Things to Consider Before Moving to Alaska: Part 2
Congratulations! You made it through Part 1 and you've decided that you can hack it in the Last Frontier. Now we can get down to some brass tacks. (Also, I thought for years that the saying was brass tax, but it's not. Thanks, internet.)
This was possibly one of the most shocking things about our move. I thought everywhere in the world could get Internet. No joke. EVERYWHERE. You could get a mobile hotspot or something. Yeah, not true.
Being someone who works from home, Internet was just slightly crucial for us. Also because of things that are now staples of existence like Netflix (which is obviously a driving life force for us) and playing Fortnite. But since I figured that you could get Internet pretty much anywhere (this is 2020, after all), we put an offer on a house in Alaska without first checking whether we could actually connect to the world wide web.
Fast forward a couple weeks and a friend asked us a fairly simple question that just about put the brakes on our entire plan: Can you get Internet at your house?
What. WHAT. How had this not occurred to us? We set off on frantic Google searches and calling up local Internet providers (of which there are few, I should add). Your options for Internet in Alaska are basically GCI, Alaska Communications, and HughesNet. But here's the trick . . . you generally only get GCI or Alaska Communications, and you're not going to get blinding speeds. Some places that can get one of those providers still don't have it yet and you actually have to put in a request to have internet service run out to your property. And I thought Internet was a given.
The other option, HughesNet, is satellite Internet. Satellites are way up in space and can reach anywhere on earth, right? WRONG. You have to be in a specific geographic area that has a direct and uninterrupted path to the satellite -- and when I say uninterrupted, I mean not even a tree in the way.
At this point in our research, our stomachs started to tighten realizing that we might have just gone under contract on a home that couldn't serve us cat memes and streaming. But hallelujah -- Alaska Communications and HughesNet both serve our area. We got lucky with HughesNet, because our property is on a hill that points directly at the satellite -- otherwise, Alaska Communications and their rather sluggish speeds might have been our only option.
Bullet dodged, but man . . . never did I think getting Internet access would be a legitimate concern in my life.
BONUS: Thanks to the FaceTime walkthrough that our friends did of the house prior to us making the purchase, we discovered that our future property has great AT&T service. SCORE. Trust me -- that's no small thing.
Ever tried maneuvering a front-wheel-drive sedan over black ice in blowing wind? Maaaaan, that's a fun time.
Alaska serves up some pretty unique and challenging driving conditions. Of course, winter brings snow, wind, ice, and all of those fun things. But don't forget what Alaskans call "breakup" -- that shoulder season at the tail end of winter when all of the snow is melting off and the ground becomes a soup of muck and mire that would scare even the doomed dinosaurs who got stuck in tar pits. So yeah . . . some ground clearance and AWD/4WD is a must. Unless you plan to only stick to the paved streets of the "cities" of Fairbanks and Anchorage . . . but if that's your plan, then why are you even moving to Alaska? If you're like us, you want to get off the beaten path and truly experience the wilderness. Your Nissan Sentra ain't gonna cut it.
Our situation is especially unique because we not only have a toddler, we also have a Great Dane and an English Bulldog. The Bulldog doesn't cause many vehicle issues, but a 135lb Great Dane sure does. So any vehicle of ours needs to have r o o m to spare.
Right now, we still have our Lower 48 vehicle, a Maxda CX-9, which is working fine for our family, but Daniel wants a true exploration vehicle that he can take into the backcountry. Right now, the front runner for us is the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro. We'd put a camper shell on the back so the dogs have their space and throw a roof-mounted tent on top so our little family can camp out in the brush in relative safety.
What're your thoughts on a perfect Last Frontier vehicle?
Here's another thing that we learned from our Fairbanks friends that we otherwise would've had to learn the hard way . . . energy efficiency in a home up there is a realllll thing. Like, if your home isn't insulated properly, you could easily spend as much on utilities as you do on your mortgage. I don't know about you, but I'm not moving to Alaska with the goal of being saddled with monthly bills that are so high that we can't afford to go out and have some fun.
The Alaska Interior (which includes Fairbanks) gets much colder than some of the coastal areas, and winters can easily see quite a few times when the temps are hanging out at -40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you thought it got chilly in your house when dropped below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, just imagine what that kind of cold would feel like. Triple-paned windows and ridiculously thick and insulated walls are a must-have if you're going to be living up north.
The house we are currently under contract on is actually made of Arxx Blocks, which are essentially foam walls that are then filled with concrete. We scored on this find, because you would be hard-pressed to find better insulating materials than these. The house temps stay incredibly stable and even during the dead of winter, the previous owners only had to use a bag and a half of wood pellets per day to heat the whole house. That's a whopping daily cost of about $7, totaling about $210 for the month. We can't even heat our 3,000 sq ft home in Virginia Beach for that during the winter.
Summary: Don't lose your shirt trying to keep out the cold.
I feel some kind of strange way about lumping water in with Internet, but those are the two things I definitely thought you could get anywhere in the modern world. But guess what -- Alaska isn't the modern world. It's a mix of the wayyyyy back past before man spoiled things and the future once the earth decides that it's had enough of our species. Not sure if that's comforting or terrifying, but hey -- that's Alaska!
Up there, you'll find these things called "dry cabins" and they are exactly that -- dry. No running water. You have to have water delivered to a tank or go and get it for yourself. I don't know about you, but I'm not trying to be all Jack and Jill going up a hill to fetch a pail of water every time we want a cup of goddamn tea. Maybe that's a gross exaggerations, but you get my point. If things like running water are important to you, keep that in mind when you're looking for a place to live.
COST OF LIVING
In Part 1, we talked about how effing far Alaska is from everything, and guess what -- that impacts the prices of all of the goods and services as well. You want a case of Coke (not Pepsi, because Coke is life) or a DiGiorno frozen pizza? Be prepared to rustle up a few more coins, because it took those items a lot of miles to get to the frozen section of your local grocery store.
Likewise, you'll probably find that fuel and many other daily life staples have a little bit higher cost than you would find in the Lower 48.
BUT. The nice trade off is that Alaska doesn't have any sales tax (!), so the price on the sticker is the price you pay. They're making enough money off of oil up there to not have to worry about a pesky little thing like sales tax. Fun fact -- Alaska also doesn't have local income tax.
No doubt we'll find more pro tips and things to consider as we continue our journey to the Frozen North, but for now, this will get us started! Stay tuned to see if there's a Part 3 . . .