Kotzebue Home Heating Field Study

Researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are recruiting participants for a 24-month field study in Kotzebue. The study aims to reduce fuel oil use and home heating costs. This will be done by improving home energy efficiency and by using electric thermal storage heaters (ETSH).

Read caption and credit below for image description
Photo courtesy of Steffes Heating Systems
A cutaway of an ETSH

What is an ETSH?

An ETSH is a supplementary heat source. It consists of an electric resistance heating element that heats ceramic bricks. The bricks are enclosed in an insulated box. As the bricks heat up, they store heat. Fans blow air across the hot bricks. The heated air is then blown into the living space.

ETSH are already being used in Alaska. Several communities use electricity from wind to power the thermal stoves. Customers pay a lower price for this electricity. These customers can save money on their overall energy bills.

What is an energy efficiency retrofit?

A retrofit makes improvements to a home to reduce its energy use. Improvements may include:

  • sealing air leaks
  • adding insulation
  • replacing heating appliances
  • replacing old doors and windows

Why is the home heating field study needed?

Alaska households face high home energy costs. Many communities in Alaska have energy inefficient buildings and use high-cost fuel oil for electricity and heating. Renewable energy such as wind or solar can displace fuel oil used for generating electricity. Renewable electricity can substitute for fuel oil to provide heat. To do this, more renewable generation capacity will be needed. But if homes are more efficient, then less renewable energy will be needed. Together, energy efficiency plus heat from renewable energy can help reduce home energy costs.

The main goals of the field study are:

  1. Measure the fuel oil and cost savings from using renewable electricity for heating.
  2. Measure the fuel oil and cost savings from more energy-efficient houses.

How will the home heating field study be conducted?

The field study will be conducted over two years in Kotzebue, Alaska. The researchers will collect data on heating fuel oil and electricity use. The data will allow researchers to determine changes in home energy use and costs from energy efficiency retrofits and from using ETSH.

Year 1

  • Recruit sixteen households for the field study
  • Conduct energy efficiency audits on each home.
  • Install fuel meters to collect baseline data on heating fuel oil use.
  • Collect baseline data on electricity use.

Year 2

  • The sixteen households will be randomly assigned into four groups. Each group will have four households.
    • ETSH group – Install an ETSH
    • Energy efficiency retrofit group – Rural Cap will conduct an energy efficiency retrofit
    • ETSH + energy efficiency retrofit group – Install an ETSH and Rural Cap will conduct an energy efficiency retrofit
    • Control group – No changes will be made to the home
  • Continue to collect data on heating fuel oil use
  • Continue to collect data on electricity use

Why is a control group needed?

A control group is needed because other things besides ETSH and energy efficiency retrofits can affect home energy use. For example, the price of fuel oil might go up. The higher price would cause everyone to use less fuel oil. Without the control group, the decrease in fuel oil caused by the higher price would be wrongly attributed to the ETSH and energy efficiency retrofits.

There are benefits to being in the control group

  • KEA may implement a larger ETSH program in Kotzebue. If so, households in the control group will be first in line to receive an ETSH.
  • Households in the control group will be given $1,000 at the end of the study.

How do I take part in the study?

If you are interested in taking part in the study, please fill out the screening questionnaire.


Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about this study. You can contact the UAF Office of Research Integrity if you have any questions or concerns about your rights as a participant.

Dominique Pride
Principal Investigator

UAF Office of Research Integrity
907-474-7800 (Fairbanks area)
1-866-876-7800 (Outside Fairbanks area)