Summer 2012 Newsletter
Regional Housing Authorities Across Alaska Embrace “Green” Building
Housing construction statewide is steadily improving due to the desire of Alaska’s regional housing authorities (RHAs) to utilize new building techniques to develop homes that are warmer, more affordable and more durable for residents. The RHAs utilize tried and true building techniques combined with newly available technology and “green” construction methods to build homes in as cost effective manner as possible while working to lower energy costs for residents.
Existing bodies of research are used to provide recommendations for products and techniques that should be used in the construction of housing authority homes. After a construction product or technique has passed a testing process, it is gradually incorporated in to the housing authority’s construction plan. Building is often done in phases so that any rare unexpected challenge with a product or technique that may arise can quickly be remedied.
Interior Regional Housing Authority’s (IRHA’s) Green Build Certified construction manager Jorge Simmons uses every opportunity to improve the housing that IRHA constructs. Twice every year he meets with his local construction crew to discuss what’s been working well, and what aspects of the building process could be bolstered. “By continuously improving upon the design of our homes,” says Simmons, ”IRHA has been able to consistently deliver Energy Star 5-Star Plus rated newly constructed housing; this keeps the home affordable and sustainable for the family, and we expect energy costs to be far lower than the average home.” The incorporation of modern construction materials like urethane spray in insulation, CFL bulbs, Energy Star appliances and heat recovery and exchange modules have also greatly improved the energy efficiency of IRHA homes.
Energy Star homes are classified into six categories, based on Home Energy Rating Systems (HERS): 1 Star, 2 Stars, 3 Stars, 4 Stars, 5 Stars, and 5 Star Plus. A 5 Star Plus rating is the best score possible. HERS is an energy rating system that involves an analysis of a home’s construction plans and on-site inspections, and rates homes based on the components in the home and construction techniques that affect energy performance. The standard HERS rating for energy efficient homes, in order to become Energy Star certified is 85, or 15% more energy efficient than a non-certified home.
Tagiugmiullu Nunamiullu Housing Authority (TNHA) is pioneering housing for northern Alaska through their Sustainable Northern Shelter (SNS) project. The much talked about Anaktuvuk Pass prototype home, referred to by TNHA as SNS 1, was built using low cost, lightweight construction materials that could be easily transported to remote locations. The home is very energy efficient, has a durable building envelope and near-passive ventilation. The adobe-like design uses urethane foam insulation with elastomeric coating to completely insulate the structure. Residents also have their own self-contained on-site “lifewater” sewage treatment system. While it was never meant to be a “cookie cutter” design, the home allowed TNHA to apply innovative construction in combination with the unique cultural and environmental factors of the region.
Application of lessons learned from building SNS 1 can be applied to TNHAs commitment to building sustainable, energy efficient homes. In fact, TNHA has already applied some of their new project knowledge to the building of SNS 2 homes in Atqasuk and Point Lay. The structure of SNS 2 is equally as energy efficient as SNS 1, but uses some different materials and a new foundation type. SNS 1 was built into the ground, while SNS 2 will be built above ground on a foundation platform designed by WH Pacific that will allow for the home to be raised. This platform addresses the issue of creating a home foundation in a low lot with no gravel – but with a similar urethane barrier to prevent heat transfer from the arctic ground.
The especially cold climate of the TNHA region creates challenges in addressing energy efficiency. “Two of our villages on the north slope have natural gas, the rest of the villages primarily heat with heating oil,” says Daryl Kooley, President/CEO of TNHA, “We’ve had a major heating upgrade project where we’ve installed energy efficient Toyatomi 180 heating systems and Ergomax hot water systems which are 88 percent efficient, and really cut down the cost of heating for most of residents.” While exact cost savings numbers weren’t available, Kooley noted that the homes are built to provide reduced heating and energy costs – and it’s these green technologies, large and small, that make a significant difference to the residents.
Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority (THRHA) is also a leader in green building in Alaska. The Saxman Senior Center, which opened in March 2012, incorporates a variety of new energy efficient systems and technology that give the apartments within it a 5-Star Plus energy rating. Housing authority builders used an outside insulation technique on the exterior walls. The exterior siding provides a “rainscreen” technique that allows drainage and moisture control behind the siding – this is an ideal technique for wet climates. Additionally, the center includes an air-to-water heat pump system for hot water production, and efficient electric hydronic baseboard heaters powered by the locally generated clean renewable hydro electricity.
THRHA has a long history with building using new green technologies. In 2002, THRHA partnered with the University of Alaska Southeast and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center to build the highest energy efficient homes possible for the Glacier Village subdivision. The use of Residential Exterior Membrane Outside-Insulation Wall Systems (REMOTE), which is an energy efficiency winner in cold, wet climates, has greatly assisted THRHA with providing energy efficient homes that continue to rate well over time.
Statewide, AAHA members are leading the way for green building in Alaska, and addressing the challenges that our unique landscape and variable weather create.