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Hemp for Homes

4/20/2009 12:00:00 AM

Tags: hemp, carbon neutral, zero-carbon homes

At Natural Home, we’ve been singing the praises of hemp as a durable, antimicrobial fiber for use in home textiles for a decade. We love this “weed” because it requires no pesticides or fertilizers to grow; it’s a readily renewable resource. Judging from your response to our call to legalize cultivation of hemp—currently banned in the United States because the miracle plant is a distant cousin to marijuana—we see that many of you agree.

Hemp plant
Hemp is a readily renewable resource that requires no pesticides or fertilizers to grow. Photo By Edward the Bonobo/Courtesy Flickr 

Now, researchers at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom have found yet another use for hemp—as a building block for zero-carbon homes. The university’s BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials is developing ways to use hemp-lime materials to construct homes.

According to the university’s website, hemp-lime is a lightweight material composed of hemp fibers that are fastened together with a lime-based adhesive. Professor Pete Walker, director of the BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials, says this new composite material could replace conventional building materials, providing strength and durability and improving the overall energy efficiency of homes. “Using renewable crops to make building materials makes real sense—it only takes an area the size of a rugby pitch four months to grow enough hemp to build a typical three-bedroom house,” Walker says. “Growing crops such as hemp can also provide economic and social benefits to rural economies through new agricultural markets for farmers and associated industries.”

Last year we reported on similar work being done by Stemergy, a global supplier of renewable biofiber products in Ontario, Canada (where growing hemp is legal). This company is combining hemp and flax fiber with materials such as wood, concrete and plastics to make new composite substances that can be used in compression-molded panels for doors, cabinets, furniture, wall partitions and decking. “Hemp is high in performance and low in cost,” explains Stemergy president Geof Kime.

These innovations are promising; hemp could be a huge boon to both green building and our struggling economy. And, sadly, all this innovation is happening outside the United States because cultivating hemp is still illegal here. Let your congressional representatives know you’d like to see the United States reap the benefits of hemp in home construction and interiors. Hemp’s time has come. Let’s not get left behind.

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