Decoding Design

Hemp helps create greener homes

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The fibers of the hemp plant are used in the form of panels and are a version of paper-crete. It's suitable for all but the most severe climates.

Hemp plants are making their way into homes in a healthy way. The fibers of the hemp plant are used in the form of panels and are a version of paper-crete, a mixture of Portland cement, lime (the substance that makes concrete workable) and recycled fibers. Because of the high density of air pockets created in the manufacturing process, the fiber-crete becomes a light-weight, insulating material. This makes it suitable for all but the most severe climates.

The new use of hemp and other fibers reflects an increasing effort to make U.S. homes healthier as well as energy efficient. According to proponents of the new building product, hemp-filled walls are non-toxic, mildew-resistant, pest-free and flame-resistant. The plant material also absorbs carbon dioxide, acting as a built in air filter.

A recent example in the United States is a home by Push Design in Asheville, North Carolina. A couple with a young daughter with severe allergies decided to use the hemp filled walls for the anti-allergen and air-cleaning properties.

Because the hemp fiber cannot be grown legally in the United States, the material is imported for industrial use. Although importing hemp is more expensive than using domestic building materials, the cost is offset by the reduced need for skilled labor. Panel systems are simple to assemble and relatively universally used.

Choosing building materials that are environmentally positive and not just environmentally neutral is one step beyond modern sustainable living.

Images: Push Design

Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure