In this video clip, meet two people leading the cob house movement. One is Misha Rauchwerger of Sonora, Calif., who managed to retroactively get a permit for the 400-square-foot cob home he built at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The other is alternative builder and designer Massey Burke, who is working with the city of Berkeley to test the safety of cob houses and develop rules for mass production. "I don't know if we're going to see cob subdivisions, but I think it will become hip," she said. Neither cob homeowner has earthquake insurance.
Cob homes stand out for their fanciful curves and unique shapes. They're a bit reminiscent of Hobbit holes from "The Lord of the Rings," and, perhaps coincidentally, they are more widely known in New Zealand, where the films were shot, and where residents are no stranger to seismic activity.
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The homes are fire resistant and termite-free, but can they survive the Big One? "I've never approved one, and it would be hard to get it through," said Luke Zamperini with the city of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. "One has to submit plans how to build one, and those plans would have to have compressive strength of clay and tinsel strength of the straw."
"A lot of that is, I think, fear of the unknown," said Rauchwerger, standing outside his cob home in an area known for moderate seismic activity. "Through this process we can start educating people."
—By CNBC's Jane Wells