Northern House Built by Iḷisaġvik Students

It sounds like the dream every homeowner in a northern climate has at some point in their life – especially if they live in an area accessible only by plane, which can make material delivery costs almost prohibitively expensive.  The goal of the joint venture between Iḷisaġvik College, Tagiugmiullu Nunamiullu Housing Authority (TNHA) and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) was to build a house of over 1000 square feet in a remote arctic region for no more than $150,000 and to be energy efficient in every way possible.

Iḷisaġvik College developed a class, “Sustainable Northern Shelter Construction,” to build that home in Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska this summer. TNHA provided land, supervision on the project, and the bulk of the costs, in conjunction with the HUD 05 grant awarded to Iḷisaġvik College.  CCHRC provided the design, support, and additional labor to make it happen. Six local students from Anaktuvuk Pass participated in the class project: Andrew Hopson; Benjamin Hopson III; Forrest Kanayurak; Cora Morry; Lillian Weber; and Robert Williams. The house came in on time and under budget!

The class lasted one month with students working 6 – 10s, (which mean six days of working, 10 hours per day) including classroom time. The course was taught

by Dave Elbert and John Howlett of Iḷisaġvik College. By the time the class ended, the house was almost completed with only some painting, flooring and other miscellaneous work still needing to be done.

The house is considered an example of the kind of housing that can be built in remote, cold weather locations for an affordable price while also being energy efficient so as to cut down on yearly heating and fuel bills.  It is estimated that this house in Anaktuvuk Pass will need no more than 110 to 140 gallons of heating fuel per year as opposed to the average of 1,400 gallons per year consumed in more traditionally constructed houses.

Unlike traditional construction, the house is not built on pilings but instead on a floor created by a frame of metal studs raised at least two inches off the ground that is filled in with spray foam and then overlaid with plywood for the indoor flooring material.  The roof has three layers consisting of wood truss, plywood, 9 inches of foam sprayed on top of the plywood, rubberized coating over the foam and a layer of sod on top of that.  The final look of the roof is a glimpse into the past when traditional Iñupiat housing consisted of sod huts.

Solar voltaic panels were installed in front of the house and in the future, a wind generator will also be installed. This allows the homeowner to keep costs low by taking advantage of the energy nature generates daily.

According to Iḷisaġvik instructor John Howlett, the home was so well insulated that even before heat was installed, just closing the doors caused the home to warm up quickly. Howlett also noted that the house was built in less than four weeks but could be built even more quickly based on the experience of the laborers and weather constraints.  For instance, Howlett said that they had to delay spraying the foam insulation due to the rain.  “Putting a tent over the project in the future will make the project go even more quickly.”

According to Jack Hebert of the CCHRC, this house was built as a prototype and will be closely monitored through the winter to see what improvements can be made on the design. He adds that TNHA plans to build a number of homes using this approach. Hebert emphasizes, “The house we built in Anaktuvuk Pass is designed with the people of that community for the particular environment, soils, resources and lifestyle found there. CCHRC will be working with other communities to design (with them) the homes that meet their needs. A real success for the program would be local contractors or individuals building affordable homes for their neighbors, not just the housing authorities doing construction.”

A slide show of progress as the house was constructed can be found at HERE. More information on the Cold Climate Housing Research Center located in Fairbanks on the UAF campus is available at  For more information about Iḷisaġvik College and the various programs they offer, please see their website, or contact their recruiter, Janelle Everett at 907-852-1799 or toll free at 1-800-47-7337.

Written By: Elise Sereni Patkotak