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As Wildfires Get Bigger and Deadlier, Insurance Is Harder to Find

Paradise, California, lost nearly 14,000 homes to this year's Camp Fire. Homeowners there are among those who will find it increasingly difficult to get fire insurance. (Photo: California National Guard / CC / Flickr) Wildfires in California are putting new demands on insurance companies and making it tougher for homeowners to buy policies in high-risk areas. The New York Times reports that 3 million of the state’s 8 million houses are located in the wildland-urban interface, areas where towns and cities give way to more fire-prone grasslands and forests. About a third of all U.S. houses have been built on…


Redrawing the World’s Climate Maps

As human-caused emissions change the planet’s atmosphere and people reshape the landscape, things are changing fast. The receding line of Arctic ice has made headlines for years, as the white patch at the top of our planet shrinks dramatically. The ocean is rising, gobbling up coastlines. Plants, animals, and diseases are on the move as their patches of suitable climate move too. Sometimes, the lines on the map can literally be redrawn: the line of where wheat will grow, or where tornadoes tend to form, where deserts end, where the frozen ground thaws, and even where the boundaries of the…


Tiny Houses in the Woods

Getaway has spread 80 tiny houses in clusters around three major East Coast cities and has plans to expand across the U.S. (Photo: Getaway) A pair of Harvard entrepreneurs is putting a new twist on a very old idea: spending a few days in the woods is good for what ails you. But rather than recommending tent space at a state campground, or a slot at an RV park, Getaway suggests renting one of its tiny houses within a two-hour drive of a major urban center. The company is the invention of two Harvard grads, Pete Davis and Jon Staff.…


Urban Rustic: Choosing Windows

Editor’s note: This post is one of a series by Eric Whetzel about the design and construction of his house in Palatine, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. A list of Eric’s previous posts appears below. For more details, see Eric’s blog, Kimchi & Kraut. When my wife’s cousin found out we were trying to build a high-performance new home (a mix of Passive House and Pretty Good House), he suggested we incorporate his company’s self-tinting glass. Used largely in commercial applications since its introduction, the product (Suntuitive) is beginning to make inroads into the residential market as the cost comes…


Help for an Ailing Water Heater

Pat Beurskens has been happy with his heat-pump water heater, but he fears the time is coming when it won’t be able to keep up with demand. He foresees the day when his young daughter will be using more hot water, and Beurskens is finishing out the basement of his Seattle home to be used as a rental. That, too, will increase hot water use. Against this backdrop, Beurskens’s GE Geospring, a model that has been discontinued, is showing signs of fatigue. “Lately,” he writes in a post at the Q&A forum, “the water heater has been maxing out after…


The UK’s Biomass Problem

The McNeil Generating Station in Burlington, Vermont, consumes about 76 tons of wood chips per hour when running at full tilt. The 50-megawatt plant, built for $67 million in 1984, can also run on natural gas or oil. (Photo: Burlington Electric Department / NREL) I’m freshly off a two-week stint in the United Kingdom, a visit that came just as the climate scientists convened by the United Nations released their no-holds-barred report showing what we all need to do to forestall the worst impacts of climate change. In many ways, the UK is making impressive progress toward meeting this challenge:…

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