For hundreds of years, concrete has ruled as the ideal building material. However, there is a better, more eco-friendly alternatives that are largely ignored — hemp.
Concrete is currently the most commonly used building material on the planet. Drive through any large city and you’d be hard-pressed to find any building that does not have some concrete. We produce more concrete than any other material.
However, the production of concrete is disastrous for the Earth. Making concrete requires heating up massive amounts of raw shale, limestone, and clay to temperatures of 825 degrees Celsius for ten hours at a time.
This process emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Up to 50 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions come from the construction sector, and eight percent of that is from the production of concrete.
Many experts believe that the degradation of concrete will pose a huge problem in the future. Like many other building and insulation materials, concrete is not recyclable at the end of its lifespan.
Therefore, both the production and disposal of concrete is bad for the environment. It is time to reconsider the use of concrete for the sake of the planet.
There is a surprising material that could potentially reduce our reliance on concrete and other less eco-friendly building materials — and that element is hemp.
The History Of Hemp
Hemp use as a building material dates back to Roman times. It was used to construct bridges back in the 6th century. Hemp has hundreds of uses.
It can be used for everything from clothing to biofuel. In fact, the first Levi jeans were made with hemp. However, the use of hemp for industrial use changed in the 1930’s —at least in the United States.
Hemp was first banned in the U.S. with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act. Then, in the 1970s, hemp was reclassified as an illegal Schedule I drug, which placed it on the list with drugs like heroin and LSD.
This legislation imposed very strict regulations on the cultivation of industrial hemp. Many historians believe that hemp was lumped with marijuana and made illegal because hemp posed a serious threat to several large industries, including the paper industry and likely the concrete industry, as well.
Since, until very recently, it was illegal to grow hemp, the industry was essentially squashed. The passage of the 2018 farm bill changed that. Now, farmers can legally grow hemp for industrial use.
However, because of the long-term prohibition of hemp in the U.S., hemp is often misunderstood. Its many industrial uses have been widely forgotten and many people confuse it with marijuana.
Marijuana Vs. Hemp
Although both marijuana and hemp were once lumped together under the United States list of controlled substances, they don’t have much in common.
About the only thing that these two have in common is that they both belong to the same species of plant — cannabis. Marijuana comes from the Cannabis Indica strain, while hemp comes from a strain called Sativa. The two strains of cannabis even look different
Marijuana is used mainly for recreational and medicinal purposes. Since it contains THC, the active ingredient that causes the “high” that users experience, it can produce a sense of relaxation.
Fun fact: Marijuana can contain as much as 30 percent THC.
Hemp, on the other hand, is cultivated for its fiber and used mainly for industrial applications. Hemp contains virtually no THC and will not get you high.
Hemp has tons of industrial applications — and one of those uses is in construction.
When the woody core of hemp is mixed with lime, it forms a natural concrete that is strong and resistant to mold, pests, and fire. The resulting material is called hempcrete. This biocomposite material ideal for all kinds of use in construction.
Now that the Farm Bill of 2018 has passed that allows American farmers to grow hemp for industrial use, a market is emerging for hemp as a building tool.
All across the United States, efforts are being made by farmers, architects, and builders to advocate for the use of hemp in construction.
Using hemp as a building tool is not a new idea. In fact, in other countries where hemp has not been criminalized, the material has been used with great success for many years.
There are many buildings in Europe and other places constructed with hempcrete.
In the United States, the use of hempcrete in construction is relatively new. The first house using hemp materials was built in Asheville, North Carolina in 2010.
This 3,400 square foot house actually pulls carbon dioxide from the air. Conceived by Push Design Architects, this house is extremely eco-friendly. It has an incredibly light footprint and is light on energy usage. Check out the house here.
Characteristics Of Hempcrete
Instead of exploiting the Earth’s resources, hempcrete helps preserve them. Hempcrete is an ideal material to create an environmentally-sensitive home or workspace. Here are some of the characteristics of hempcrete:
- Hempcrete is better for the environment than many other building materials. Hemp is a very fast-growing and hardy crop. It can grow in a variety of climates and soil types.
- Hemp actually improves soil health. Food crops can be immediately grown in the soil right after hemp is harvested.
Hempcrete is a great material for maximizing energy efficiency. It helps maintain a consistent indoor temperature both during the summer and winter months. This property can help significantly lower energy costs over the long run.
Captures airborne pollutants over time.
Because hempcrete pulls pollutants from the air, it contributes to a much healthier living environment. In fact, hemp was used at Chernobyl to extract pollutants and toxins from the groundwater and soil.
Absorbs carbon from the environment.
Unlike concrete and other building materials, hempcrete does not emit carbon dioxide into the air.
- In fact, it has the opposite effect. The process of growing and harvesting hemp pulls carbon dioxide from the air. The amount of carbon dioxide that hemp uses is more than it releases when mixed with lime.
Hempcrete is a naturally insulating material. It has both thermal and acoustic insulation features, meaning that it can help regulate both temperature and sound within a building.
- Hempcrete insulates against both cold and heat making it ideal for almost any climate.
Resistant to rot.
When used above the ground, hemp is resistant to rot.
Hempcrete helps regulate moisture levels in buildings. The material is “breathable” allowing moisture to pass through the walls rather than becoming trapped inside. This reduces the risk of mold and other moisture-related problems.
The average home in the U.S. lasts for approximately 80 years. Hemp construction can last for hundreds of years.
- After the building is demolished, the hemp can be recycled and used as a natural fertilizer.
Easy to use.
It is much easier to work and build with hempcrete than concrete. It has a low dust rate, which reduces the risk of respiratory and other dust-related problems.
- The material is non-toxic so workers are not exposed to harmful chemicals when using this material every day.
Hempcrete industry grows due to its many uses in construction. The material cannot be used for structure or foundation because it needs to breathe.
With the exception of those limitations, hempcrete is suitable for almost any project. The material is ideal for both new construction and renovation jobs. It has many uses like:
- Interior and exterior insulation
- Partition walls
Because of its ability to regulate humidity, hempcrete is especially suited for the renovation of older buildings and projects where humidity levels are critical, such as swimming pools, sports halls, and museums.
Hemp has many benefits. This is why it is a huge player in the building industry. With the recent changes