"The lesson of the Three Little Pigs isn't to avoid straw. It's that you don't let a pig build your house."


keeping out state inspectors

In California, there are earthquakes. There are also wolves. But the former are a bigger threat to the stability of non-fairytale, non-porcine homes.

A fun fact about straw:

A "test conducted at the University of Nevada's large-scale structures laboratory showed that straw-bale constructions could withstand twice the amount of ground motion recorded in the Northridge earthquake that hit Los Angeles in 1994."

So if you happened to own a farm 11 miles from the San Andreas Fault, straw starts to look pretty attractive as a building material.

The state of California does not find this novel idea appealing:

The cards were stacked against Warren Brush, the director of a not-for-profit farm in Cuyama, California, when local officials learned in 2006 that he had several buildings made of straw bales on his land. They have tried to fine him. A lot. But the case is still unresolved. The problem is that California's building codes make no provision for the use of straw.

Read the whole story, complete with a bunch of Three Little Pigs jokes and other straw puns, at The Economist.

NEXT: Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker on The Federal Fiscal Crisis

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  1. Jesus, Katherine, what does this have to do with libertarianism? Is this a fucking idee fixe cult, or isn’t it?
    What’s your take on BP?

    1. “Jesus, Katherine, what does this have to do with libertarianism?”

      It is a case of government interfering in the private affairs of individuals.

      1. Ah, of course. Sorry, Katherine. Keep your eyes peeled for more really interesting stuff. the faithful are counting on you.

        1. Max, if you hate this site why do you keep coming back?

          1. It keeps him from being a man and finally pulling the trigger.

          2. I love this site. It makes me realize how utterly hopeless the right wing agenda is. Have you noticed how poorly this libertarian shit actually sells? You’re such fucking losers. It’s fun to watch you.

            1. “the right wing agenda”

              Do you mean the right wing agenda that supports gay rights, decriminalizing drugs, decriminalizing prostitution and is skeptical of war? Is that the right wing agenda you mean Max?

              1. It the words of SugarFree:

                Don’t be his porn.

              2. Max|6.24.10 @ 3:29PM|#

                Go suck ron puals dick, morons. You peeple are fucking retarded. I`m done coming to this wingnut sight. this is my last post.

            2. Max, if the libertarian agenda is utterly hopeless and sells poorly, then why are you so concerned about it?

              By your own reasoning (such as it is) your the equivalent of the snarky gentry who liked to tour Our Lady of Bethlehem (Bedlam) lunatic asylum to taunt the inmates. Classy.

      2. Click on About on the left hand side of the page and you will see

        Reason is the monthly print magazine of “free minds and free markets.” It covers politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews. [italics added]

        1. I was eager to read the “What they are saying” bit at the “About” page but sadly the links are no longer active.

          Maybe Reason will use some “Max” quotes just for the hell of it. Hahahahaha, not really.

    2. Edward, go back to playing with your Real Doll?.

      1. And you go suck Ron Paul’s cock, moron.

        1. Max|6.24.10 @ 3:29PM|#

          Go suck ron puals dick, morons. You peeple are fucking retarded. I`m done coming to this wingnut sight. this is my last post.

      2. Like he could afford one.

  2. Fucking Pigs

  3. They have tried to fine him. A lot.

    If a bureaucrat sees something that confuses them, they must stop it, because their feeble minds are terrified of something new.

    1. You forgot that it’s also “for the children.”

    2. Of course! If it is not a top-down design, then it obviously is unfair and must be shut down.

    3. Don’t forget donors’ interests.


    1. Dammit, P Brooks. Beat me to it.

  5. Go suck ron puals dick, morons. You peeple are fucking retarded. I`m done coming to this wingnut sight. this is my last post.

    1. Don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you.

    2. *weep, weep, sniffle*
      Please Max, don’t go!
      *sniffle, weep, sniffle*

    3. There really IS a God!

    4. If only.

  6. Straw buildings seem like a great idea, as long as you don’t have any open flames within 100 feet of them.

    1. That’s why you spray down the outside with pine tar, stupid.

      1. They’re also covered on all open surfaces by stucco.

      2. Liberally dusted with powdered magnesium as the tar dries.

        (Hey, if we’re gonna burn this sucker down, I want it to look as cool as possible.)

        1. We like your style! How do you feel about dogs?

          1. Actually, SWAT likes to SHOOT dogs. Then eat them.

            (Ok – that last part I made up.)

    2. Straw bale construction has the same fire rating as concrete structure.

      1. citation needed

    3. Have you ever tried to burn a tightly-packed bale of straw, Warty? Even with a blow-torch or a flamethrower?

      Even without flame-retardant treatment, straw bales are surprisingly, robustly fire-resistant. The commonly-held belief that straw buildings are tinder-boxes is just an urban myth. (“Urban,” because any country-boy or -girl who has ever worked with them will know differently.) By the time your straw bale walls catch fire — if they ever do — you will have much bigger problems to solve.

