Hemp is famed as one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world and has been used for thousands of years for a range of purposes. Not only does hemp provide nutritious food for both humans and livestock, but it also has a wealth of incredible benefits for your health. Furthermore, hemp fibers are long and strong, making them ideal for manufacturing textiles, rope, paper, and a whole host of other useful products.
Despite this, if someone suggested building a house from hemp, you would be forgiven for thinking they were a little crazy. After all, we all know what happened to the little pigs who built their houses from straw and sticks!
However, hemp is now gaining a great deal of attention as a durable and environmentally-friendly building material, throwing our preconceptions about building with it out of the water. But can you really build a house from hemp? We separate the myths from the facts.
Hemp as a Building Material
Hemp is known for its strong and durable fibers, so it stands to reason that, sooner or later, someone would try and use it as a building material. However, the process is not as simple as bundling together a bunch of hemp stalks and stacking them up to construct a wall. First, you need to make something known as ‘hempcrete.’
Hempcrete is a bio-composite material made from the woody stems of the hemp plant. The stem’s core, known as the shiv or hurds, is shredded and mixed with lime and water to bind it. This process creates a mixture with a porridge-like consistency which can be used to make bricks or panels for building. When dry, hempcrete forms a substance similar to limestone and has several advantages over traditional building materials:
- Hemp is sustainable and environmentally-friendly
- Hemp is a fantastic insulator
- Hemp is light, non-toxic, and naturally resistant to mold
- Hemp provides great acoustics
- Hemp can be used for the interiors and exteriors of buildings
With so many advantages, it’s a wonder that everyone isn’t already building their houses from hemp. There must be some pretty major drawbacks, right?
Let’s take a look at the myths and facts surrounding building with hemp, and why the practice is not as commonplace as you might expect.
Can You Build a House from Hemp? Myths vs. Facts
If you have ever fantasized about building your own home, you will hopefully have considered your building materials. For some people, aesthetics are key, in which case they may opt for some beautiful timber or even glass. Others would prefer to use greener alternatives and might choose to build their dream home using reclaimed or recycled materials.
Whatever your personal preference, you probably haven’t considered hemp as a viable option. However, these facts may just help to change your mind!
Fact: Hemp is an Amazing Building Material
Hemp is an ideal building material for several reasons. It is strong, durable, light-weight, and naturally resistant to pests, mold, and even fire.
Hempcrete can also be molded to different shapes to create various parts of your future home. This includes bricks, wall panels, insulation, flooring, roofing, caulking, and render. Hempcrete can even act as a replacement for concrete in pipes.
Myth: You Can Build an Entire House from Hemp
Although you can manufacture many of the parts needed to build a house from hemp, there are a few limitations. For example, hempcrete is strong, but not strong enough to construct load-bearing walls.
If you want to build a house from hemp, you will still need to use some other materials such as timber or steel to create its basic structure. The walls can then be filled in by pouring hempcrete between wooden boards which can be removed once it is set.
You will need to use other materials for your foundations too as hempcrete is not suitable for use below ground level. You will also need to use traditional methods for your electrics and plumbing.
Fact: Hemp Houses are Green and Sustainable
Hemp is a fast-growing crop which is naturally resistant to pests. It can, therefore, be grown without the need for pesticides and herbicides, and each farm can produce several harvests each year. In addition to this, hemp is good for the soil and can be grown in the same fields year after year. It is a wonderful crop for both farmers and environmentalists alike!
The process of manufacturing hempcrete is also good for the planet as it does not require the use of heat. Traditional concrete manufacturing is thought to produce around 5% of global carbon emissions, with buildings in general producing as much as 50%. These figures could be slashed if more builders started using hemp.
Hemp houses also act as an effective carbon sink, drawing excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. This means that building with hemp is better than carbon-neutral. It is a carbon negative process!
As if that wasn’t enough, hemp houses are remarkably green, even once they are no longer habitable. Hempcrete can be easily recycled, used as biomass fuel, or even sawn up and left to degrade naturally.
Myth: Hemp Houses are More Expensive than Regular Houses
Hemp houses are still highly unusual, and that means that you need to find contractors with specialist knowledge about how to build them. Unsurprisingly, this can drive up costs considerably. The first hemp house to be built in the United States was in Asheville, North Carolina and cost approximately $452,200 to build way back in 2010.
Although this may seem steep, hemp houses could actually save you money over time. Because hemp is such an effective insulator, it can reduce the cost of heating or cooling your home significantly. It is estimated that a house built from hempcrete could save as much as $14,000-$25,000 in energy bills over the course of 50 years. These savings are likely to increase further as energy costs spiral out of control.
Fact: Hemp Homes are Good for Your Health
Hempcrete is a breathable material and can help to control moisture and condensation in your home. This means it has far less chance of developing issues such as damp and mold. This is great news for your health, especially if you suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma or allergies.
Myth: Hemp Homes Can Get You High
In case there was ever any doubt, hemp homes definitely cannot get you high. Although hemp is related to the marijuana which is used medicinally or recreationally, it contains less than 0.3% THC, the compound responsible for weed’s psychoactive effects.
Therefore, living in a house made from hemp does not mean you will be walking around perpetually stoned. Whether that is a good or bad thing is really up to you!
Fact: Hemp Homes are 100% Legal to Build
One of the most significant reasons why hemp houses are not more popular is that, up until recently, hemp was illegal to cultivate due to its close relationship with psychoactive marijuana.
However, the 2018 Farm Bill changed all that, and it is now completely legal to grow and use hemp providing it contains less than 0.3% THC. This is even true in places where other forms of cannabis are still banned.
Pros and Cons of Building a House from Hemp
As with any building material, hemp has many advantages and disadvantages. To summarize, here are the main pros and cons of building a house with hemp:
|Building a House from Hemp||1||2||3||4||5|
|Pros||Hemp is sustainable and eco-friendly||Hemp is durable and robust||Hemp can reduce humidity in your home||Hemp can be molded to different shapes and used inside, and out||Hemp is insulating and resistant to mold|
|Cons||Building with hemp may initially be expensive||Hemp is not strong enough for load-bearing walls||Hemp cannot be used to lay foundations||Specialist contractors may be required to build houses using hemp||Hempcrete requires time, shelter, and dry conditions to set|
Can You Build a House from Hemp? Final Thoughts
As you can see, hemp has many advantages as a building material. It is green, durable, versatile, and good for your health. It also has some limitations, of course, with the most obvious being the cost and specialized knowledge required to build using hemp.
However, these are both issues which could quickly be resolved if more people start building houses from hemp. Increased demand is sure to drive down costs and make building with hemp even more attractive over time.
With concerns about the environment increasing by the day, combined with the current trend for hemp legalization, it is entirely possible that hemp houses could become much more commonplace in the future.