As we cycled into Haines Junction, I couldn’t help noticing a house contruction site and made a mental note to go back and visit it after a much needed icecream and bakery treat to re-energise after our long ride (110km) into the wind and 4am start (to avoid the worst of the flattening Kluane Lake headwinds).
Synchronicity works in wonderful ways. Our hosts, who we didn’t yet know as we pedalled into town, were the owners and labourers on the house project I’d spotted from my bike. Dave and Darlene being infamous adventurers (two of my new heroes!) who have crossed several continents on their mountainbikes (Africa, Asia), were easy to track down through the visitor’s centre. Despite our out-of-the-blue phonecall and a very tenuous link from a passerby we’d met 3 days before, they welcomed us with open arms and absorbed us into their lives for the too brief time we shared with them – live music at the Bakery (our motivating force for cycling such ridiculous distances from Tok), home brews, delicious food, soft beds, hot showers, clothes washing, shelter from the icy drizzle on our rest day and a trip out of town to visit their friends (and chief builder of their house). With the fantastically long days, we stayed up and exchanged cycling stories, slide shows and upcoming adventure plans into the early hours of each morning.
Building for Yukon’s extreme climate couldn’t be more of a contrast from the subtropics, understandably. Dave was delighted to show off his plans for the house before our site tour – a simple squareish plan with a kinked south-facing wall for extra space and interest, double-height void in the living space, verandahs and high gable roof. Dave and Darlene have done lots of research into sustainable design appropriate to an almost arctic climate and here’s what’s emerged with some limitations inflicted by their isolation:
- R60 insulation value to external walls – necessary for when temperatures are 40-50 degrees celcius below freezing!! Achieved by external cladding (yet to be confirmed), full external sheeting in bracing ply, 150 thick external studs, 75mm air space, 100mm inner studs with 75mm girts, separated by a film of poly (over 450mm of timber-framed construction). Between each external stud, is an impermeable membrane, against the external ply, then wrapped back around the inside face of the external studs and fully sealed against the face of each stud with black goo. Hugely insulating fiberglass (12” of blown-in fibreglass insulation but couldn’t encourage any installers to travel so far) is packed between the external studs. R8 batts sit between the inner girts (on the face of the inner studs) behind plasterboard wall lining.
- The basement is timber framed and ply-clad (5/8”) to floor (with R28 fibreglass insulation) and walls (R12 batts + 7” blown in fiberglass) – insects can’t survive below the ground in permafrost and cold. Building a basement in timber in Queensland or much of Australia would be a termite’s dream!
- The one small area of concrete slab in the basement is for the root cellar (storing root vegetables and other foods through the winter) but more importantly Dave’s extensive home brew collection of beer (mostly Australian Coopers) and wine.
- Roof framing is of prefabricated pine scissor trusses with very deep junctions over outside walls (not like ours that taper to nothing). This is set by building standards to provide sufficient insulation. Roof pitch has to cope with huge winter snow loads.
- Windows are triple-glazed, argon-filled with aluminium to the outside for durability with timber framing with air gaps between inside and outside faces to stop conducted heat.
- Roof sheeting colour is light to avoid overheating in summer (though unlikely with the thickness of roof insulation) and to reduce expansion and contraction in huge temperature changes which can create large, leaky holes in roof sheeting.
- They would have loved solar power but costs are prohibitive with no government assistance and likewise with evacuated tube hot water systems. With the surrounding mountains, the reality is that in the winter months, the sun would only hit the panels for an hour or so a day, if the sun was shining. Summer, however is the opposite story.
- Heating is with an electric baseboard system (don’t really understand this) and a slow-combustion wood stove.
- There is a small 5,000L tank to for collecting and storing rainwater for Darlene’s garden.
- Household water is “hauled” from a central village water supply by all residents. Perhaps the bursting of pipes and maintenance outweighed the convenience but the residents don’t seem to mind. It creates another opportunity in this vibrant, positive little town for community interaction.
Raising of the trusses was booked in for 2 days after we left and we were both very tempted to stay on and be a part of that. Haines Junction has such a good feel about it (wholesome food, strong community, arts scene, stunning wilderness) that, without time constraints, I could happily have spent more days there and with our wonderful hosts.