UAF team praised for innovative home design

FAIRBANKS, AK – Using shipping containers and energy-efficient techniques, a team of students from the University of Alaska Fairbanks have created an award-winning new design for rural housing construction in Alaska.

The four students in the Solar Design Challenge class offered by the UAF Bristol Bay campus were among the top entries in an international competition sponsored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in April. Later this summer, they hope to convince officials that their design could alleviate a housing shortage in Nome.

Team Asriavik — which means “blueberry” in Inupiaq — includes students Deilah Johnson, Aihs Palmer, Amanda Tördal and Meg Waite. When the team won third place in the New Housing division at NREL’s Solar Decathlon in Golden, Colorado last month, it was the first time they had been in the same room together. The distant group, which includes students from Fairbanks, Illinois and Oregon, met online throughout the spring semester.

The inspiration for their design came from Johnson, a 2019 alumnus of the Bristol Bay Campus Sustainable Energy Program and Solomon Village Environmental Coordinator. Many of Solomon’s displaced residents moved to Nome after a school closed in the 1950s, and they continue to face difficulties finding housing in the area.

“When she said they needed housing and this could be a real-world application, I could tell a lot of the other members of the student team were excited,” said assistant professor Mark Masteller. , who taught the class as part of the Bristol Bay Campus Sustainable Energy Program. . “They wanted to do something that someone wanted to build that might actually be useful in the world.”

The design combines practicality and efficiency. The skeleton of the structure is made up of shipping containers, an abundant resource in Nome thanks to cargo deliveries. This frame is surrounded by timber construction and built with features that include a 15 kilowatt rooftop solar system, air-source heat pumps, triple-glazed windows, and R-61 insulation.

The Alaska Center for Energy and Power and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center helped evaluate the design.

The three-bedroom house is also designed to be functional for the Nome climate and lifestyle. It includes a post-and-beam foundation, game processing room, and arctic entrance. The design details led the judges to announce at the awards ceremony that the UAF students understood their climate better than any other team.

The Solar Decathlon designs are “zero energy buildings,” which the U.S. Department of Energy defines as a structure that produces as much energy as it consumes for one year. Estimated annual energy costs would be only $240 per year, with construction expenses barely half the typical $500 per square foot costs in Nome.

Team Asriavik’s entry was UAF’s first in the Solar Decathlon competition. They faced an international field of 26 participants, including the winning team from Sydney, Australia.

The UAF team hopes the next step will be to make their design a reality for the Solomon tribesmen living in Nome.

Johnson will pitch the design to tribal officials this summer, hoping the homes could be approved for construction in 2023.

Although it can be difficult to use non-standard designs in government housing projects, Masteller believes the work of the students will ultimately make a difference to local residents.

“Even if the design isn’t accepted, it might convince them that a low-energy building is plausible in that area,” he said.

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