If you want to find out what it’s like to live in a truly cold weather climate, in the United States your ultimate destination would have to be Alaska.
So it makes sense that this is also where you would want to go if you are trying to test various building, construction and home improvement materials to see how they would stand up to the extremely harsh conditions of that region. Turns out, spray foam insulation is apparently a great choice for this situation—a discovery that likely will not come as much surprise to the contractors and other professionals who rely upon (and recommend) these materials on a regular basis.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks created the Sustainability Village two years ago as a housing community for students who are passionate about the environment and concerned about reducing their carbon footprint. It was designed to be a demonstration for environmentally sustainable technologies in a residential setting, while also providing hands-on experiential learning opportunities. UAF students live in the village in a community-style environment. The village consists of four homes, each of which has four bedrooms.
The homes serve as a sort of living laboratory for the students, who (with the help of faculty members) conduct experiments with sustainable design, alternative energy sources, new technologies, and ways of living.
Needless to say, there is also a special emphasis on evaluating materials based on their ability to withstand the extreme demands of the Alaskan climate, particularly severe cold temperatures. Products that can help keep interior space comfortable when outdoor temperatures plummet, while also keeping energy usage under control, get a chance to be in the spotlight.
Of course, insulation within the walls and under the roof plays a big role in the homes’ energy efficiency and comfort level. However, there’s an area that often gets overlooked—perhaps because it isn’t easily seen. The foundation is an important part of the structure, but one that people don’t usually give much thought. However, this can play a big role in the structure’s energy usage, especially in an area like Alaska.
As this story notes, the village presents a unique challenge for foundation design because it is located on “warm” permafrost, or ground that is just barely below freezing year-round. Trying to create a foundation in a permafrost situation is expensive and challenging, and if not done correctly can cause serious problems that may jeopardize the integrity of the structure. Heat loss from the building into the soil must be controlled and contained in order to prevent the permafrost from melting.
In building the Sustainability Village, contractors for two of the buildings used pilings, which is a popular option for this situation. For the other two buildings, a new and innovative approach was used. A raft-like arrangement was created, consisting of steel floor joists elevated from the ground on wooden structural beams. The builders wanted to ensure that heat from the buildings could not escape and leak down into the foundation or the soil below it. To prevent that from happening, a thick layer of spray foam insulation was installed into the raft-like foundation assembly.
This was a project that required the use of various types of spray foam equipment, which possibly included spray foam rigs and other large pieces of machinery.
The effort involved in installing this spray foam enhanced foundation seems to have paid off. Continuous monitoring of the ground below the buildings has shown that the strategy appears to be working well, with the ground temperature maintaining its ideal levels and little or no heat escaping into the soil.
Obviously, most homeowners and builders—particularly those outside of Alaska—don’t need to be concerned with a permafrost-friendly foundation or making soil temperatures a huge priority. But preventing energy loss from all parts of a structure is something that should be important to all property owners, as it greatly impacts the utility costs involved with maintaining the property. (Not to mention, it leads to a waste of valuable natural resources.)
Reducing energy loss in a significant and effective way is relatively easy when homes and buildings are insulated or reinforced with spray foam insulation, roofing and coatings. Intech Equipment & Supply can provide all of the spray foam equipment needed to complete these projects, and our network of distribution centers allow us to process orders and deliver equipment quickly all across the country.