Prototype Home Could Serve as Model for Future Housing

Two new prototype homes in Atmautluak don’t look like experiments. They’re rectangular with a slanted red roof. But how they were built: very quickly and with limited equipment, could serve as a model for other homes in remote communities.

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center builds a lot of advanced and experimental homes. This summer in Atmautluak, they helped on a project after being approached by the community

Jack Hébert is President and founder of CCHRC.

“It was the full package for us, because what we saw is the ability for job creation in Atmautluak, for training of a skilled workforce, and for demonstration for good building science for the region that would lower both construction costs and energy costs,” Hébert said.

The community formed a tribally owned construction company, Pikat Construction Company. Aaron Cooke is an architectural designer who drew up the house. He said the company took the leadership role.

“They’re handling not just the tool belt aspect, but the funding, the grant management, and ordering of materials. The did an incredible job of project management. They choose their own crew of carpenters, and laborers that they think have the most potential to stay on this crew,” Cooke said.

The crew included a member from each family that would live in the home. The new company had their work cut out for them. The project aimed to raise a home from bare ground in nine short weeks. But to throw another curveball in the mix, the community of 277 people has few construction tools at their disposal.

“Since they have no heavy equipment, we’ve got to keep that short season with manpower only, with our hands. And that’s when it gets very interesting, our solutions become more applicable to other communities,” Cooke said.

Crews moved the trusses and framing materials from the barge landing by balancing them between two ATVs and navigating the narrow boardwalks. The actual framing was designed to be fast, according to Cooke.

“Since the trusses have the floor diaphragm, the walls and the roof pitch all integrated into one cross section of truss, basically what you do it tip them up on in order on two foot centers, and what that means is that you can frame an entire house in one day,” Cooke said.

The three bedroom, 1,100-square-foot house is designed to use just 150 gallons of fuel oil a year. The use of a woodstove could cut down on the demand. The house is of course highly insulated with walls rated at R50 and floors at R60.

Other features include pilings that allow the homeowner to level it using just hand tools.

The CCHRC said they hope to be able to bring more of the process locally and manufacture the trusses in communities like Bethel. They would then move them out by barge in summertime, or even overland in the winter.