Two Interior Alaska-based organizations and third based in Southwest Alaska are improving affordable housing and heating options in rural Alaska, while also providing local jobs, through USDA Wood Innovation Grants. 

Wood Innovation grants are awarded annually and aim to increase the use of local wood product and help create sustainable energy solutions for rural communities.

In Fairbanks, the Cold Climate Housing Research Center’s grant covers the design, production, testing and engineering of timber products for affordable home building kits. The kit-building system, called “New Iglu” meets the rising demand for affordable and flexible housing in rural Alaska.

In Nenana, a new biomass heating system is being installed by the city. The system will make local heating prices more predictable and keep energy dollars local. It produces a bi-product called biochar, a charcoal that can be added to soil to boost fertility and help remove carbon from the atmosphere. The city also received another grant from USDA, based on wood energy, to install milling equipment that would allow the community to process and use local lumber. Residue from the mill will supply some of the biomass used in boilers to heat the local school, fire department and water treatment plant.

In Southwest Alaska, the TKC Fish Wheel, a nonprofit arm of The Kuskokwim Corporation, plans to use local timber near Kalskag to build three federally approved log houses, complete with wood stoves. One of the houses will be used for a nonprofit store to serve Upper and Lower Kalskag. The organization will train residents with the goal of adding jobs to the community. If successful, the program could be replicated throughout the state.