Many people in the Interior know that burning green wood is going to add creosote to their chimney and be inefficient (as the combustion is often expending many BTU’s on driving out moisture in the fibers rather than being thrown out for space heat). And many know that the best level of moisture is below 20% in any prospective logs.

With respect to burning,  what about different types of wood?  Black Spruce is often full of pitch, yet fairly easy to cut up. Birch splits well yet adds a fair amount of ash with its bark. And while many people don’t like poplar or Cottonwood, it too can be heated enough to drive out moisture.  (If you have any tips from personal experiences on burning wood, please add it to the comment section).

Pellets often will have reduced moisture by almost half of that amount due to the manufacturing process. Though pellets have specifically made stoves for their automatic feed and burning,  there are now pellet baskets which allow you to hand load and burn pellets in your regular cordwood stove.  Check for reviews on their efficiency.


An Alaskan distinction in national housing…..



According to an article headlined (by B. Bryne), which has shown up in several web locations, Alaska leads the nation in the number of outhouses (per person). In fact, 12% of  Alaskans interviewed in the 1990 Census had  three times more than any other state. Next was West Virginia at about four and a half percent. Unfortunately, the last two decennial Census surveys didn’t continue to check on septic system with their questioning!

Yet in the 2014 American Community Survey (known as the ACS), almost a half million citizens lacked complete plumbing facilities. This survey offsets the Census, which is taken at the beginning of each decade and has a somewhat different sampling method. The latest ACS found that Alaska leads in the percentage of people without running water; in fact, 3.8% of our state’s residents go without.

The Census and ACS look at the U.S.  But for a worldwide perspective, almost 950 million people are without an indoor toilet. One option to an outhouse for Alaskans (that have access to 110v electricity) is to check into composting toilets. The small bit of electricity is usually used to operate a dryer and small fan for ventilation in the decay vault. While there are samples of homemade experiments on YouTube, you can buy a fiberglass, manufactured unit for around a couple thousand dollars.  These units have about a quarter century of success and are used in Scandinavia, Alaska, and Canada due to compromised soils that make septic field placement difficult!

If you are interested in outhouse construction, give me a ring at 474-6366 and I can relay unto you what I have collected. (There may be a  future publication on outhouse construction/considerations …).

Lights out?


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Ted Koppel, long time journalist and TV reporter, has currently a sobering book about……..electricity!  Though the New York Times review frowned on Ted’s  book (which he noted is not an analysis but rather a weaving of anecdotal tales),  others have been taking him seriously.  Here is what CNN has posted: http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2015/11/02/cyber-attack-u-s-power-grid-tedd-koppel-the-lead-live.cnn.

Regardless if it is from an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) explosion or computer cyber attack on utilities and smart grid controls, his work does think through what would happen if that daily living item we all take for granted- reliable electricity distribution- was out across residential, retail and government establishments for some time.  Not that we all have to have a bug-out residence to live like a survivalist, but the book is probably a good promotion to get folks to think about remote energy and what they can have on hand if an earthquake, snow storm, terrorist, nuclear attack, etc… ended up taking out the road system grid in Alaska (or our small village micro grids that rely more and more on digital technology for their power generation).

If nothing else, it may be worth looking at some of the reviews.  Think of taking a remote energy workshop.  Put away a generator and other mechanical parts, possibly protected in a Faraday Cage…..   And of course, irregardless of a nefarious attack as Ted imagines it, everyone should have a one week survival kit- including not only foods and first aid items but some sort of energy source(s) for heating, cooking and lighting!

Alaskan tribal (renewable) energy

Here’s something that may be of interest to Alaskan tribes…..The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Indian Energy and the Western Area Power Administration has been offering webinars this past year for tribes.  The final one will be on at Wednesday, Nov. 18, from 9a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Alaska Time.

Tying into this webinar may help with any questions on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan (CPP) and may have implications per regulations with tribes. Part of the CPP will attempt to reduce carbon pollution from power plants to mitigate climate change. (It is a first in going after power producing sites in lowering carbon emissions)

Tribal communities are considered ‘stakeholders’ as the government assesses that tribal health, economic well-being, and cultural traditions are tightly intertwined with the natural environment, and thus would be strongly affected by changes in the ecosystem.  There is another aspect in that tribal lands have an estimated 5% of U.S. renewable energy generation (potentially) -which could possibly replace a portion of the energy produced from fossil fuel power plants.

The webinar presenter will be Jana Ganion, Energy Director for White House Climate Action Champion Blue Lake Rancheria (CA).

Some believe that the CPP opportunity for tribes incentives for clean energy development are good, but  tribal governments obviously have a  direct federal-tribal structure excluding public comment process. This is something that  is being looked into.  If you are interested, the contact information to tie in is at : https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/121519694

Where it all starts with radon being an indoor air quality concern


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I’ve been in contact with several people involved with radon this past week in various state departments/divisions.  One of the main issues has been how to relay what we have learned about radon test score distributions in the state and how that can be communicated to health professionals as well as residents.

One state has figured out how to provide a kind of radon hazard potential map which is based certainly on known test scores, but it also takes into account the geology. For radon concentrations to be a home problem, half of the necessary factors are specific to the home itself.  But to get radon gas to the home site,  the two necessary factors involve the soils and presence of the source product- uranium.  When there is no uranium below a housing area, then there will be no problem.  So it makes sense that to overlay the presence of uranium (and strata levels it is at) along with soil types onto the location of building sites would be helpful in looking at geographical potential of radon issues.

But what I’ve learned is that there is no definitive map as to where pockets of uranium, their amount, or extent are present.  The best indication geologists can reasonably utilize is estimating uranium loads by looking at locations of the type of geological formations which uranium typically accompanies. Unless there are uranium deposits that are being mined in an area, it is simply too costly to use precision locating methods for uranium under down below. And thus uranium’s byproduct of radon gas is not easily traceable to it’s origin when thinking in terms of lot locations.