      1. Yeah I don’t know. I saw a barn full of straw bales burn down once. Now granted there was a lot of loose straw and wood to get the thing started. But it’s not like the bales survived the inferno.

        1. If you get organic things hot enough, they will burn. But the common misconception is that straw bales are much more combustible than, say, the wood in the barn surrounding them, when the opposite is true. I didn’t say that bales were fireproof, only that they were robustly resistant to burning.

          Warren, by the time you saw the bales burning, there was already no saving the barn, or most of the things inside, I’ll bet. That’s what I was talking about when I said “bigger problems” would overshadow the combustibility of straw bales.

      2. Country-boy or not, it makes perfect sense that a densely packed block of straw would be fire resistant. Those things are packed so damn tight the air supply is limited, so any fire would quickly run out of air and just smolder. Now, a fire inside of a straw bale house…that could get interesting. Ever seen Backdraft?

        1. Hay bales don’t really burn that much. But they will smolder for days, like giant hot coals.

          1. I know hay is quite flammable when it’s wet (ironically). I wonder if straw is the same way.

            1. hay is quite flammable when it’s wet

              Oh yes.

              We are having a problem here this year because there hasn’t been enough hot weather to dry the hay.

              Spontaneous combustion is a bitch.

    4. They get coated with plaster or stucco. It is really a pretty cool construction method. Not too suitable for places with a lot of freezing and thawing, but ideal for California.

    5. Apparently I was wrong. Consider me edumucated.

      1. I didn’t know about the stucco either. Sounds cool.

        I assume to stucco or plaster the inside as well?

        1. Yeah. It’s kind of a bitch to hang stuff on the wall from what I hear, but aside from that it’s nice on the inside. Supposed to provide great insulation as well.

          Me, I’m going for concrete when I build my next house.

          1. Hey palefaces! Ever heard of adobe? And not the flash makers either!

          2. It is more about the daily thermal cycle. There is so much mass to the structure that it takes longer than a day to heat up and then cools off at night. In this way the mass never gets uncomfortably warm. There are issues however. If the structure is located in an area that experiences very warm nights, the mass may not have a chance to cool off sufficiently and will load up over the coarse of the year until it’s like an oven inside. That’s why mass structures are better in the desert where it gets really cold at night. Now if you create an insulation envelope around the mass and install an HVAC system, you will have an incredibly efficient structure. The insulation keeps the structure from gaining or losing heat to the outside while the HVAC system just has to maintain the thermal mass at a constant temperature.

    6. That’s why you use weed instead. If it catches fire you just have a big party.

  7. So, they didn’t have any reason to fine him other than “that’s odd, a house made of straw?” Next time someone asks me why CA is going bankrupt, this will be exhibit #97.

    1. You’re only on #97. I have 97 terabytes of this shit.

  8. What’s sad is that straw bail construction is one of many supposedly “sustainable” building methods that I would have thought the lefty California government would love.

    1. I actually first heard about this in “The Economist” magazine and I thought the same thing when I read it. I was surprised that CA isn’t forcing people to use straw bail construction. Give it time, I suppose.
      Meanwhile they’ll make the guy in the article and other’s like him as miserable as they can.

      1. Californians might fear global warming, but they fear earthquakes more.

        Of course rationality has nothing to do with fear, otherwise all the people that live in basins and valleys would have mass structures instead of stick construction. The mass just floats over the ground as it moves beneath the structure. Now if you live on a hillside, you had better be embedded in bedrock.

        1. If I have to live in a region that suffers periodically from natural disasters, I would choose earthquakes. You can do something to prepare for, survive and thrive after earthquakes, unless the ground simply opens up and swallows your house. It’s harder to deal with tornadoes and hurricanes, floods, wildfires, lightning and hailstorms, locust and bee swarms, and other woes. If you have prepared properly, all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

          1. I’m from tornado country. Fuck tornadoes. I’ll take an earthquake.

    2. Not in my backyard! What if that strawhouse were to collapse on my children!

    3. Only when mandated by the overlords in Sacramento.

    4. First, this story comes out of Cuyama, which is a backwater that is closer (in both location and spirit) to California’s conservative, “bible belt” of the Central Valley than to the liberal power-centers on the coast. (It’s in the Los Padres National Forest area, about an hour out of Bakersfield.)

      Second, you might be surprised to learn that there are a great many places in the hills and interior valleys of California, where “hippies” and their “hippie ways” are not welcome. I would think that straw-bale buildings would initially be classified as “hippie ideas” by most of the people in “conservative California,” if only because use of the code-word “sustainable” by promoters of straw-bale construction would clue the locals in that the speakers were part of the liberal hippie establishment in occupied Sacramento.

      Third, straw-bale housing is seen as a way for people to do things for themselves — not involving union labor or licensed contractors. So, the unions and contractor associations, which by and large control the evolution of the building codes for the benefit and enrichment of their membership, have not been all that keen to jump on the straw-bale hay-wagon. Show these organizations that they can make a lot of money from straw-bale methods, while freezing out DIY efforts, and you’ll see corresponding changes in the building codes in a heartbeat.

      1. But that same area has a lot of that self-sufficient farm ethic thing going on, so that could trump the hippie association.

        A lot of people, even in CA, don’t realize just how red the central valley is.

        1. “But that same area has a lot of that self-sufficient farm ethic thing going on, so that could trump the hippie association.”

          Except that, obviously, it has not, at least in terms of locally building codes and practices, or there wouldn’t be a story here.

          “A lot of people, even in CA, don’t realize just how red the central valley is.”

          It’s not just the central valley, though that is definitely the main conservative region. Hill/mountain country is also usually very red. Everywhere but the coast and parts of the Emerald Triangle, in fact.

          People who actually study California’s history know that, at one time, even into the early 1960s, the State was considered reliably “red” (before the whole red-blue thing was invented), in the sense that, whether voting for Demos or GOP, California voters were fairly conservative. The descent into loony liberalism, which looks to me to have been spearheaded by immigrants from other States, didn’t really get going until the 1970s. But once it did, the fall was rapid.

          To be honest, the profound, destructive changes in my State that I have witnessed during my lifetime have often made me doubt the Constitution’s wisdom, in mandating the free flow of people and goods across State lines. But when I finally conclude that, on balance, the free-flow is a good thing, I must also be intellectually honest and support an equally free flow across the national border. Where I draw the line, however, is in allowing immigrants from other countries to become citizens and vote until there has been a sufficient assimilation process, and until they seem to understand and embrace our Constitutional ideals and renounce foreign allegiances. I have seen what letting immigrants (from other States) vote almost immediately, without proper assimilation, has done to California.

          1. Except that, obviously, it has not, at least in terms of locally building codes and practices, or there wouldn’t be a story here.

            I was referring to local sentiment more than bureaucratic sentiment.

          2. The descent into loony liberalism, which looks to me to have been spearheaded by immigrants from other States

            Now they’re coming to Texas.

  9. What’s sad is that straw bail construction is one of many supposedly “sustainable” building methods that I would have thought the lefty California government would love.

    They do. They have codes and subsidies and shit. Something important is missing from the story, and what’s there is wrong. But it’s The Economist. They don’t do whole, not-wrong stories.

  10. I wish I knew this before building my house out of Bud Light cans. What an explosive mess that turned out to be after our last earthquake.

    (I should have made it out of Yuengling. Then the walls would have at least been drinkable.)

  11. You have to admit that makes a LOT of sense.


  12. The only straw bale constructionthatCA will allow is if it is infill for a steel moment frame structure. Which is just stupid.

    You should also check out the probls that Nader Khalili had getting his superadobe technique approved for use in CA. Superadobe is basically sandbags and barbed wire (used as “mortar”)with stucco over it. They had to get a on-site seismic testing company to come out and test one of their experimental structures. They maxed out the machine and the state was still incredulous and requires remesh and shotcrete over the structure. Nevermind that a remesh and shotcrete dome structure would be structurally sound without the superadobe construction below.

    1. See my comment above about how the contractor associations and construction unions own the building codes and adjust them as necessary to get the most benefit for their members. Why allow a new construction method, making members’ expertise obsolete and requiring them to get additional training? Better to require the old methods as “mandatory failsafes” for any new methods that are proposed.

  13. Forget about fire. How resistant is the straw to sasquatch attacks? I could see Steve Smith making short work of a straw cottage.

    1. If he adapts to desert conditions, we’re all doomed anyway.

      1. The California Desert Sasquatch

        It was near 2:00 in the morning on a clear autumn night in 1977 when Corey Rudolph and I pulled up to the dead end street in Corona; on the northeast slope of the Santa Ana Mountain Range in Southern California. Only two years had passed since the reports offered by Alan Berry and Anne Slate of several good Bigfoot reports at this location. Corey and I were still neophytes at this, yet extremely interested in learning as much as we could about these desert man-beasts. Although neither of us were sure of our beliefs in such animals, we were determined to find the truth.


  14. Sixty comments and no jokes about strawman arguments? You people sicken me.

  15. “They have tried to fine him. A lot. But the case is still unresolved. The problem is that California’s building codes make no provision for the use of straw.”

    Translated: If it’s not explicitly approved, then it’s illegal. Kind of like how the jackasses in DC want to / do operate.

  16. There are a few straw bale houses in my neighborhood. The one I checked out was pretty neat

  17. Hmmm, an art instructor at the local college and her husband have a straw bale house here in northern California. There’s also a restaurant made out of straw bales not far from here. I wonder if they’ve encountered the same harassment.

  18. Hello Katherine,
    Thank you for the interesting article. Do you know how it turned out for the property owner? We sell tools to
    straw bale

    home builders. In the last two years there has been a large growth in the number of people that just want to live their lives without the treat of Brother watching over them. Building with straw helps people feel closer to the something real.

    It would be nice to read an update of how the owner did against the government on this. Several years ago a local architect won a fight to build without permits. He did spend more on the fight than the original permits would have cost but it was good to see a victory for an owner/builder.
    Best regards,

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