Category Archives: Energy Focus Articles

Use caution with attached garages


By CCHRC Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: I want to build a garage.

What are the advantages of having an attached garage versus a detached garage?

A: One big advantage of the attached garage is convenience. You get to park your car inside your house. That’s always nice in the winter, but putting a car into your home also comes with problems. If a car idles, even for a short time, it can introduce a significant amount of carbon monoxide into your home. Even a half hour after the car is gone, your carbon monoxide sensor might go off, which means enough CO seeped into your home through cracks under doors or in your walls and ceiling to trigger the sensor. The key is to effectively seal your walls, ceiling and any connection your garage has to your home. Garage ventilation also is important.


Q: Is there any new boiler technology in development?

A: They are making boilers out of different cast iron materials. Some of the boilers have what they call “eutectic cast iron,” which is a little more flexible and a little more forgiving with temperature differences between the supply and return water, so they don’t suffer the temperature shock older boilers do. This iron prevents the return water from cracking the castings, which means the return water can come back into your boiler at a much lower temperature.

Another technology is the condensing boiler. This boiler performs better because it extracts more heat from the flue gas than typical oilfired boilers. Because more heat is pulled out, the gas gets significantly colder and condenses. Propane and natural gas-fired units have offered condensing options for a long time, but now a condensing oil-fired boiler is an option. With these new boilers, you don’t have to worry about the condensate causing corrosion because they are mostly made of stainless steel and plastic parts. These condensing boilers can run about 90 percent efficiency but require a drain.

Q: I prefer to use compact florescent light bulbs, but I can’t find any that work with a dimmer. Do they exist?

A: They do, but they can be harder to find. The best way to ensure they work with a dimmer is to read the labeling. On that note, one important thing about compact fluorescents is that, when handling, they need to be screwed in by the base rather than by the bulb. That is particularly important for the bulbs that have the two little stems that wind around into an ice cream cone style shape. Instinctively, that shape fits your hands.

However, twisting the bulb that way will create micro fractures in the glass, which can shorten bulb life and leak mercury. If a bulb breaks, several local box stores have drop-off areas where you can take them to be disposed of properly.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. If you have a question, email us at can also call the CCHRC at 457-3454

When — and when not — to get pumped up about your septic tank


by CCHRC Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: How often should I get my septic system pumped? It seems like everyone has a different opinion.

A: That’s a tricky question because there are so many different variables.

If it’s a house with lots of people staying in it, then you’re using the system a lot, especially if people use a lot of toilet paper or there are other waste systems, like a garbage disposal. These will result in a lot of solids in the system and you may want to pump it every year or less. A house with fewer people that does not pump a lot of detergents, bleaches or cleaners in the tank may be able to get away with years of not pumping, because the solids in the tank degrade at a quick rate in comparison to how fast it’s filling up.

Your safest option would be to have it pumped every year, but you may be able to get by with every two years, possibly every three years at first. Talk to the person doing the pumping to get an idea of what is coming out of the tank. From there you can make a judgment on how often you need to pump your system, and adjust accordingly.

Q: I am looking at putting in some wind turbines, but I hear they can be noisy. What are my options?

A: That’s a good question and a good thing to be concerned about. There are some wind turbines that are noisier than others.

A lot of it has to do with the speed at which the tips are spinning (revolutions per minute or rpm).

The specifications of each turbine will tell you the rpms. Generally speaking, the more rugged turbines spin at a slower speed, last longer, and are easier on the ears.

Noise is a legitimate concern, so gauge how much noise you tolerate, and speak with your neighbors too.

Q: I’m looking at buying new windows. There are many different types of gas fill you can get between panes. What’s the difference, and what’s the best?

A: The two most common options after air are Argon and Krypton.

As long as the seals between the panes hold up and the gas stays in, it will provide more resistance to heat transfer than air. Krypton performs slightly better than Argon which performs slightly better than air. Krypton is currently priced out of the market in most cases so Argon is what you will typically find in windows nowadays.

