Ilisagvik Students Build Sustainable Arctic Home

Nov 15th, 2009 | By | Category: 21-2: K-12 Education, Winter 2009, Tribal College News

By Elise Sereni Patkotak

Ilisagvik College (Barrow, AK) and its partners plan to build energy efficient, 1,000-square foot homes in a remote arctic region for $150,000. The tribal college developed a class, “Sustainable Northern Shelter Construction,” to build the pilot home in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, last summer.

Tagiugmiullu Nunamiullu Housing Authority provided land, supervision on the project, and the bulk of the costs, in conjunction with the HUD grant awarded to Ilisagvik College. The third party in the joint venture is the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC), which provided the design, support, and additional labor.

The one-month course was taught by Dave Elbert and John Howlett of Ilisagvik College. It included six students from Anaktuvuk Pass: Andrew Hopson, Benjamin Hopson III, Forrest Kanayurak, Cora Morry, Lillian Weber, and Robert Williams.

The house is built not on pilings but rather on a floor on a frame of metal studs. Raised at least two inches off the ground; the space below is filled with spray foam and then overlaid with plywood.

The roof consists of layers of wood truss, plywood, nine inches of foam sprayed on the plywood, rubberized coating over the foam, and a layer of

sod on top of that. The final look of the roof is reminiscent of traditional Inupiat sod hut housing. Students installed solar voltaic panels; a wind generator will be added in the future. The house is expected to use less than a tenth as much heating fuel per year as standard houses (110 to 140 gallons compared with 1,400 gallons).

This prototype will be closely monitored throughout the winter to see how the design could be improved. The housing authority plans to build a number of homes using this approach. Jack Hebert of the CCHRC says the house was designed with the people of that community for the particular environment, soils, resources, and lifestyle found there.

The research center will be working with other communities to design 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,” he says.

Elise Sereni Patkotak is a local Alaskan author and freelance journalist. A slide show of house construction can be found at More information on the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks is available at For more information about Ilisagvik College, see their website,

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