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New home shows off Alaska-made building materials and furnishings

  • Author: Sean Doogan
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 15, 2014

Meet "Bella" -- a house with a name and a purpose.

The 1,686-square-foot, two-story, single-family home was the star of the kickoff of the 50th annual Parade of Homes in Anchorage on Friday evening. Bella is the name of the floor plan for the home, part of an ongoing 40-acre condominium development by the Peterson Group, but it's also billed as the "Made-in-Alaska House" -- because this particular Bella has been built with as many Alaska-made and -sourced products as possible.

The house features Alaska-made insulation, foundations, windows, tiles, countertops, cabinets, furniture, artwork and lighting in an effort to showcase locally made building materials.

A joint effort by the Peterson Group and the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, the Made-in-Alaska House was developed to show that, while Alaska may lack a robust manufacturing sector, it turns out there's a lot of Alaska that can be put into a house.

The problem was showing just what can be done when you make an effort to find locally made products on a homebuilding scale.

"It's easy to showcase locally made foods, locally made art, and things like that," said John Bittner, deputy commissioner of the department. "But how do we showcase some of the things you don't see every day or don't buy every day, such as countertops? And we hit upon the idea of a made-in-Alaska home."

The Made-in Alaska House has a five-star energy rating and matches the average home price in the Anchorage Bowl -- $347,000, even with the Alaska-made components included.

"What we have found is that, when we looked at comparable products outside of Alaska, we did find that certain products were cheaper, and the rest of the products were pretty comparable to what you would find nationally," Bittner said.

But as people look for a house, are they really paying that much attention to where its components were made, or are price and value the determining factors in the purchase?

The Lewis family just bought a home in the Sonoma Glen subdivision, the same neighborhood where the Made-in-Alaska House is situated. Taylor, his wife, Jennifer, and the couple's 2 1/2-year-old son, Jack, watched as the model home was showcased Friday. Taylor Lewis said price point and value were the most important factors in his family's home purchase decision. If Alaska-made products can compete with nationally sourced building materials and home fixtures, Lewis thinks they bring an added value to a home -- but that value isn't one of dollars and cents.

"When you know you have small entrepreneurial companies that are making these products, it's a pretty neat story to see somebody like that succeeding in our economy up here," Lewis said.

Glacierstone, which made the countertops and fireplace surround for the Made-in-Alaska House, was established about five years ago in its owner's garage. Now the company has moved to a commercial building in South Anchorage and has cemented a reputation for building long-lasting countertops from recycled glass and an epoxy resin. One of its advantages over Lower 48 companies is its ability to connect Alaska homebuilders with exactly what they want, according to Glacierstone employee Mark Achterhof.

"We have people bring in wine bottles of their favorite wine that they want us to break up and pour in their countertops," Achterhof said.

Achterhof said that one of the most popular custom requests is a countertop made from broken bits of Corona beer bottles.

"We grind up the glass pretty small," Atcherhof said. "But if you look closely you can still see bits of the color and letters from the label in the countertop. People like it."

Even if a homebuilder doesn't go looking for Alaska-made products to construct a new house, chances are there is still a lot of the Last Frontier inside it. Asphalt, foundation material, and even cement are made here and used in most local homes, according to Paul Michelson, president of the Anchorage Home Builders Association.

"I don't believe there are a lot of consumers that realize that more products in their houses are actually made in Alaska than they assumed were," Michelson said.

Anchorage is feeling a housing crunch. A 2012 study commissioned by the municipality found that the city will need an additional 18,200 homes built by 2032. With buildable land dwindling, the lack of affordable housing in Anchorage has been cited as one of the biggest employment and economic problems the city will face in the next two decades. The Sonoma Glen development used to be a sand pit. After getting approval from the municipality to increase the housing density for the project, the Peterson Group said, it will eventually put 216 homes into the parcel, a five-phase project that is expected to be completed in seven to 10 years.

"Bella" the Made-In-Alaska House went up for sale at the end of the Parade of Homes on Sunday evening. And it is likely it won't be on the market for long.

"As word has gotten around about the project and the Made-in Alaska house, we have had a lot of interest in it," Peterson Group general manager Trevor Edmondson said.

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