The Realization of Hempcrete – Vancouver, BC

This is not the story of how hempcrete came to be; it definitely was not created in Vancouver. It has been around for hundreds of years, if not thousands. The Hemp plant has been cultivated around the world for centuries (the government of Canada says 10,000 years), as well as lime mortar being used by the Romans for their architecture and by the Chinese in building the Great Wall.

The more recent story of hempcrete starts in the mid-1980’s in France, which was one of only a few countries still cultivating hemp during the near world-wide ban on the cannabis plant. Apparently, Charles Rassetti came up with the idea of using the woody inner core of the hemp plant (called “shiv” or “hurd” and previously thought of as waste) and mixing it with a lime binder to create a bio-aggregate for repairing the medieval oak-framed house he was renovating. Hempcrete spread from there through Europe in the 1990’s, with many countries now having a thriving hempcrete building industry. France, Spain, Italy, UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, and others now have hemp building product manufacturers, which include pre-mixed hempcrete binders, hempcrete bricks, hempboard, hemp batt insulation, plus more.

My personal realization of hempcrete walls came while doing Internet research on sustainable building products. I think many people, who are familiar with building and have a sense of how we are polluting our living environments and planet with oil-based building products, will have the same astonished reaction to hempcrete, when first coming across it, as I had. It blew my mind that this product was not in widespread use, in this day and age of climate change and atmospheric carbon accumulation! As a simple and natural product, it ticks all the boxes of performance, safety and cost. I kept on thinking there must be something wrong with it – there must be a reason why it is not more widely used if it is such a phenomenal product!?!? But, I could find nothing that indicated any major faults of hempcrete as a product, except commercial development.

Besides the fact that hemp cultivation was banned in Canada until 1998, it seems that there has been very little commercial interest in developing hempcrete. Maybe this is because the traditional method of mixing hempcrete on site and pouring into forms seems too antiquated and messy for most people to consider. They want clean, manufactured, and wrapped-in-plastic building materials to arrive on site for their house or building. It may have something to do with the large established corporations that supply building materials having no interest in something new and not wanting to lose any market share. To some degree it seems that the market crash in 2008, as well as the last, very un-progressive government of Canada were holding things back here. There was one chart I saw for industrial hemp production in Canada, which showed good growth through 2006, then a slump for a number of years before finally recovering to former numbers in 2011.

It didn’t take long to realize that there is very little being done in Canada and the US in regards to hempcrete. There was some minor activity I could find, but for the size of the overall building industry, it was peanuts. The time seemed ripe to realize a much bigger hempcrete industry for North America and change how we build.

I decided, pretty well right there and then, I was going to jump in and make a difference with hempcrete!

8 comments

As Wisconsin starts to move into hemp I’d be interested in knowing more about what you’re doing with hempcrete and the blocks.

Thanks for your interest Melanie. Good to hear things are moving forward with hemp in Wisconsin. We are actually moving forward with a different technology at http://www.calmura.ca, and the hempcrete structural blocks are moving forward as well. Cheers!

Hello I am currently looking to build a sustainable home on the South Shore of NS. I believe that Hemp is a seriously under utilized renewable resource and would live to see its usefulness expanded. I would love to know more about the cost of the Hemp Lego blocks (lol) that I have seen and see if its cost is within my reach to build a 28×32 rectangular home. I must also say I live in a low land area beside a lake approx 15 kms from the ocean. I look forward to hearing from tou

Hello Leon,
Thank you for your comment and interest in Hempcrete Walls.
Yes, you are correct. There are many underutilized bio-resources due to the heavy reliance (addiction?) we have to petrochemical products, as driven by the very powerful oil & gas industry. We are happy to hear there are people that feel as we do and want to see the usefulness of these fibers expanded.
We are not certain of the price for the Just BioFiber blocks, but understand that they are still fairly difficult to come by. We hope you have emailed them directly to inquire. Hopefully with the assistance and support of forward-thinking people such as yourself, we will be able to see an acceleration of their technology, as well as other monolithic biocomposite technologies, like Calmura Natural Walls, in the coming years, so everyone is able to enjoy Healthy, Durable and Protective walls in the future.
Regards,
The Hempcrete Walls team

Can you point to engineering studies describing the strength and safety of the various hempcrete products. Specifically, which hempcrete products are certified as meeting national building code standards? You understand that using building materials that are not accepted could cause my insurance company to refuse to pay a claim, should my house suffer a loss. This could be a really big deal.

Hello Mark,
Thank you for your comment and interest in Hempcrete Walls.
Yes, this is definitely an issue with using building products and a huge challenge for companies creating these products to make it through the development process over time. There is a large body of “proof” needed for building products before they are not only approved for use, but to gain builders and architects trust that they will perform for decades into the future.
There is not very much progress on this front in North America. Most of the proof, as well as engineering studies and tests on the strength and safety of this comprehensively performing monolithic biocomposite material, comes from Europe. There are a few companies in the early stages of product development, such as Calmura Natural Walls and Just BioFiber Structural Solutions, but there is still lots of proof needed, as well as scaling of the technology to provide it Nationwide through regional facilities.
Please be patient. The US Hemp Building Association has now formed and is informing and training people on the benefits of hempcrete. More and more one-off projects are being built around the country. All support is appreciated, so if there is a way to work together to provide a story to your readers, please let us know. The more people that learn about and believe in this super sustainable technology, the faster it will be developed.
Regards,
The Hempcrete Walls team

Buen dia.
Me gustaría conocer mas del sistema constructivo!
Soy de Misiones Argentina y tenemos gran interés de aplicar este sistema constructivo en nuestra región dado que poseemos una gran masa boscosa como recurso material.

Hello Jorge,
Thank you for your comment and interest in Hempcrete Walls.
We will email you directly to discuss this further. We have completed research regarding the use of wood chips, instead of hemp chips, to create monolithic biocomposite walls, and it can be similarly effective. We would be happy to help you bring this technology to your region!
Regards,
Hola Jorge
Gracias por su comentario e interés en Hempcrete Walls.
Le enviaremos un correo electrónico directamente para discutir esto más a fondo. Hemos completado una investigación sobre el uso de astillas de madera, en lugar de astillas de cáñamo, para crear paredes de biocompuestos monolíticos, y puede ser igualmente eficaz. ¡Estaremos encantados de ayudarle a llevar esta tecnología a su región!
Saludos,
Hempcrete Walls team

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