan Monday, but only because it had no choice, said Charles Machetta, chairman of the Air Pollution Control Commission. The updated version reduces a mandatory program based on hard limits and penalties to a voluntary program based on education and expert assistance.

“It’s a pretty toothless document,” Machetta said. “The sentiment of the commission is, we hated the document, we hated what happened with Proposition A (the ballot measure) and our hands are completely tied.”

The revised plan also transfers enforcement power to the state, which abides by similar air quality regulations and could enforce compliance through civil action rather than fines.

Continue reading: Fairbanks borough pollution plan goes before assembly for final touches

Nenana may be getting experimental in-river power turbine

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Monday, December 27, 2010:

Federal regulators are reviewing plans for a submerged, in-river power turbine. It’s a pilot project energy researchers and the developer think could help communities across rural Alaska, where electric costs run exponentially higher than in urban hubs.

Two similar projects have been tested in Ruby and Eagle. This one, lined up for use near Nenana, would be bigger — between 50 and 300 kilowatts, via small turbines and an underwater transmission cable in the Tanana River. It would operate a little less than half the year.

Monty Worthington, a project development director for the Anchorage-based ORPC Alaska, said he hopes to have the system up and running in 2012.

Fairbanks borough could begin recycling program by January

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Monday, December 28, 2010:

The Fairbanks North Star Borough is negotiating to launch a pilot recycling program at three transfer sites and the landfill next month, according to borough mayor Luke Hopkins.

If the deal with K & K Recycling Inc. is inked, bins would be put out at the landfill, the transfer site in North Pole and two transfer sites on Farmers Loop for collecting paper, glass, plastic, aluminum and tin.

The pilot program likely would last three years. If it is successful, Mayor Hopkins said residents could see recycling bins at more transfer sites, the trash drop-off locations for people who don’t have trash collection at home.