An experiment in sustainable housing

One of the sustainable village units
The Sustainable Village, which opened in 2012, offers an opportunity to live in experimental housing units to help determine if construction techniques with energy-saving technologies can be replicated on a larger scale. UAF photo by Todd Paris

Aerial view of the sustainable village
An aerial view of UAF’s Sustainable Village in 2014. UAF photo by Todd Paris

When the Sustainable Village opened in 2012, its designers didn’t quite know how it would turn out. In fact, that was the point of the unorthodox student housing development.

The four-building complex, built in a spruce forest just south of campus, is equal parts dormitory and research project. The 17 students that live there participate in an ongoing experiment in sustainable living.

The super-insulated buildings were designed by the neighboring Cold Climate Housing Research Center, a nonprofit corporation that studies ways to build efficiently in the North. The construction process emphasized sustainability and only used heavy equipment sparingly.

The structures in the Sustainable Village use a combination of conventional and untested building techniques for cold-weather climates. Along with a relatively small amount of fuel, each building uses secondary heating sources such as hydronic pumps or solar heat. The foundations and construction techniques also vary, providing researchers with continuous data about which methods hold up best on the permafrost-laden soil.

Each unit is wired with monitoring equipment to gauge its energy consumption, electric use, indoor air quality and more. The student residents record water and energy usage and other research data.

The results are providing new insights into what works — and what doesn’t — in cold-weather housing.

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