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AK Couple Seals Air-Tight Record

Friday, August 30, 2013

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This story isn’t just off the wall. It’s off four 28-inch-thick walls.

A couple in the small fishing town of Dillingham, AK, has built a 590-square-foot, two-bedroom, super energy-efficient home that has been deemed the “World’s Tightest Residential Building” by the World Record Academy.

The heat and power bill for the simple Alaskan abode runs about $900 per year, compared to the area's average of $5,000, according to reports.

World's Tightest Residential Building
Tom Marsik / Alaska Energy Wiki

The "World's Tightest Residential Building" in rural Alaska features an extremely tight building envelope (0.05 ACH50).

Dr. Tom Marsik and his wife, Kristin Donaldson, received the world record in March after submitting a 10-minute video demonstrating a blower-door test on their home. The test is used during energy audits to determine the air infiltration rate of a building, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The air-tightness of the home measured at 0.05 Air Changes per Hour (ACH) at a differential pressure of 50 pascals.

'Way, Way Tighter'

"I knew you did a fantastic job in sealing this house, but I don't know how you got it that tight,” Gorden Isaacs, a building analyst with a national certification from the Building Performance Institute, said during the video.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus / YouTube

In early March, Dr. Tom Marsik and his wife, Kristin Donaldson, submitted this video to the World Records Academy demonstrating a blower-door test, used to determine the air infiltration rate of the home. Weeks later, they received notification that their house was the "World's Tightest Residential Building."

“It's way way tighter than anything I have ever tested before,” Isaacs said.

In fact, experts say buildings in the 1 to 2 ACH range are “exceptionally efficient.”

From Work to Home

The couple began building their home in 2010 based on the rigorous codes of the Passive House standard.

Marsik took his work home for this project. He is an assistant professor of sustainable energy at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Bristol Bay campus.

He and his wife modeled the home after the Passive Office, an educational tool he helped to develop as part of the UAF Bristol Bay Sustainable Energy Program.

Materials to build the house cost $169,500, according to a PowerPoint prepared by Marsik. Additional project details and diagrams are also available in the document.

Key Energy Features

The key energy features of the home include 28-inch-thick walls (R-90) and ceiling (R-140), an extremely well-sealed vapor barrier, and ventilation via HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator), according to project details.

Diagram of house
Tom Marsik / Alaska Energy Wiki

The simple home was built to bring attention to the importance of energy efficiency in buildings and in general.

Moreover, most of the energy needed to heat the home comes as a byproduct from appliances, lighting, passive solar gain and body heat.

While the couple enjoys the spotlight on their cozy house, they would also be fine with losing the record crown. For them, the goal and reward are about bringing attention to the importance of energy efficiency—in buildings and in general.

“The more awareness we can raise, the more people will be encouraged to save energy and resources for future generations," said Marsik.


Tagged categories: Air barriers; Awards and honors; Building enclosure system; Building envelope; Energy efficiency; Insulation; Sealers

Comment from Stephen Gambone, (8/30/2013, 1:40 AM)

A coffin is very airtight too !

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (8/30/2013, 8:44 AM)

Stephen, I hardly think that it's risky. When they're not running the test, the house has controlled, heat-recovery ventilation. They managed to stop all the "uncontrolled ventilation" - leaks.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (8/30/2013, 1:21 PM)

I can see both points of view here... they just have to be certain that the intentional ventilation will be sufficient to prevent "sick building syndrome" and that they are very careful about what they bring in to that house. Energy efficiency is good, but it still has to be livable when you bring in a new couch, carpet or other potential "off gassing" product.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/3/2013, 10:00 AM)

Absolutely - air exchange is critical, as is maintaining indoor air quality. Controlling that exchange (and preferably capturing heat on the correct side for the season) is what makes for the efficiency.

Comment from Pat Brashler, (9/3/2013, 4:00 PM)

Without exterior insulation where is your due point? Moisture in your insulation? Incorporating exterior insulation with an air-barrier to move the due point would reduce stud size also. I know EIFS has been approved to install 8 inch EPS foam that won't lose r-value and has a air-barrier with in the system...

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/4/2013, 10:00 AM)

I'm supposing you intended "dew point" - the diagram certainly looks like the insulation is outside the vapor barrier.

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