Helping vulnerable villagers

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Helping vulnerable villagers
October 24, 2019

A new home for Newtok

Knauf Insulation North America is supporting the Cold Climate Housing Research Center to help build new energy-efficient homes for a community of Native Alaskan villagers that has been forced to relocate due to climate change.


Along the southwestern Alaskan coast, in the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta, is a remote village called Newtok. The 375 people there value their traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing and foraging for food, and the only modes of transport are boats, snowmobiles and all terrain vehicles. There are no roads — just boardwalks between the school, post office and homes. The villagers, known as the Yu’pik, have created a strong identity based on their self-sufficient lifestyle.

Unlike many other rural Alaskan villages, the population of Newtok is growing. But as the population grows, the community’s land is rapidly disappearing. Due to severe erosion, the Ningliq River is closing in on the village at a rate of 22 metres a year, causing harsh flooding and threatening the residents’ health and safety. Erosion is a naturally occurring process, but because of the rapid loss of permafrost, the rate at which it is happening in Newtok is anything but natural.

The story of Newtok is a sobering reminder of the dire need for sustainable solutions. It’s also a story of hope and perseverance that shows the power of people who come together for a common purpose.
Rick Blumenthal, Technical Building Science Specialist, Knauf Insulation


Trouble began in 1996, when extreme flooding and sinking ground caused the Newtok River to be taken over and diverted by the Ningliq River and turned into a swamp. Nearly overnight, the village became susceptible to storm surges and erosion. Commercial boats could no longer reach the village and waste that was dumped into the river stopped flowing away and began to pile up at the crumbling coastline. And, as storm seasons grew longer and harsher, tide levels rose and started to spread contaminated water throughout the village.

Now the community is in the final sprint of what has been a decades-long process to move to a new, permanent location on higher, more stable land: Mertarvik. All the while, the residents have watched their land be eroded by the water, metre by metre. In a matter of months, homes could be lost. Time has almost run out. The new location, Mertarvik, is 14 kilometres upriver from Newtok on the volcanic bluffs of Nelson Island.


Securing funding for the project has been a challenge. The community has seen investments from federal and state agencies, but they have fallen short of the funds needed to build new homes in Mertarvik.

However, Newtok has also had help from non-profits such as the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. The CCHRC was contracted to provide the design, verification and testing for the homes on Mertarvik — durable, high-performance houses made with healthier, more sustainable materials and systems.

The Knauf Insulation team consulted with CCHRC to help develop a plan for insulating the new homes in Mertarvik and recommended using Jetstream® Blowing Wool. The builders for Mertarvik have in-house carpenters, plumbers and electricians — but no insulating staff. Knauf Insulation trained installers and worked on-site with crews to ensure the insulation was installed to deliver the best performance.

The Mertarvik homes are built with ‘mono-trusses’ — self-contained, complete gable frames that maximise energy efficiency and shipping efficiency to remote job sites. The roof, walls and floors are all one piece and made of open-web trusses, to help prevent thermal bridging once insulated. Construction materials are selected to be resilient to wind, ice, snow and rain, and to be as low maintenance as possible.

Alaska is on the edge of a cliff dealing with the climatic wave in the north. People in Newtok are losing the ground they walk on. This has necessitated a move 10 miles away and the building of a new village. Partners like Knauf Insulation contributing both material and installation expertise in an extreme environment is deeply appreciated by all of us.
Jack Hébert, CEO, Cold Climate Housing Research Center


Knauf Insulation also sponsored the installation of sensors in the walls of each house to monitor temperature, moisture and humidity for two years. The goal is to extract comprehensive data on the performance of our Glass Mineral Wool system in one of the harshest climates on the planet.






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