Entrepreneur hopes home shows potential of ”hempcrete”
As the state takes its first tentative steps to allow growing of hemp, a Hudson Valley entrepreneur is betting that the plant — the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana — will become a cash crop for an ecologically friendly building material.
Jim Savage is a former Wall Street analyst who lives in a 150-year-old farmhouse in Stuyvesant, Columbia County, that he has insulated in part using so-called “hempcrete” — a slurry-like blend of water, lime and the ground-up, balsa-like interior of the hemp plant.
Once solidified, the result is a material that weighs about an eighth of traditional concrete, is virtually fireproof, and unlike concrete, allows moisture to pass through, reducing problems with mold and mildew. The material also does not rely on petrochemicals, but on the other hand it is not as strong as concrete and thus cannot be used to make load-bearing features.
To help promote hempcrete and his new company, Green Built LLC, Savage is planning the design and construction of a 400 square-foot “tiny house” in Catskill, Greene County, next summer. The house will be built from prefabricated hempcrete modular panels being developed for commercial use by Green Built.
“Once we are done building the house, we will be taking it across the country to promote it, and then will either sell it or donate it for someone to live in,” said Savage. His idea comes as the state Department of Agriculture and Markets is preparing rules to allow for 10 permits for test growing of hemp by colleges, universities and farmers.
Even though hemp is part of early American history — George Washington grew hemp and its fibers were part of theBetsy Ross‘ flag — the plant has been illegal to grow in the U.S. for some six decades. That ban was lifted in 2014 as part of a federal farm bill that allowed states to begin testing.
Just for the record: No one gets high smoking hemp. The plant contains very low levels of THC compared to marijuana. So if a hemp house burned down, none of the neighbors would catch a buzz.
“This is a new use for an old material,” said Savage, who said he became inspired by the possibility of hemp a decade ago after he saw flood-damaged homes after Hurricane Katrina where concrete was ruined and then crumbled. Hemp walls allow moisture to pass through, and thus, resist mold and mildew, making the material more resilient to floods.
Added Susie Cody, president of New York Hemp Industries Association, “If this proves successful, we’ll have incredible momentum to influence and change the law to allow for anyone to grow in the future.”
In Europe, hemp has been used for years in construction, with recent projects including a seven-story office tower in France, a department store in the United Kingdom and the home of England’s Prince Charles.
Savage said he is currently importing Dutch-grown hemp, which makes his product more expensive than it would be if there was a domestic supply. “We think that this will be an industry that will develop in the state, and not go away,” he said.
Savage is sponsoring a free seminar on hempcrete from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 30 at the Catskills Mill Building, 361 Main St., Catskill, to be followed by a workshop Saturday afternoon and Sunday on hands-on techniques by design consultant Tim Callahan.