Native Village of Kwinhagak Site Visit«

January 27, 2012

Materials spread out for construction of the octagon houses. As a new octagon house is constructed, the prototype stands in the background. The work crew fitting siding on the octagon house. Materials spread out for construction of the octagon houses. The work crew installing the roof truss. The integrated truss includes roof, walls, and floor.

For its 2012 building season, the Native Village of Kwinhagak (NVK) is constructing two different energy efficient housing designs, originally developed by the Cold Climate Housing Research Council (CCHRC) and updated by CCHRC as part of the Sustainable Construction in Indian Country (SCinIC) initiative. (See Website update from February 2012.)

They are building two of the Quinhagak prototype houses with an updated foundation design (referred to as the “octagon house,” due to its eight-sided, aerodynamic shape) and also a design that uses an integrated truss system originally developed for a prototype home in Crooked Creek, Alaska (referred to as the “rectangle house”).

From July 30 to August 10, members of SCinIC joined the NVK work crew in the construction of the two octagon houses. The SCinIC team traveled on-site to provide the work team with construction support on NVK’s new octagon house, as well as repairs to the prototype. The SCinIC team provided some hands-on support, including explaining changes to the foundation system occasioned by intense heaving on the prototype octagon house. This updated foundation uses off-the-shelf components to create a foundation assembly that can be adjusted and re-leveled, should that become necessary due to shifting of the pad. The team also compiled data for use in updating the construction manual.

The octagon house features a roof truss and the rectangle house, an integrated truss. In “whole house” or integrated truss construction, the structure of the walls, floor, and roof are designed as a single component. The trusses were built by different companies in Alaska. Use of a prefabricated truss decreases the amount of wood used and allows for increased recycling; this approach also decreases construction time and generally lowers costs. Two octagon houses have been framed and enclosed. The rectangular house is framed and roofed, but is awaiting the arrival of additional building materials to be fully enclosed.

Since NVK is not accessible by road, delivery of construction materials by barge is cumbersome and by plane is expensive. The already short construction season was delayed while NVK awaited delivery of building materials; the roof truss was slightly damaged in transit when it arrived by barge in June.

As winter set in, NVK waited for additional materials to enclose the structures and protect them from storms. The last barge of the season reached Bethel in late October, but could not proceed to NVK, since ice was already making the Kanektok River impassable. A new plan was made to ship the most vital materials by plane.

To further increase their capacity and self-sufficiency, NVK is exploring the feasibility of constructing their own trusses in a former fish processing plant or other protected location. Work crews could build trusses during the slower winter months, thus increasing winter employment opportunities, decreasing shipping costs (and eliminating damage caused by shipping), and ultimately allowing NVK to get a jump on their next building season.

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