So the answer I have to give people when they call to ask if their property is at risk for radon complications, I have to rely on the old slogan, “The only way you will know if you have a radon problem is to test!”

What is ‘remote’ when talking about energy?

Often people think that remote energy refers to rural areas with old creosote coated electrical line poles standing tall with glass insulators and sagging lines (possibly even a bird or two perched on the poles or on the line).  In Alaska, ‘remote’ is often considered to be areas off the road system or the railbelt.  I usually think of remote energy  as utilizing appliances or devices for cooking, heating or electrical generation regardless of location.  It can be as small scale as someone ‘hiking in’ and cooking lunch on a Coleman white gas stove in one of the valley areas behind Fairbanks possibly even surrounded on the ridge along the Elliot or Steese Highways with electricity supplied to cabins by Golden Valley Electric Association.

It could also refer to a situation where a family up the Yukon river are living for a couple of summer months out at their fishcamp; they may start a generator at night to operate a CB radio for communications, a portable 1500 buddy heater, and possibly electric coil hotplate to quickly warm some soup.  Though utility lines may not be far away, these are nonetheless examples where many would equate ‘remote’ energy with ‘off-grid’ energy. If you go a step further in scale though, to the community level (such as in Western Alaska), you may have a grid generating power remotely just to a single village (often with a wind turbine supplementing a diesel generator).  In this situation, you have an enclave of a grid that runs by itself and could call it ‘remote energy’ generation.

There is one other use of energy rather than for cooking, heat and electrical generation, and that is a use which supports these small ‘micro grid.  Without vast amounts of fuel/energy being used for flights or ships coming in and out of those villages, there would not be the fuel delivered which is necessary to power these communities!

Alaskan natural gas is on the move…


Various entities in Fairbanks have been trying to deliver large scale natural gas to the Interior for over half of a century. With the work of the Interior Delegation and residents, a large package of monies was backed by the state legislature in the last couple of years to start the trucking of gas from the North Slope.  The Interior Gas Utility has a working board and has been working on getting the infrastructure needed for homes and businesses in place through several construction phases.

Last week the finishing touches were put out for those contractors applying through the Request For Proposals for the Interior Energy Project put out by the Industrial Development Export Authority. In the first stage, five applicants were selected to submit final offers.  Stage two will include the reviewing, evaluating and ranking of these proposals as they look for the most likely projects to succeed.  It has been a long process and yet will take more time this next year to get things in place.

In Juneau, the papers indicate that the governor will call a special session to deal with natural gas and potential line(s) for movement and distribution. There are a number of competing ideas amongst legislators, and it will make for interesting developments to natural gas production in  Alaska.

WHAT STATE is the most energy efficient?



While programs in Alaska help individual residents diagnose and mitigate their home(s) so as to be more fully insulated, tuned up with ventilation and flexible to changes in the outside environment, how about states as a whole?  When a state calculates how effective its programs are in total, which state is currently the most energy efficient?  Massachusetts (California last year).

How about scoring the best gains compared to its position last year? California, Maryland, Illinois, the District of Columbia, and Texas had marked improvements.  Some states used targets for the utility sector, new standards for freshly built residential/commercial structures,   enacting codes with stringent compliance  Like Illinois, Texas has been aggressive in adopting the latest building energy codes, and general policy moves.

If you’d like a more in-depth look, take a look at the American Council of Energy Efficiency Economy scorecard at: http://aceee.org/state-policy/scorecard.  In general, Alaska did not fare well- it ranked 42nd of the 50 states as far as overall efficiency goes. It ended up with 9 out of 50 points (which at least was an improvement over last year’s score).   Look for your favorite state for a detailed breakdown of various sectors of the energy economy!

Great resources for energy info


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Alaska Center for Energy and Power has had an energy wiki for years, and it receives thousands of hits a year. It covers every energy source applicable in Alaska whether common fuel or an emerging technology. If you have a chance, visit http://energy-alaska.com.  It isn’t merely about fuels and technologies, but many other energy topics are listed. Projects, organizations, policy, etc…

In addition to this pictorial and text based wiki, energy information can be viewed via YouTube on the UAF Cooperative Extension website.  One particular video which has received close to 45,000 views has to also do with energy efficiency (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVlZlNepjuw).  It stars Rich Seifert and myself – filmed on the final day of his career! Talk about going out with a bang…  Rich did leave much education behind though on the web, in an iTunesU teaching of his Cold Climate Building Manual (see https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/cold-climate-building-course/id506895267?mt=10).

In addition, the Cold Climate Research Center also has hundreds of videos of which some touch upon energy generation- yet most of the videos are about energy conservation (see http://www.cchrc.org/videos).  Give a ring to myself at 474-6366 if you have difficulty accessing these resources or have other energy questions.—–

Energy costs for the average home in the two largest Alaskan Cities….

Well, as the price of oil drops, I’ve had people tell me they are getting home heating oil for under $2.20/gal.  One person told me of seeing gasoline at less than $3/gal.   Yet that isn’t stopping folks from building efficiently.  In the Alaska Daily News there is an article today about a home with 2 foot thick walls of insulation, solar panels and site location which will probably lead them to spending on only two hundred gallons of oil per year.   When compared to the listed statistics of the average home in Fairbanks spending $8,106 annually on energy (and the average Anchorage home spending $2,786), this small amount of annual fuel consumption will be about 5% of folks see on average up here!

Take a look at the article (http://www.adn.com/article/20151018/fairbanks-engineer-focused-energy-efficiency-brings-his-work-home) and see what you think.  The Cold Climate Housing Research Center is a great place to get information if you may be considering the same.


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