by Bryce Wolfe
While the United States continues to ban the cultivation of industrial hemp because of its relationship to marijuana, other countries recognize the plant’s considerable economic and environmental benefits. The soft, hardy fiber can be found in paper, clothing and, increasingly, in houses. In the United Kingdom, Bath University researchers have constructed a building dubbed the “HemPod” in order to test the suitability of hemp as a building material.
The walls of the one-story HemPod consist of a hemp-lime mixture, made from the chopped core of the industrial hemp plant and a lime-based binder. The lime-based binder sticks to and protects the hemp fibers, making the material resistant to fire. Besides being drought- and pest-resistant, industrial hemp absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows and can be sustainably harvested. According to researchers, a soccer field-sized area can grow enough hemp in three months to build a typical three-bedroom house. The rest of the plant, like its seeds, can then be used for food or oil.
Hemp houses already exist in countries like Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, but the HemPod will be used purely for scientific testing. Researchers plan to monitor the house for 18 months using temperature and humidity sensors within its walls, to determine how quickly heat and water vapor pass through the material.
Ashville, North Carolina residents Russ Martin and Karon Korp can vouch for its insulating power. Last month CNN interviewed the couple, who own the first house in America constructed mainly from hemp materials, and Martin reported that the monthly cooling bill for the 3400 sq. ft. building was only $100. In appearance, the Ashville building is sleek and modern, dispelling the tie-dye stereotypes that surround hemp.