As agencies around the world place increasing emphasis on green building practices, a certain product holds the potential to blaze an unprecedented trail through the American construction industry. Deemed Hempcrete, this material is not necessarily new to the world of structural creation; in fact, variations of the product have been in use as long as many of the building elements commonly relied upon to date. Just as its moniker implies, Hempcrete is made from lime, water and the internal portions of cannabis stems.
Dispelling a Widespread Myth
While still falling into the cannabis classification, the strain used in production of Hempcrete is entirely different from the one used in medical and recreational applications. Whereas the latter contains up to 10 percent THC, the hallucinogenic component in marijuana, the former holds only 0.3 percent. Ken Anderson, a top name in Hempcrete production, noted, “You could smoke a telephone pole’s worth of our stuff and still not get high.”
“It’s like the difference between a wolf and a poodle,” said James Savage, another developmental frontrunner, “same species, totally different animal.” Formerly a Wall Street analyst, Savage is now owner-operator of Green Built, a company championing the use of hemp in numerous elements of construction. Though he is being met with a great deal of resistance from those heading the construction sector, he has implemented his products in his own home as well as his company’s headquarters.
Benefits of Hemp-Based Construction
Being a farmed product as opposed to mined or synthetically manufactured, sustainability could be considered among the greatest advantages to joining the hemp movement in this particular sector. From seed to full fruition, the growing process takes a mere 14 weeks. Waste is also kept at a minimum. Since Hempcrete is made from organic matter, water and lime, a widely used gardening commodity, excess product can easily be tilled into the ground as fertilizer for the next crop. This is only the beginning of the product’s benefits.
Carbon Reduction: By taking in carbon rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, Hempcrete construction methods produce approximately 20,000 pounds less carbon than other means.
Energy Conservation: Concrete requires a great deal of thermal energy during production whereas Hempcrete does not. This means significantly fewer natural resources are consumed when creating products made from hemp.
Efficiency: Mixtures made from hemp have an innate inclination for heat transfer; as such, they serve much the same purpose as electricity and fuel driven heating and cooling systems. They pull heat inside a structure or send it outside depending on the temperature, making them 75 percent more efficient than traditional building materials. The climate within a standard home could be controlled for as little as $50 a month on average when using Hempcrete.
Longevity: Homeowners can expect conventional materials to last an average of 70 years; in contrast, structural components made of hemp-based products are said to hold up to the elements for thousands of years.
Strength: Despite being a strong and enduring material, Hempcrete is also flexible, making it up to 300 percent more to invulnerable to earthquake damage than its marketed counterpart.
Fire Resistance: When fully set, Hempcrete exhibits considerable resistance to fire. In one test performed by Building with Hemp author Steve Allin, a block of this substance was exposed to a flame at point-blank range for about 10 minutes. Though visibly singed, fire damage extended only slightly past the surface of the block at the end of the trial.
Versatility: Hempcrete presents a ground-up solution to home building. It can be used for foundations, flooring, inside walls and in roofing as well as numerous other applications.
Aside from those previously mentioned advantageous aspects, Hempcrete is a mold-resistant medium weighing seven times less than concrete. It produces none of the toxins commonly associated with other materials and is virtually maintenance free from farming to fabrication and beyond. This material could possibly eliminate the need for insulation, furthering its practicality in construction.
Currently, the disadvantages of implementing Hempcrete in building lie in legislature rather than the material itself. Though no laws exist regarding the use of hemp in construction, even the hallucinogen-lacking strain of cannabis cannot legally be grown in the United States. While actual production is a relatively inexpensive process, hemp must be imported from other countries, driving up the cost of offering Hempcrete to those in the market to build or remodel a home.
High-end consumers able to afford Hempcrete face additional challenges when it comes to home inspections. Since this remains a relatively obscure material in the United States, lack of knowledge among inspectors keeps this hurdle steadfast. Asheville, North Carolina architect Tim Callahan stated, “If you show them two-by-fours filled with fiberglass, they know what they’re dealing with, but you mention hemp, and they scratch their heads.”
Hempcrete is currently being used in vast supply across the world in countries where cannabis growth has not been outlawed. Real estate experts had no doubt the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes would have a significant impact on the housing market in the 23 states and the District of Columbia where favorable legislation has been passed. These beliefs revolved primarily around sales; the field of construction was nothing more than an afterthought for them.
Savage, Anderson and several other advocates for hemp’s considerable potential continue to push for change. Executive Director Eric Steenstra of the Hemp Industries Association is also among those supporting the cause, saying, “Some people thought hemp might help get marijuana accepted, but it’s going the other way around.” With its array of health-related, economic and environmental benefits, not to mention changes on the horizon in favor of hemp’s sister strain, the future of Hempcrete in the United States appears promising. Homeowners and construction companies alike are hoping America will follow in the footsteps of other countries in this respect.