Page 47 - HOME Spring 2019
P. 47

  The Uutukuu Iglu
an Alaska Tiny Home
Story and photography by molly rettig
The upside of moving from a 5,000-square-foot home into one that’s 9-feet wide by 20-feet long is that
it doesn’t take long. But then there are challenges too, like tracking down the right furniture and figuring
out how to squeeze a bathroom into a space the size of a motorhome.
“I ordered kitchen cabinets that would allow me enough room for my favorite couch,” says Jack Hébert.
He leaned back on a blue-green leather couch with his feet propped on a wooden chest he built 40 years ago, back when he lived in a sod house in the Brooks Range. “It has hand-sawn boards, local spruce and
babiche hinges.”
Jack is a well-known homebuilder
in Fairbanks and founder of the Cold
Climate Housing Research Center, an
organization that tests and develops
housing and energy technologies
for the North. He has designed and
built many custom homes for clients
in Alaska, from southern plantation
homes to full-scribe log structures.
Before this, he lived in a French provincial house on a ridge overlooking the Tanana Valley.
But today, at 68, he wanted something simpler. His kids are grown up and he spends a lot of time in Palmer, where
he owns a three-bedroom home with his partner. But he still needed a place in Fairbanks, where he not only works but is also very attached to the community. Sitting in his tiny house, he looked perfectly at home.
“This is all I need,” he says.
Though it’s only 200 square feet, the home doesn’t actually feel that small. With exposed timbers and tongue-
The tiny Fairbanks home has a big view of the Tanana Valley and Alaska Range.
and-groove spruce paneling, it almost feels like you’re in the forest. Six-foot-wide French doors overlook the Alaska Range, where the sun sets early on a cold winter day.
While tiny homes have become trendy in the Lower 48, they’re nothing new in Alaska. Not in concept, at least. Alaskans have long lived in shelters that are easy to build and easy to heat, not just by preference but out of necessity.
“Small and warm is an Alaska tradition,” Jack says.
Mobility is another Alaska tradition, with many families moving to fish camps and hunting camps for part of the year. That was one reason Jack built his house on a trailer – it can go anywhere. His partner has family in Kotzebue and a fish
camp outside the northwest Arctic village. “My thought was we could put it on a
barge and take it up to camp or anywhere to have a place to get away.”
That meant the house had to be not just small but also light. At less than 10,000 pounds, it fits on the road and can be pulled with a pickup.
As a vocal advocate for sustainable housing, Jack also wanted to make sure his house followed the principles of good
building science. That meant local materials, an energy efficient building envelope and healthy air.
First and foremost, as he always tells clients, is the building envelope. The timber frame structure employs the same REMOTE (REsidential Membrane Outside insulation TEchnique) wall that was used for the CCHRC building, with six inches of foam board outside of the wall. Placing the insulation on the exterior prevents heat loss through the timbers and ensures all the wood on the inside stays warm and dry, avoiding problems like mold and rot that plague many Alaska homes.
Continued on page 46
"Living here makes
you realize how little
you need."
– homeowner, Jack Hébert

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