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Sturdy Hemp Structures Could be the Future Eco-Building

Hemp may be the material to accelerate the development of a sustainable industry.

For many reasons, 2020 was a terrible year. Natural disasters caused immense pain. In early 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its billion-dollar disaster report, calling 2021 a “historic year of extremes.” 

The United States witnessed 22 disasters that cost the country billions of dollars in 2012. From hail to forest fires to hurricanes and beyond, homes, businesses and other important buildings were leveled in the destruction—and numerous lives were lost. 

Hemp hasn’t come up much in the rebuilding efforts. A late August op-ed was published. The HillUniversity of Florida associate Professor Benjamin Hebblethwaite made a strong case for the use of hemp and bamboo in Haiti. Hebblethwaite warned concrete structures against collapse by pointing out that the extreme weather conditions on Haiti can cause concrete to become diluted and weaker, making them unsafe. As a replacement material, he cited the hemp’s ability to create lightweight hempcrete, which can be used to insulate homes and build bricks. 

Hebblethwaite, like the U.S.A., cited law he called “draconian” for prohibiting the use of renewable resources. 

Can hemp materials offer an environmentally-friendly and more efficient way to rebuild both the nations as well as other countries after 2020’s disaster? 

Hemp has many construction potential

Like cannabis consumption, using hemp for concrete isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. If you have specific construction needs such as budget or local laws that apply to your area, then hemp might be a good option for rebuilding and starting new projects. 

Sources spoke of a variety benefits that hemp can offer. Jacob Waddell (president of U.S. Hemp Building Association) said. Chronic NewsHe said that hemp is carbon-sequestering and replaces unsustainable options by using it as a building material. 

“By utilizing an agricultural product for our materials, we are trapping carbon absorbed during the growth of the plant and preserving it in the building,” said Waddell. 

Volodymyr barabakh is the co-founder of Fortress Home in Chicago and also serves as project director. He said that hemp can be used to build structures in humid, damp conditions because it’s more breathable than concrete. He noted that the U.S. is prone to flooding and hurricanes. Additionally, hemp could be used in construction in the future. 

“From a purely structural standpoint, there is definitely a use case for hemp concrete for disaster rebuilding projects,” Barabakh stated. 

Waddell indicated that homeowners with mold problems could have their health risk reduced by using hemp to build. A hemp-based home could also be beneficial in areas that are prone to fire, he said. 

“Hempcrete provides a fire-resistant option that could prevent the total loss of homes that is occurring on an almost annual basis in some places,” he stated. 

Jim Higdon, the co-founder of Kentucky-based Cornbread Hemp, said hemp has “huge potential” in construction. He cited the plant’s ecological benefits, noting its ability to grow faster than trees and its annual harvest. 

“Whether as a substitute for concrete or wood, hemp has huge potential,” he stated. 

Jeff Sampson founded and is CEO of Everscore, a THC and CBD market. When building sustainable structures, Sampson feels that hemp must be considered. Sampson, who also serves as non-executive director for the Native American Cannabis Alliance, believes that the plant “should be given serious consideration by anybody involved in rebuilding efforts, from architects and contractors to owners and administrators.”

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Prohibition is likely to reduce market awareness and increase costs

In many cases, hemp may make a great construction material. Hemp’s drawbacks make it difficult to sell in mass quantities. 

Waddell stated that his industry must still deal with both non-optimal results and high costs. He pointed out the decades-long prohibition, which he said prevented hemp from being legalized and limited its research and development. 

“As innovation occurs and we get closer to economies of scale, hemp products have the potential to be the best building products on the market,” he stated. 

It isn’t easy to gauge the actual cost of hemp for a construction project. The cost of domestic hemp is typically between $100-$200 per square meter depending on which company you are dealing with. Although you may save money by creating your own hempcrete using unprocessed hurds it is often not worth the effort and cost. 

Barabakh explained, saying that there is not much demand for hempcrete products. 

“It is not popular enough for us to currently have the infrastructure to produce it at scale,” he said. Barabakh further explained that until interest can help lower costs, hempcrete is typically only used on “novelty” projects. 

Waddell stated that the U.S. laws create additional difficulties for hemp despite it being legalized in 2018. He cited cannabinoid testing and the lack of hemp’s inclusion in building codes as current sticking points for the market. He emphasized the importance of crop testing as well as the THC threshold for hemp. 

“If these plants are harvested properly, they will be harvested before they go to flower, but still, the entire fiber crop could be destroyed if the plant has a THC level above 0.3 percent,” he explained. 

He calls the current laws a risk to investments, stating that he believes testing laws shouldn’t apply to plants meant for fiber or grain end products. 

He said that USHBA is currently working with hemp to be included in building codes. It could potentially make hemp a viable alternative for housing projects. He directed readers to the group’s website for more information. They’ve also launched a GoFundMe to reach their goal. 

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Hemp Not Likely a Factor in Today’s Rebuilding Efforts

Sources claim that hemp could find its way to more buildings in the future. However, that day isn’t coming just yet. Because hemp is still expensive and the regulations prohibit it from being viable in most cases, this will likely make it a niche product that can be used for long-term sustainability. Hempcrete is unlikely to be used in rebuilding projects, whether they are underway here or abroad. 

However, many sources are optimistic about the future. “At this point, the barriers are more about awareness and perception than technical,” said Sampson. “Heightened consumer interest in renewable and sustainable products and processes makes hemp difficult to ignore,” he added. 

“To increase our overall market share, we need to increase the recognition of hemp as a viable high-performance building material,” he said. Although the task seems daunting for any one company, he said that industry can reach its goal if they work together. 

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