Not all Alaska cabins are woodsy recreational retreats for urban folks. Fairbanks, where winter nights are long and temperatures can drop to minus 60, has well over a thousand taxable residences that don't have running water. These "dry cabins," as they're called, are still increasing in number, home to everyone from financially struggling university students to professional people who could afford on-the-grid living but enjoy the lifestyle.
Alaska Dispatch talked to landlords and residents about the dry-cabin "culture" in Fairbanks.
Dry-cabin communities in Fairbanks are partially a product of geology – yes, you read that right. Patches of ground remain frozen year-round in the Interior; that permafrost presents builders with a lot of problems. You can’t dig into frozen ground, so installing septic and water systems becomes difficult if not impossible. ...
Dry cabins are built both close to town and in rural areas, often in “clusters” maintained and often built by one landlord. And they make sense in an isolated Alaskan city: They're fairly low maintenance and there is no danger of freezing pipes, a constant worry for homeowners, which can be extraordinarily expensive to repair. Whether renting or selling, “the margins of profit on building a dry cabin are pretty high,” says Jack Hebert, president of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks.
Perhaps the No. 1 downside to dry cabins: no shower. Read more, and see a dry-cabin photo gallery, at Alaska Dispatch: Living the dry-cabin dream in Fairbanks