Barrow Alaska Photograph by Jeffrey Sward

Example of house built on stilts, Barrow, Alaska. (ba10a)

Buildings are on stilts in order to avoid melting the permafrost. If buildings were built on the ground directly, the heat from the building would eventually melt the permafrost. When the permafrost melts, the ground and building sink. Therefore, if garages were built, the garages would need to be on stilts also.

When a car freezes in Barrow, the engine seizes, and the car cannot be started until summer, when the engine thaws. Presumably the reason for a garage would be to keep the car from freezing in the winter. In this case the garage would need to be heated. Most of the heat in the garage would leave when the garage door was opened, requiring a lot of energy to heat the garage again. Most people with cars in Barrow use electric engine block heaters. The manufacturer installs heating coils planted next to the engine block which run off 120v ac electricity. When the car is parked, an extension cord from the house is connected to a power cord attached to the engine block heater.

If an engine block heater is not available, such as at a restaurant, it is common the leave the engine running when parked, in order to avoid the engine freezing.

Most people in Barrow do not have cars. The entire city is at most three miles square. There are no roads to or from Barrow, so the only driving would be in town. Access to Barrow is by air all year or barge in the summer. Taxi service is a flat $5.00 per trip anywhere in town.

Barrow, Alaska
Copyright 2004 Jeffrey Sward
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