Cold Climate Construction

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

Provided by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC)

There are many factors to consider when building a home in a cold climate. For example, are you building on permafrost? What conditions will your house be up against - wind, moisture, deep cold? What types of fuels and alternative energy options are available to you? How tight is your building envelope, and what type of ventilation will be required? All of these factors will inform your choice of foundation, building envelope, floorplan, and heating and mechanical systems. 

It’s important to view your house as a whole system rather than as a sum of the parts. For example, if you have well-insulated walls but leaky windows, the whole performance of your wall will be undermined. On the other hand, if you have a high efficiency boiler but leaky air ducts or hot water pipes, your appliance may never reach its advertised efficiency. Viewing your house holistically will help you make the most informed, cost-effective decisions about energy and retrofits.

Whether you're building a new house or retrofitting an existing house, the best place to start is with an energy rating. This entails an energy rater testing your home, or entering your building plans into a computer program, to calculate the energy performance of the building.

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center is an industry-based nonprofit based in Fairbanks, Alaska that develops and tests energy efficient building technologies for the north. The articles and videos included in this guide are part of its mission to promote healthy, sustainable, affordable housing in Alaska and beyond. Find more at

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