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Better Than An Igloo: Affordable, Efficient Homes In One Of The World’s Harshest Environments

Okay, so people on Alaska’s Aleutian Islands don’t actually live in igloos (they did once live in sod structures called Barabaras). But residents of these islands–there are about 7,000 people in total–could really use an infusion of cheap, efficient homes. And if you think that’s a tall order in more temperate climates in the continental United States, think about how difficult it is in a place where it rains over 200 days a year, wind speeds often hit 100 miles per hour, and electric power comes from diesel oil that’s shipped in from thousands of miles away.

The Living Aleutian Home Design Competition, sponsored by the Aleutian Housing Authority, challenged designers to build cost-effective, practical, replicable homes for Atka, Alaska (a village on the islands) that meets all of the standards of the Living Building Challenge 2.0.–an incredibly rigorous green building certification that requires structures to be net-zero water (meaning they produce as much water as they consume), net-zero energy, sourced from local materials, non-toxic (they don’t use certain red-listed materials), and more. If you can build structures that work in Atka, you can build them for anywhere.

All entries had to have three bedrooms, one bathroom, range from 1,150 to 1,350 square feet of living space, and cost no more than $400,000 to construct–the typical construction cost for a house of this type in the region.

Why the Aleutians? It’s a region that wants to change. In 2010, a summit of local tribes, businesses, communities, and nonprofits set the goal of slashing fossil fuel use in the region by 85%. As a result, the winner of the competition gets to work with the Aleutian Housing Authority to complete the design (and a $15,000 prize).

Check out the winner and runners-up in the slide show above.AS