As both and I and MNN business blogger Melissa Hincha-Ownby have stated before, the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge, the 2006-born, 2009-revised brainchild of the Cascadia Green Building Council, is one hell of a stringent green building standard that goes way beyond LEED certification. Living Building Challenge certification is so hard to achieve that only three buildings to date, most notably the Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, NY, have, well, fully risen to the challenge although dozens more are in development or under construction.


Now, in an unprecedented effort that “dares the building industry and all inhabitants of the built environment to rethink how buildings are designed, how materials are sourced and how people interact with the built environment,” the difficult-to-obtain green building standard has set its sights on the most difficult-to-live-in parts of the non-contiguous United States with the Living Aleutian Housing Design Competition. The competition challenges participants — nearly 200 participants from 23 countries have registered — to apply Living Building Challenge 2.0 principles to homebuilding in Atka, Alaska, a teeny-tiny fishing village (population: 61) in Alaska’s remote Aleutian Islands.


To jolt your memory, the Aleutians are comprised of hundreds of small, windswept volcanic islands that extend over a thousand miles from mainland Alaska into the north Pacific forming a mostly un-inhabitable archipelago dubbed “the birthplace of the winds.” Unlike Sarah Palin, residents of the Aleutians truly can see Russia from their backyards. Okay, maybe they can’t but the islands extend so far west that the Aleutian city of Unalaska, a city perhaps familiar to fans of “Deadliest Catch,” has bragging rights as the United State’s westernmost city with a population of over 2,500 people. The Aleutians are a harsh, unforgiving place where those who live there, not surprisingly, face equally harsh and unforgiving wintertime heating bills.

Fully eliminating heating costs for the average Aleutian resident is the driving force behind the Living Aleutian Housing Competition. The team behind the winning design will not only receive $35,000 but will see their home built as a prototype home for Alaska native and Atka resident Jimmy Prokopeuff, a 32-year old who works as a production manager at the Alaska Pride Seafood processing plant.


Prokopeuff’s current home (pictured above) is small, aging, and extremely inefficient — his monthly heating bills during the winter, which can last as long as six months in Atka, average around $600 (home heating oil currently costs $6.80 a gallon in Atka). Yikes ... and you thought your monthly heating bills were rough. A modest home designed and built to exacting, net-zero energy Living Building Challenge standards would bring monthly heating costs down to $0. Says Prokopeuff is a press release: “It is so expensive. I am so excited for my new home. Everyone here is. It could change things.”


Once the 3-bedroom, extreme weather-resistant home is completed, the Aleutian Housing Authority will use the design to build similar homes in other communities throughout the region helping to “demonstrate to others, in rural areas everywhere, that there are ways to radically reduce energy consumption and make the switch to renewable energy, in safe, healthy, affordable homes.” The total construction cost for the winning home must be under $400,000. This may not seem to fall comfortably into the "affordable" category but keep in mind that along with the price of fossil fuel, the cost of home construction in Atka and surrounding communities is prohibitive. 


Click here to read more about the Living Aleutian Housing Competition including a comprehensive, extremely informative contest brief. I'm pretty excited to see the top contenders in the contest — they'll be announced this coming May at the Living Future 2012 conference in Portland, Ore. 

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Ultra-efficient affordable homes to wash ashore in the Aleutians
In Atka, a far-flung Alaskan fishing village where the cost to heat a small home in the winter averages around $600/month, the Living Aleutian Housing Design Co