What is Hempcrete?

Hempcrete is a versatile building material utilized for a variety of projects around the world. It is composed of the woody core of the plant, or the “hurd”, as well as “shives”, which are then mixed with lime and water to bind it together. This can then be used in construction as a sustainable replacement for walls, floors, and insulation. There is a misconception that hempcrete can fully replace concrete, but hempcrete cannot be used as foundation, or in load-bearing situations. It is important to keep in mind the limitations of hempcrete when planning a to incorporate hempcrete into your home.

Hemp is a very easy to grow, low maintenance plant which was primarily seen as either a weed or an illegal substance in the past. The Romans did utilize it centuries ago in building projects, but it was only more recently rediscovered in this manner. France had initially led the way in Europe, generating large amounts of industrial hemp to be utilized in more sustainable buildings. Canada has been working with Industrial Hemp in a variety of industries since its legalization in 1998, although there has not been a widespread use of hempcrete. Australia and New Zealand have very strong sustainable housing communities in which hempcrete is more widely used and accepted.

What Are the Projects Most Popular for Hempcrete?

All the way back in the 6th century the Romans constructed bridges in France (then Gaul) out of this versatile material. These bridges are still standing strong to this day. Back as far as 8,000 years ago humans used hemp to make rope for making tools and other equipment.

Where have we gone since these times?

Hemp has been used to construct homes in places prone to flood and earthquakes. Hemp is easier to grow than other materials such as trees and it is easier to make and less environmentally intensive than concrete, and therefore in flood prone regions it is a better option than more traditional building materials. It is great for earthquake prone regions due to its lighter weight and ability to shift and adjust easily.

Lastly, hemp materials are known for the breathability of the structure and therefore for being excellent for maintaining a balanced temperature. It has the amazing ability to both keep heat in the winter, while allowing the walls to breath in the summer so as to keep a cool temperature. Therefore, as a replacement for traditional mortars and such, it has all the promise of solving some very obvious and frustrating homeowner issues.

Environmental Benefits of Hemp

As stated above, hemp is a fabulous insulating material that saves people a lot of money every year in energy expenses. Therefore, there is a great deal of wasted energy being expended in traditional houses which can be saved if hempcrete were to replace it. This means that there is much less waste and therefore a decreased carbon footprint by switching to hemp material. Hemp also removes CO2 from the atmosphere, which is important as concrete is thought to be one of the leading causes of Co2 emissions in the construction industry. Some estimates suggest that around 6% of global carbon emissions are a direct result of cement production.

Hemp is also known to use a very limited number of pesticides, and in some cases it can be grown pesticide free. Additionally, Hemp does not require an astronomical amount of water for production, making it a sustainable crop for farmers to incorporate into their rotation. Another great point to note is that the hurd required for hempcrete is almost always a secondary product of hemp, as hemp is typically grown for a) fiber, b) grain, or c) flower, and the hurd is a by-product of processing.

Has Hemp construction become popular in Canada and the USA?

Canada had a number of start-up companies after the restrictions were lifted. One of the companies to take on the challenge of Hempcrete was Just BioFiber Structural Solutions. This company has flourished, building a residency in Sooke completely composed of Hemp known as the “harmless home”. Since then, a number of companies have started to provide hempcrete due to its sustainability and great mechanical properties as a replacement for certain materials. As the green movement continues to take root in the country, these Lego-like hemp bricks have served to provide a sustainable building material for the construction industry.

In the US a result of the Hemp act of 2018, Hemp has begun to take its place in the spotlight once more as a highly prized building material. There are a number of companies that provide hempcrete, as well as pre-built hemp homes! One of the starkest differences between Canada and America when it comes to hemp, is the ambiguity associated with state law in the US, versus the Federal regulation of Canada.

Trade between states is difficult since the regulation of the growth of hemp has been left to each individual state, whereas in Canada the law was Federal and largely impacted the whole nation the same. This means that the progress of hemp has varied wildly in the USA, since each state has seen a different level of regulation and stigma. Once the US is able to formulate smooth SOP’s for domestic trade, Hemp in the US can truly flourish, which will definitely have an impact on the Canadian Hemp Industry – this is something to keep in mind.

At the end of the day, Industrial Hemp has only been legal for just over 20 years in Canada, and three years (at the time of writing this article) in the US, and as such the industry will continually see innovation and expansion, potentially making hempcrete more than just a niche product in the future.