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Not Wind Nor Fire Will Blow These Straw Houses Down

Developers in the U.K. have made the first commercially available straw bale houses.

Image courtesy of ModCell.

A British company called ModCell is unveiling a line of seven new prefabricated townhomes for the market—and they’re all made of straw. Your first instinct might be to make a “Three Little Pigs” reference, but these houses bear no resemblance to the flimsy structures depicted in the well-known fairy tale. These straw bale houses are not just low-cost, they’re also environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

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Why You Will Soon Be Building Your Home With Hempcrete

As hemp and cannabis gain cultural currency, a new approach to construction emerges.

Courtesy of D-Kuru / Wikimedia Commons

As state after state slowly moves towards marijuana legalization, it seems like everyone is trying to cash in on the pot-farming boom. But legalization opens the door to a world of innovation and entrepreneurship that’s a lot wider than new, inventive ways to get high, like weed sodas. In “green rush” states like Colorado, farmers are taking advantage of the new legal environment to sow fields of hemp, marijuana’s THC-deficient cousin. Because of its relationship to cannabis, hemp has been illegal in America for over 60 years, despite a consistent chorus of supporters who have touted its use as a natural fiber and food supplement in Canada and Europe. Compared to the economic potential of legalized marijuana, that of pot’s fibrous cousin seems like small potatoes. Yet one use of the plant could revolutionize construction in the U.S., creating a new, lucrative industry for growers: Hempcrete.

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Build a Better Home with These Alternative Construction Methods

One summer during high school I worked a seasonal landscaping job. The crew was made up of unskilled lawnmower jockeys—like myself—and skilled tradesmen who, for one reason or another, found themselves temporarily unable to work in their trade. I once asked a new member of the team what he did for a living. He chuckled derisively and said, “I slap together toothpicks wrapped in plastic.”

One summer during high school I worked a seasonal landscaping job. The crew was made up of unskilled lawnmower jockeys—like myself—and skilled tradesmen who, for one reason or another, found themselves temporarily unable to work in their trade. I once asked a new member of the team what he did for a living. He chuckled derisively and said, “I slap together toothpicks wrapped in plastic.”

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Report Backs Up the Idea That College Shouldn't Be the Goal

You won't need a B.A. in anthropology to be an electrician or a dental hygienist.


Is President Obama's laser-like focus on students going to and graduating from college all wrong? According to a team researchers out of Harvard, yes. The just-released "Pathways to Prosperity" (PDF) report claims that instead of making college the ultimate goal, students actually need vocational education for so-called blue collar professions. Why? That's where the jobs of the future are.

Forty-seven million new jobs will be created by 2018, and although almost two-thirds will require some education beyond high school, they won't all require a college degree. Some of the fastest growing jobs—like construction worker, electrician, dental hygienist, police officer, or home health care aide—only require vocational certificates or specialized training. And, even though some of those positions don't carry much social prestige, 27 percent of current blue collar work actually pays more than many jobs that require bachelor's degree.

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Ventura Beach Retreats from Damage of Rising Seas

A bike path and parking lot in Ventura, California, will retreat 65 feet inland to escape rising sea levels. Expect more of this.


The Los Angeles Times reports that the beach known as Surfer's Point in Ventura, California, has begun a process of "managed retreat" from the ocean. A bike path and 120-spot parking lot—which, incidentally charges only $2 for entire days at the beach—currently face significant erosion from rising sea levels, so construction crews will move them 65 feet inland.

The effort by the city of Ventura is the most vivid example to date of what may lie ahead in California as coastal communities come to grips with rising sea levels and worsening coastal erosion. As the coastline creeps inland, scouring sand from beaches or eating away at coastal bluffs, landowners will increasingly be forced to decide whether to spend vast sums of money fortifying the shore or give up and step back. State officials say the $4.5-million project in Ventura is the first of its kind in California and could serve as a model for threatened sites along the coast.

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