Hemp is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world, and people have used it for thousands of years for a range of purposes. Not only does hemp provide nutritious food for both humans and livestock, but it also offers incredible health benefits. Furthermore, hemp fibers are long and robust, making them ideal for manufacturing textiles, rope, paper, and other useful products.
Despite this, if someone suggested building a house from hemp, you might think they are 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. But can you really build a house from hemp? In this article, we’ll separate the myths from the facts.
Hemp as a Building Material
Hemp is known for its strong and durable fibers. Therefore, it stands to reason that it could be useful 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 you can use to make bricks or panels for building. When dry, hempcrete forms a substance similar to limestone and has several advantages over traditional building materials:
- Sustainable and environmentally-friendly
- A fantastic insulator
- Light, non-toxic, and naturally resistant to mold
- Provides great acoustics
- Can be used for the interiors and exteriors of buildings
With so many advantages, it’s surprising that more people are not building their houses from hemp. There must be some pretty significant drawbacks.
Let’s take a look at the myths and facts surrounding building with hemp. We’ll also explain why the practice is not as commonplace as you might expect.
Can You Build a House from Hemp? Myths vs. Facts
Have you ever fantasized about building your own home? If you have, then have you considered the building materials that you would use? For some people, aesthetics are essential, in which case they may opt for some beautiful timber or even glass. Others 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 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 into different shapes to create various parts of your future home. Examples include:
- Wall panels
Hempcrete can even act as a replacement material for concrete 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 robust enough to construct load-bearing walls.
If you want to build a house from hemp, you will still need to use some other materials – for example, timber or steel – to create the house’s basic structure. You can then fill the walls by pouring hempcrete between wooden boards and remove them once it has set.
Unfortunately, you will need to use other materials for your foundations, too, as hempcrete isn’t 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. Therefore, hemp farmers can grow organically without the need for pesticides and herbicides.
Hemp’s short growth cycle means that an individual farm can produce several harvests each year. Additionally, hemp is good for the soil and can be grown in the same fields year after year. Therefore, hemp 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 produces an estimated 5% of global carbon emissions, with buildings, in general, producing as much as 50%. If more builders started using hemp, these figures would significantly decrease.
Hemp houses also act as an effective carbon sink, drawing excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Therefore, building with hemp is better than carbon-neutral; it’s a carbon-negative process!
As if that wasn’t enough, hemp houses are remarkably green, even after 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 uncommon. One challenge is finding 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, in 2010. The overall cost was approximately $452,200.
Although this may seem steep, hemp houses could actually save you money over time. As hemp is such an effective insulator, it can reduce the cost of heating or cooling your home significantly. A house built from hempcrete could save you as much as $14,000-$25,000 in energy bills over 50 years. These savings are likely to increase further as energy costs continue to rise.
Fact: Hemp Homes Are Good for Your Health
Hempcrete is a breathable material and can help to control moisture and condensation in your home. Therefore, there is far less chance of developing issues such as dampness and mold. This is excellent news for your health, especially if you suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma.
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 marijuana, it contains less than 0.3% THC, the chemical that produces intoxicating effects.
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
Up until recently, hemp was illegal to cultivate due to its close relationship with marijuana. It is the main reason why so few houses have been built using hemp.
However, the 2018 Farm Bill changed all that. 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:
PROS AND CONS Building a House from Hemp
- Sustainable and eco-friendly
- Durable and robust
- Can reduce humidity in your home
- Can be molded to different shapes and used inside, and out
- Insulating and resistant to mold
- Building with hemp may initially be expensive
- Not strong enough for load-bearing walls
- 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
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. The most obvious being the cost and specialized knowledge required to build a house using hemp.
However, these issues could be quickly 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, hemp houses could become much more commonplace in the future.