College Survival Guide: Perspectives of a 10-year student

Jason Hersey/Sun Star Columnist
Sept. 10, 2012

As the semester starts the search for housing is underway.  Many students are scouring the Fairbanks hills for that perfect, little and inexpensive place to call home during their studies at UAF.  The dry cabin has been that place for many and continues to draw in newcomers to this quirky Fairbanks subculture.

At first, one wonders why UAF students flock to these small, oftentimes one-room cabins devoid of showers and indoor toilets, but the cheap rent and finally ditching that meal plan appeals to many.  In fact, “cabin life” has become a well-known phrase around Fairbanks but is not wholly understood by dorm dwellers and city goers. Living in a cabin for a Fairbanks winter is right up on the bucket list with owning your own pair of Carhart bibs and Bunny Boots.

Newcomers to the cabin world come with the best intentions of managing the pile of unruly dishes and showering daily while in town.  As the winter sets in however, negative 40 degree temperatures and poor running vehicles make that shower a winter chore that rarely keeps the daily pace; twice a week and some sponge baths tends to be more accurate.

Cabin dwellers have come up with all sorts of schemes to avoid that month old pile of dirty dishes.  The “degree of dirty” reusing strategy can be applied down to the last dish in the cupboard.

Its not all romance, however.  Those that are considering or are already on the journey of cabin life should think on some basic structural amenities and lifestyle logistics that make living in a cabin more feasible.  Having lived in six cabins around Fairbanks, I’ll warn you that in some cases the quirkiness can be legitimately handled, while in others it should not even be attempted.

The most basic style cabin around Fairbanks is the one room with a loft for sleeping, totally dry (without running water and toilet and means you haul it), and monitor oil burning stove for heating.  The major upgrade to these cabins would be some combination of plumbing features known as “wet” cabins.  The former runs at a usual rate of $400-600 per month depending on size and proximity to town, while the latter can range up to about $900 for its degree of wetness.  Here are some things to consider when rental shopping before signing that lease.

While the smaller, one room style cabin may be most affordable by rent price, it does not mean other aspects will be equally as cheap.  Heating fuel prices have been hovering close to four dollars per gallon and with the heat most often being the tenant’s responsibility, it is important to find a cabin that is well insulated.

Gaps and cracks in the structure showing daylight from the outside will leak precious heat! Make sure to peek under the cabin from outside to see if squirrels have stolen all the floor’s insulation.  The thickness of the walls and number of panes on the windows will ultimately make the biggest difference to your heat bill.  All of these details together can make the difference of having to fill the tank a second time come the middle of January.

Indoor plumbing can be overrated.  Rent prices rise quickly with each accommodation, such as an indoor toilet, shower or even laundry facilities.  The work involved on your part as the tenant should dictate how much extra rent is worth the extra amenities.

One cabin I had to crawl underneath along the grey water glacier to chip away the icicle clogging the drainage every time I wanted a shower.   This was after I blow-dried the interior water pipes for half an hour just to get it flowing.

Lastly, remember that a wise man once said, “pooping inside is gross.”  Compost toilets attract flies, detract from the décor and have to be emptied!  Your outhouse seats should be lined with blue foam; it is much warmer than porcelain on that cold winter night.

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