Responding to Energy Insecurity in Arctic Housing Using a Community-Based Participatory Research


This research seeks to address the substantial existing and emerging housing challenges that rural Alaskan communities currently face. Specifically, many homes in these communities are highly energy inefficient; many others were not designed for the harsh Alaskan climate; many are old and overcrowded. The high cost of electricity and heating fuel combined with these housing challenges makes many rural Alaskan homes highly energy burdened (i.e. a high percentage of household income is used for energy costs). The most vulnerable households are estimated to spend nearly half of their income on energy bills. These challenges are worsened by the changing climate conditions. Government-funded programs to improve the efficiency of homes have been ongoing for many years, however, in some cases these efficiency improvements are not being used by households, and/or are not performing as intended. There is currently limited research on why this occurs, and solutions that can help to address this. Therefore, this research seeks to, in collaboration with three rural Alaskan communities and a diversity of key non-profits and other stakeholders, identify better, more culturally appropriate ways to adapt rural Alaskan housing to alleviate energy burden. Many will benefit from the results of this effort, including Alaskan homeowners, society as a whole, and the scientific community. Specifically, current and future homeowners in these communities will benefit from energy efficiency programs that are better designed to fit their cultural values and interests, making the homeowners more likely to benefit from participation. This will also improve the wellbeing of communities by reducing stresses related to energy costs through methods that support socio-cultural and environmental connections. Society will benefit from programs designed to achieve the maximum long-term energy and emissions reductions, thus maximizing the benefits of the use of public money. The scientific community will benefit from this research through the better understanding of key factors influencing the long-term success of energy efficiency improvements. 

The proposed research effort seeks to answer the following research questions: How can existing Alaska Native housing be adapted to better alleviate energy insecurity? How effective are existing energy efficiency retrofit methods, and how can they be improved to reduce long-term energy burden? The response to these research questions is obtained using a community-based participatory research in the villages of Unalakleet, Nome, and Quinhagak. Through six interlinked tasks, the research team will collaboratively develop improvement strategies that incorporate cultural beliefs and values, field data collection, and integrated building energy models which together address identified causes of energy burden for existing housing. Task 1 will establish the methods for knowledge co-production and collaboration with the communities. Task 2 will use climate model outputs and surface weather station data along with community interviews, to construct future climate scenarios for each community. Task 3 will assess the characteristics, efficiency, and long-term performance of homes, including those with and without retrofits. Through buildings validated energy models, it will also quantify the factors driving energy burden, and the impacts energy efficiency improvements have had on energy burden. Task 4 will assess the cultural values and beliefs that members of rural Alaskan communities have around energy use and energy efficient technology, resulting in an understanding of cultural barriers and opportunities for energy efficiency improvement implementation. Task 5 will identify retrofit strategies which both reduce energy burden considering future climate scenarios, and fit Alaska Native cultural values and beliefs. It will also recommend the need for improvements to energy efficiency implementation, including design changes and/or energy education. The final task will develop energy engineering curriculum which will be implemented in K-12 and higher education classrooms.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


Responding to Energy Insecurity in Arctic Housing Using Community-Based Participatory Research
Dr. Kristen Cetin, Dr. Cristina Poleacovschi, Dr. Jessica Saniġaq Ullrich, Dr. Bill Gallus, Dr. Bora Cetin, Patricia Guillante, Christiana Kiesling, Amanda Yaa Nkansah Quarshie

Rural communities in Alaska face many housing challenges. Existing housing is generally older, overcrowded, inefficient, and poorly equipped to withstand extreme weather conditions. These challenges result in a high energy burden on homeowners, as well as indoor environmental quality challenges. While there has been substantial efforts to support weatherization to mitigate energy inequality in these communities, the efficacy, service life, and homeowner use of such energy efficiency improvements can be better understood in order to drive further improvements to such programmatic efforts.

Project PI(s)
Project Start Date
Jan 2023
Award Year