The gas fill is really only part of the big picture. Every thing matters when it comes to cold climate window performance: the quality of the seals, what kind of spacers are being used between the panes, whether the window is a double pane or triple pane unit, etc.

The bottom line is the overall R-value or U-value for the window. For our climate, you want a window with an R-value of at least four and a U-value of no more than .25, which is basically a triple pane window. Either fiberglass or vinyl will do just fine, but find a company that stands behind their product with a warranty and be sure the window is designed to perform in extreme cold.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, e-mail us at You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454

Conserve Energy at Work Using These Tips

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 30th, 2009, Section A3

Not all of us are stuck in an office five days a week (or more) for work, but those of us who are can help save energy and conserve resources by making a few changes in our habits, persuading others to do the same, and lobbying for policy changes at the management level. Continue reading

Things to Look for in an Energy-Efficient House

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 23rd, 2009, Section A3

Shopping for a home in Fairbanks can be difficult, especially if energy efficiency is a priority. With heating oil prices volatile and resale value at stake, finding the most fuel-efficient home makes sense. An efficient home also has the advantage of helping to alleviate Fairbanks’s air quality problems, which are particularly bad in winter.

Following is a list of just some of the things you should look for in an efficient home. Continue reading

Preventing, Coping With Carpenter Ants in Your Home

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 16th, 2009, Section A3

Termites have yet to appear in Alaska, but carpenter ants can be rampant. Carpenter ants can destroy wood, which is found throughout a home, but are most pernicious in frame members, subfloors, and foundation areas where the ants’ boring activity is hidden from view and nests are located. Continue reading

Tax Credits Could Fuel Your New, More Efficient, Car Purchase

BY Adam Wasch, Energy Outreach Consultant for CCHRC and UAF CES
Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 7th, 2009, Section A3

More than you know, I am fortunate to have a girlfriend. I mean that. In no way do I wish to suggest that I am superior to her, for I would be lost without her. But even compared to my fur-covered and grubby car, my girlfriend’s car is sordid. There’s the usual refuse, recycling, and ground-in trail mix. And then there’s the plant life. A leaky water jug and a punctured bag of flax seeds have transformed her car’s backseat into a motile Chia Pet. Continue reading

The Importance of Home Orientation

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 2nd, 2009, Section A3

Home orientation is one of the first things to think about when you are going to build a home. Most houses are designed for ‘street appeal,’ meaning they are designed to give a certain appearance from the street. Others are designed with windows carefully placed to capture a fantastic view. However, in our climate it’s important to take into account topography of the property, solar orientation, wind direction, vegetation, shade, and proper drainage. Continue reading

Vapor Barriers, House Wraps: Where and Why

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner June 25th, 2009, Section A3

Vapor barriers and house wraps are a critical part of controlling moisture and air flow in and around your home. Working in conjunction with your walls, floor, and roof, the right type and application of these products will help you to conserve energy, prevent mold growth, and maintain the structural integrity of your home. Not using these products or using one incorrectly can wreak havoc. Continue reading

Building on Permafrost Requires Extra Care

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner June 18th, 2009, Section A3

It’s building season. For some, that means finding just the right spot for constructing a home. In Fairbanks, that isn’t so easy. Unlike other places where location, view, and neighbors comprise the major considerations for choosing a building site, Interior Alaska presents a more fundamental question: Will the land itself even support a house? The presence of permafrost can ruin the best laid plans. Continue reading

Painting With Fewer Fumes

BY Adam Wasch, Energy Outreach Consultant for CCHRC and UAF CES
Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner June 11th, 2009, Section A3

Here’s a primer on how to choose more environmentally-friendly paint. Paint ingredients reflect the demands we place upon paint. Outdoor paint must withstand sunlight, heat, cold, and rain. Indoor paint is scuffed, exposed to humidity, and subject to the whims of fashion. All paint produces fumes; some are more noxious than others. Close label reading and careful selection can help you identify the best product for the job, with the fewest undesirable side effects. Continue reading