Hempcrete: A Different Kind of Building Block

Despite a grand tradition, Portland cement and similar construction materials are increasingly becoming depleted and outdated resources, which means a new way of construction must be improvised. The answer lies in the humble hemp plant, which has been a useful and reliable crop for the production of things such as textiles and rope, for hundreds of years. Now in the Information Age, we’ve developed the ability to produce a diverse range of materials from the hemp plant that can and should correct several problems found in conventional building techniques. Despite the fact that Washington is still saying no to the production of this new range of products in the USA, hemp plants should soon prove to be the preferred insulator.

Hemp stems can be engineered into many products ranging from a type of organic concrete masonry to wood board products for building furniture, tabletops, and other items. Many of these hemp-engineered products are cheaper, more readily available, and easier to produce than their conventional non-renewable cousins, at least in areas where it is legal to produce them. Some are even more durable and attractive than the standard products that would otherwise have been used in their place, all incredible properties for materials made primarily from plant matter.

The concrete products we currently use in building construction, including poured concrete and Concrete Masonry Units (C.M.U.s) are devastatingly poor insulators. Thus, they have to have additional fiberglass insulation added to them in order to even meet building codes, much less become energy efficient. Most products are rated on their insulation capabilities by a composite system called “R-value,” which is a rating of how much heat the material will allow to escape through itself per inch. The higher the number, the better insulator the material is. Most concrete products have an R-value rating of about 0.8 per inch. The fiberglass insulation added to these materials has a rating of around 3.14 per inch.

On the other hand, “Hempcrete” blocks constructed on their own from hemp are much more effective than poured concrete and C.M.U.s combined. Hempcrete has an R-value exceeding 5.6 per inch. As the technology develops, even higher R-values are expected to come from these blocks; eventually, Hempcrete insulator products might well exceed the capabilities of even our most advanced insulators in service today.

Hempcrete Blocks

Hempcrete Blocks

Of equal or greater concern, both Portland cement based concrete and the aforementioned fiberglass insulation that usually goes with it are extremely pollutant to the air around us. The materials release a doubly toxic combination of heavy metal pollution and carbon dioxide. Hempcrete, on the other hand, is completely natural, emitting no heavy metals into the atmosphere. In addition, it is not only carbon neutral, it is also carbon negative, meaning it actually reduces the amount of CO2 in the air (something very few materials can do) while still being cheaper and more effective than conventional alternatives. The amount of earth-based material involved in the production of Hempcrete and other like products is extremely low, so less carbon is emitted in it’s production than the plants absorb and convert to oxygen during their raising.

While it isn’t currently legal to produce industrial hemp in the United States, Hempcrete and other hemp-based construction materials are currently produced and readily available in most countries, including the UK and Canada. In these places, there is nearly no cost difference between these hemp products and their traditional competitors. Unfortunately, while it is legal to use these hemp construction materials in the U.S., due to the ban on hemp production, they must all be imported, and usually from countries in South America that aren’t exactly America’s biggest fans. This also drives the cost of the materials up in this country, making them more expensive than their conventional competitors. This price difference has resulted in an unfortunate lack of use in America. If the production of industrial hemp were legalized, this issue would resolve itself very quickly, and with little to no negative repercussions occurring in the process.

Some people have used the argument that since many of the United States’ Founding Fathers grew hemp, Congress should legalize the recreational use of marijuana as a smoking material. This argument is a strange distraction insofar as the Founding Fathers raised the hemp plant for the purpose of producing usable materials from its stalks, not for getting high. They made rope, textiles, and even soap from the plant. This argument about the founders can therefore be used for the proposal to legalize the production of industrial hemp. The plants used for industrial hemp production have lower THC content than their drug-intended cousins, which makes them much less viable for abuse by workers and thieves. Thus, the laws concerning industrial hemp production due to the possible use of the plant’s leaves for uses they were not intended for are misguided and should be overridden immediately.

With all this in mind, Senator Ron Paul has proposed a bill for the legalization of industrial hemp production under a number of conditions that help keep the crop out of the hands of those who would try to make it into a drug. It has been brought before the congressional houses a number of times but has yet to pass due to the disappointing naivete and greed of those voting on it. If we could get this bill to pass, not only would housing and heating costs go down, but we could help to bring back the environment while creating thousands upon thousands of American jobs for American men and women in the process. Aren’t these the things Washington politicians have told us they are for time and time again? Or are they too preoccupied with lining their own pockets and maintaining their own power to do what’s right for the nation as a whole?