New Chapter for an Ancient Place: Building a Sustainable Home in Unalakleet, Alaska (Text Version)

This is the text version of the video New Chapter for an Ancient Place: Building a Sustainable Home in Unalakleet, Alaska.

This video shows how the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Alaska Campus in Fairbanks is working with the Native Village of Unalakleet, Alaska, to create a new model of housing: an affordable, energy-efficient, adaptable home that meets the myriad challenges facing Arctic communities, including high transportation costs, skilled labor shortages, and the accelerating march of climate change.

[Music plays, video pans across a snowy landscape with a sign that reads: “Unalakleet welcomes you.”]

>>Kurt Auliye, a carpenter in the Native Village of Unalakleet: Unalakleet’s a small place. You know everybody.

[A series of video clips in rural Alaska.]

>>Narrator: Welcome to rural Alaska, an icy, unforgiving land where the Iñupiaq people have lived for thousands of years. Accessible only by boat or plane, Unalakleet is a challenging place to live.

[Video cuts to Kurt Auliye.]

>>Kurt Auliye: As younger generations are growing up, they’re still living with their parents; there’s no place else to go. No apartments, no single, individual houses that are available.

>>Damien Williams, Construction Foreman, Native Village of Unalakleet: There’s houses with six to eight people, living in a two bedroom, with their grandparents. That’s the way I grew up. Me and my brothers had triple-stacked bunk beds.

>>Narrator: And the residences you see here are far from perfect.

Damien Williams: It really feels third world. The houses are very poor. A lot of its not very well constructed. They’re not sealed properly.

[Video of the interior of a house with water damage on ceiling.]

>>Narrator: That’s not what you want to hear when you live in a place that can see minus-50 temperatures and regularly experiences 40 mile-per-hour winds.

[An image of rural Alaskan houses covered in snow followed by a video of wind turbines rotating on a hill.]

Additionally, rising sea levels and melting sea ice have caused advanced costal erosion.

It has put the town on a short-list of endangered communities. Eventually, Unalakleet will need to move to higher ground.

[An aerial video of NREL’s Cold Climate Housing Research Center.]

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is working with the Native Village of Unalakleet to develop solutions that preserve and protect the cultural values of the community, enhance housing opportunities, and utilize the local skilled workforce.

[Videos and photos of a container module house being built.]

Enter the container module: Plumbed and wired in Fairbanks, Alaska, but shipped to Unalakleet, where local workers will turn it into a house.

>>Chuck Degnan, Design Team, Native Village of Unalakleet: There’s no cash flow here if you’re a subsistence person. Local resources need to be utilized.

>>Narrator: The container was set on the floor, and a local crew built a house around it. It’s well insulated and energy efficient, and the home’s foundation has skids that make it mobile, when the town eventually moves to higher ground.

Lastly, the module protects local jobs by not requiring additional external support.

>>Aaron Cooke, Architect, National Renewable Energy Laboratory: The main component of that is just taking a slightly more detailed look at what can come from here, and what is beneficial to come from outside. In Unalakleet, if you were to bring out a plumber or an electrician, they would be charging more money per day than the rest of the people on the job. The container became an easy way to ship a fully furnished bathroom and kitchen out to save the tribe, who is the client, money, but also allow all the rest of those important jobs to stay in the community with tribal members.

[A series of video clips of the house being built.]

>>Narrator: With NREL’s support, Unalakleet’s residents could see more affordable and reliable housing that addresses their unique climate and cultural challenges. While modular technology isn’t revolutionary, by including local residents in the research and design process, NREL has helped customize the technology to support both the housing and cultural needs of this remote population.

[Narration ends and NREL logo with tagline “Transforming Energy” appears on screen. Music stops.]