This year has seen lumber costs skyrocketing, leaving one to wonder if there are any viable alternatives that might reduce overall costs of new construction. Driven by higher-than-usual demand brought on in part by folks in quarantine undertaking home improvement projects, lumber costs are currently an estimated 4 percent higher than the same time last year and are never expected to return to pre-pandemic pricing. A lowly 4 x 4 that would have cost about $9 then is currently priced in the $20 or higher range. This anomaly has pushed the cost of purchasing existing home prices in some areas to $100,000 or more over what the same home cost last year. And lumber isn’t just used in home construction, but in many other ways which has left people considering other alternatives that were once considered prohibitive, but are now either equivalent or lower in cost than conventional construction materials.
Enter hemp. While the first hemp constructed home built in 2009 in the United States cost $300 per square foot, when measured against current lumber costs, it’s become a more attractive building material presently costing anywhere from $180 to $200. Since hempcrete is a non structural material, it must be cast around timber, steel or concrete framing and can not be used for foundations or load bearing walls, it it takes time for it to cure gaining strength. Once that process completes (some manufacturers are making hempcrete bricks that cure more quickly which can then be used in load-bearing applications) hempcrete turns into a petrified rock-like material that will last centuries. This also makes it both sound and bullet proof. This last quality one would hope wouldn’t be a concern in the neighborhood. It is bug, mold and fungus resistant and releases no toxins indoors. Hempcrete is a great insulator, as its physical properties naturally adjust to climate changes. Further, it is completely biodegradable, meaning hempcrete debris can be repurposed into composting material. It is also earthquake proof, thanks to its flexibility and requires no expansion joists in construction.
There are several challenges facing the hempcrete construction industry in the U.S., which is lagging behind other countries. Among these is that not enough industrial hemp, whose long fibers differ from hemp grown for CBD, is being grown. Further, the U.S. still lacks the needed processing facilities, as most processing facilities here are set up for CBD extraction and not for capturing hemp hurd, the plant stalk material that is the basis for hempcrete. The lack of contractors certified to work with hempcrete is also problematic, through there are businesses and organizations working in part or in whole to train and certify contractors as demands rise. The goal is to sustain the forward momentum of this industry. Traditional construction contractors might consider adding this knowledge to their repertoire as the Green Economy expands and clients make more conscious decisions around how they consume and construct their lives and homes.
For more information regarding hemp construction services, visit internationalhempbuilding.org or hempcretedirect.com . These are just two of many available resources available that provide a variety of hemp construction services and materials or keep updated information regarding available builders. Keep in mind the industry is expected to gain traction experiencing growth over the next two to three years. Deciding if this is a viable construction alternative is a process and it is incumbent on the consumer to decide if this is a good fit for their needs and desires. Building with hemp is a viable option for those desiring to create sustainable housing that is healthy for both its inhabitants and the earth and is now coming into its own as a cost-competitive approach.