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Upstate House – Weed Walls

 

 

 

 

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As marijuana gradually infiltrates American medicine, one of its cousins, hempcrete—a mixture of nonpsychoactive, industrial-grade hemp, natural lime, and water—could change the U.S. building industry.

Former Wall Street analyst and Columbia County resident Jim Savage is so convinced of hempcrete’s benefits that he started a business promoting it. Savage discovered hempcrete while renovating his 1850s farmhouse in Stuyvesant. A plumber’s misstep led to substantial leaks in two rooms’ ceilings, one of which was insulated traditionally, the other with hempcrete. Savage’s insurance company promptly dispatched mold remediation specialists to evaluate the damage. While the traditional insulation was beyond repair, the hempcrete dried almost completely within a few days, leaving no permanent damage. It was as if it had “healed itself,” Savage recounts. “They’d never seen anything like this; they expected that they’d lose that ceiling as well.”

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Savage has been promoting hempcrete through his company, Green Built LLC, since 2012. He says the material has many benefits, not least of which is that it prevents water damage, which is no small thing in the flood-prone Hudson Valley.

Hempcrete’s name, however, is slightly misleading, as it doesn’t possess the load-bearing properties of concrete. Unlike concrete, hempcrete “breathes,” allowing moisture to pass through and prevent saturation. As insulation, hempcrete reduces indoor humidity in the summer and retains it in the winter, reducing the cost of running an air conditioner or furnace. The use of lime in hempcrete also makes it virtually fireproof, eliminates the need for added chemicals, and raises the material’s pH to levels intolerable to mold, insects, and rodents.

Plus, Savage notes, hempcrete is so natural it can literally break down into mulch, thereby reducing toxins in the home. Traditional insulation is rife with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other toxic chemicals. Savage believes hempcrete’s usage improves air quality, potentially alleviating illnesses like asthma and “sick building syndrome.”

“I look at spray foam and think, boy, am I glad I don’t have that in my house,” he says. “If you can create an environment that’s mold resistant and nontoxic, it’s healthier for people, it’s a healthy building.”

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So, with all of hempcrete’s benefits, why is it still relatively obscure? When marijuana was outlawed in 1938, so was hemp. But today’s hemp activists contend that while industrial hemp and marijuana may be of the same species, they have as much in common as a Great Dane and a dachshund. Industrial hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent THC (marijuana’s principal psychoactive agent), while recreational and medicinal strains of marijuana contain 5 to 10 percent. “You could smoke a telephone pole’s worth of our stuff and still not get high,” Minneapolis, Minnesota, hempcrete producer Ken Anderson recently told the New York Times.

France and England never criminalized hemp, and the use of hemp in construction in both countries has been rising since the 1980s. In fact, English building insurers provide a discount for the use of hempcrete because of its durability. Hempcrete was even used in The Prince’s Natural House, an eco-friendly demonstration home built in Great Britain by HRH the Prince of Wales’s Prince’s Foundation for Building Community.

Here in the United States, hemp advocates like Susie Cody, director of the New York Hemp Industries Association, are campaigning for the deregulation of hemp in domestic production. Cody believes domestic hemp production could boost the state’s local economies. The hemp plant grows almost a foot a week during its lifecycle, so enough hempcrete for a 1,500-square-foot house could be produced on a few acres in one growing season, and New York State has the perfect conditions for cultivation. Plus, says Cody, “hemp is a good rotational crop. It breaks up chemicals in the soil [and requires] no pesticides or fertilizers.”

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Hemp has a multitude of other potential applications. “It’s the strongest fiber of any plant material. Anything that is made out of plastic can be made out of hemp,” says Cody. Hemp is already being used in clothing, manufactured goods, and even cars (BMW’s i3’s door panels contain a hemp polymer to save weight). Because hemp absorbs carbon during its life cycle, offsetting transportation-produced pollution through its cultivation would actually make many hemp products carbon negative.

Because hemp must be imported from Europe and Canada, it’s currently significantly costlier than traditional insulation, with hempcrete priced at about $7 per square foot compared to $1 per square foot for traditional insulation. Local production, says Cody, would drastically reduce that gap.

Cody believes hemp could become New York State’s new cash crop, which would be a boon to local farmers. As marijuana becomes decriminalized and even legalized in the U.S., both she and Savage are hopeful that local hemp production is not far off. In January, New York State opened its first eight legal medical marijuana dispensaries, a sure step toward legalization. In anticipation, Green Built LLC has several projects in the works to promote the use of hempcrete in construction.

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This spring, Savage plans to construct a 400-square-foot, passive-energy tiny house utilizing hempcrete to serve as a prototype for future production of modular hempcrete stand-alone structures and home additions. He’s also designing structural insulated panels (SIPs) using hempcrete to replace traditional materials. “By using homegrown materials that are grown by neighbors rather than mined out of the ground,” says Savage, “we can build homes that are nontoxic and carbon sequestering, provide comfort, and are resilient.”

 

Times Union – Hemp houses raise high hopes in Hudson Valley

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.

More Information

If you go

More information on the hempcrete seminar and workshop Oct. 30-31 is available online at savagejj@greenbuiltllc.com or www.greenbuilt.co

Dean Norton, president of the state Farm Bureau, said hemp offers “new economic opportunities … and valuable potential for our farmers looking to diversify their operations.”

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.

bnearing@timesunion.com

National Geographic – Hemp Homes Could Hit New High As Growing Cannabis Gets Legal

Green Building Law Update

What LEED Credit is Almost Never Achieved?

One of the key features of the LEED rating systems is that, after satisfying minimum program requirements and prerequisites, project teams may select from the available compilation of LEED credits. Those options are key not only because there is no one homogenous building type but also because owners may have sustainable features they wish pursued.

But surprising to some, there is one LEED credit that stands out, by far, as the least earned.

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Wall Street Analyst Wants to Build Homes Out of Weed

James Savage, a Wall Street analyst, was disturbed when he saw the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. The feeling continued when after the water subsided, the homes that survived were uninhabitable because they had been overtaken with mold. “There has to be something better we can do than this,” he recalls thinking. The solution he discovered was hempcrete, a mold-resistant cement-like building material made from cannabis.

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