Modern Alaska Culture   Leave a comment

The headlines read:

More Alaskans live without indoor plumbing than elsewhere

That makes us a pretty unique place in the United States, where only about a million people out of 330 million live san toilet.

Actually, it’s about 6% of the rental homes in the Fairbanks North Star Borough (like a county) that lack complete plumbing and about 5% that lack a complete kitchen. Statewide, those figures are 4.7% and 3.7%, which makes you-all in the Lower 48 look like easy livers with your 0.5% and 0.9%.

Fairbanks is the second largest community in Alaska by population (although Mat-Su/Wasilla may have passed us this summer). We are a modern city with movie theaters and a hospital and a world-class university. We also have a large community of dry cabin dwellers in the borough. It’s sort of an Alaskan experience. I have several friends who tried it out when they were younger, just to say they’d done it. These days many dry cabin dwellers are doing it because it’s the only way to escape the Interior’s high utility costs without leaving the community altogether. Other Americanized communities in Alaska do not have as high energy costs, so “dry” living is less of a need and less of an option. You won’t find many dry cabins for rent in Anchorage or Juneau, because they don’t need it.

For the record — I lived without running water for a period as a child and would not choose to do it again. I can fairly happily camp for about a week without washing my hair, but after that, I really want a bath … not just a shower, but a good soak in hot water, which you can’t get in a rent-a-shower.

Yes, we have those too — at least four laundromats and one gas station offer showers to those who don’t have them. And, it’s estimated that 10% of the memberships at the local athletic club are mainly for the showers.

Home heating diesel is around $4 a gallon, which is only about 2 cents higher than the national average, but we have a long and extremely cold winter, so that the average home in Fairbanks burns 1,135 gallons of heating oil every year. That’s about $6000 a year. Brad and I offset that with burning wood (saving between $1,000 and $5,000 a year depending on how motivated we are), but most rental units with plumbing do not come with a wood stove (because of the obvious risk to the structure), so many people opt for no plumbing — which sometimes brings the perk of a woodstove — in order to save about $1200 a year for water and sewer.

BUT ….

I know lots of people who own their own homes and do not have indoor plumbing — in fact, I’d guess the percentage to be higher than that reported in the rental market. Hence the second picture.

More on that tomorrow.

Posted August 14, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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