Cabin living off the grid in frigid Alaska a labor of love

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Leighton Nunez's Cabin in Ester Alaska

Imagine you're sitting in a log cabin in the middle of Alaska. It's the middle of January, when temperatures routinely dip to 40 degrees below zero. It’s 5 p.m. and pitch black outside. You’re waiting for water to boil on your stove so that you can wash last night’s dishes. You pour boiling water on the dishes, and rinse carefully with water from a five-gallon jug balancing on the sink lip.


Hauling water at the Fox Spring north of Fairbanks

The rinse water washes down six inches of pipe into a bucket beneath your sink. Dishes done, you carefully pick up the bucket-full of rancid waste water and inch outside, mindful not to slop any on the floor. You fling the water from your deck and it evaporates instantly into the air.  With the dishes done, you prepare to brave the cold for the bathroom, an outhouse 20 feet away. Hopefully there are no moose on the trail, but you grab your headlamp just in case.


 Hauling water at -40 degrees fahrenheight at the Fox Spring north of Fairbanks

You're living the "dry cabin" lifestyle, just like several thousand others in Fairbanks, an Alaska town known for its extreme climate and endless winters. It's also the epicenter of an unusual cultural phenomenon: Dry-cabin living, a.k.a, living without running water.

That means no plumbing.

No toilet.

No shower.

No kitchen faucets. These modern amenities are replaced by outhouses, five-gallon water jugs and trips to the laundromat.

Why would anyone live this way in one of America's coldest cities?


An outhouse walkway illuminated by Christmas lights

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.

People turn to dry cabins instead. Some are drawn to dry-cabin living for the mystique that the lifestyle offers. Others gravitate toward dry cabins for economic reasons. Either way, it’s a life that offers rewards and challenges found only in Alaska.

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