Fairbanks Homeowner Retrofits 70's Era Home; Saves on Energy Costs

The coldest and darkest part of the year is approaching and for homeowners in many areas of the state, the cost to keep the heat on can be financially devastating.


by Megan Mazurek

FAIRBANKS - The coldest and darkest part of the year is approaching and for homeowners in many areas of the state the cost to keep the heat on can be financially devastating.

With the help of energy experts, one Fairbanks homeowner retrofit his 1970's era home and is already seeing the benefits. "We cut our fuel bill in half, exactly in half," said David van den Berg, a Fairbanks homeowner. To combat the cold and save on energy costs van den Berg retrofit his home based on the Cold Climate Housing Research's play book and testing. "The cost of energy has gone up," said Illya Benesch, a building educator for CCHRC. "It's becoming clear that a lot of these older houses are energy hogs, to be blunt.

These types of homes dominate the housing stock. The oil based revenue boom in the late 1970's and 1980's produced hundreds of homes built with basic 2x4 structures that do little in terms of energy efficiency and fare far better in warmer climates.

One of the first improvements in van den Berg's retrofit was adding insulation to on of his 2x4 exterior walls. He says it was an investment, but well worth it. "In the end just looking at foam not looking at windows or any of those optional things we'll probably be in about $16,000 wrapping the whole building envelope," van den Berg said. CCHRC says walls are a great place to make gains because typically they're the largest surface area exposed to the elements and payback on the investment can be made within 4-10 years. "With a 2x4 house in Fairbanks you can add 6 inches of foam board safely and have a reasonable pay back in materials especially $4.00 a gallon for heating oil," Benesch said.

With high heating prices homeowners should make sure their heat is efficient and it could mean replacing the home's boiler, an upgrade that requires an energy audit to find the correct fit. "We bought a new boiler which was an $11,000 purchase," van den Berg said. "We're hoping the payback is about 5 years but it's sized to the house it has the smallest nozzle possible." So far the upgrade has helped save $800 in heating costs within a 5 month time frame, savings that could benefit all Alaskans living in rural Alaska. "We're paying 4 dollars a gallon for heating oil," Benesch said. "You might pay up to $10.00 in a village and you've got the same 2x4 house built in the 1970's."

The last upgrade for the van den Berg's was to address a problem unique to Fairbanks, inversion. The basin has notoriously bad air quality and to filter the pollutants David installed an $800 air filter, an investment he balances with the known poor air quality. "I have a 2 year old and a 4 year old and life is a long process," he said. "I don't want those kids getting those things that I think are known carcinogens and known allergens. I'd really like to protect them from that."

In October Fairbanks North Star Borough residents voted to get rid of the Borough's authority to regulate air quality, an issue the area struggles with every winter.

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akenergyefficiency said on Thursday, Nov 15 at 9:59 AM

This story is really inspiring! Go to the states energy efficiency website: akenergyefficiency.org for more how-tos, links, and resources.

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