Written by Colby Dunn
If someone said the word “hemp,” the first thing to spring to mind probably wouldn’t be home construction. But if you’re looking for a strong, green, energy-efficient building material that’s resistant to pretty much everything, hemp might be your best choice.
This is the concept being pitched by Greg Flavall and David Madera, owners of an Asheville-based business called Hemp Technologies. They’re some of the first to build with the material in the United States, where industrial hemp hasn’t seen the rise in popularity it enjoys in other countries, thanks to a federal ban on U.S. production.
Its recognition is slowly ramping up, though, due in part to its benefits over standard concrete. The third house in the country to be built with the technology is going up now, in the mountains above Lake Junaluska.
Roger Teuscher, the homeowner, said he was turned on to the idea by his first architect, who suggested the plant as a cleaner, greener alternative to standard homebuilding supplies. Tuescher, who lives most of the year in Florida, said he was drawn not only to the cost savings gained by increased insulation, but by the product’s recyclability.
“The whole house can be recycled,” said Teuscher. “The house itself you can take down, grind it up and put it back into another house.”
And that’s a far cry from standard concrete homes. But Flavall, whose company is providing the hemp for Teuscher’s home, said that with hemp-built homes, it’s unlikely that he’d ever need to do that. While standard American homes have a shelf life of about 80 years, hemp-made homes will last much longer. The oldest known hemp structure, said Flavall, is a Japanese building that’s been standing for just more than three centuries.
For most customers, though, the real selling points are the product’s environmental friendliness and energy efficiency.
Because the hemp is mixed with lime to create the hempcrete that makes up walls, floors and ceilings, it is actually carbon negative – meaning it takes carbon from the air and locks it up into the fabric of the building. In the simplest terms, lime needs carbon to continue existing and hemp is a breathable substance, so hemp buildings will suck significant amounts of carbon from the air during the building process and will continue to breathe for the life of the structure.
Flavall said that this, combined with high levels of resistance to things like fire, mold, termites and other insects and the plant’s extreme capacity for insulation, make it the ideal building material.
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