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!