Hemp as a Building Material: Pros and Cons To Take a Look At

A closeup of a hemp wall with cartoon buildings overlain at the bottom of the image and the words "Hemp as a Building Material" at the top.

As the world looks for more sustainable building materials, hemp is often touted as a great option.

It has been used as a building material for centuries. It was even used to build the White House!

Using hemp as a sustainable building material has the benefits of being environmentally friendly, pest-resistant, fire-resistant, durable, and highly insulating. However, hemp can be expensive, difficult to get, has weak structural integrity, and isn’t widely accepted.

If you’re considering using hemp for your next construction project, read on to learn more about the pros and cons of this innovative, sustainable building material.

The Pros of Hemp as a Building Material

A worker mixing hempcrete by hand on site. The worker is wearing red protective gloves and a blue apron.
Mixing hempcrete can be done on-site if it is being cast in place or in a factory where hempcrete blocks are being made. Image courtesy of Hempitecture

Hemp fiber is an increasingly popular material for many products, from clothing to food and cosmetics, and hemp farming is becoming more widespread, with farmers interested in meeting this demand.

But what about using hemp building materials?

Some construction projects already use hemp, so it’s not as far-fetched as it might sound.

Hemp concrete and hemp blocks are gaining traction in construction as the sector seeks to lower its environmental impact.

Hemp concrete is made from natural materials and has a much lower carbon footprint than traditional concrete. In addition, it is made from a hemp lime mixture that can sequester carbon in the walls of your house – something that conventional walls don’t do.

There are other natural, renewable building materials that you might want to consider. For example, you can read about the benefits of using bamboo in your next building project here.

Hemp Is Environmental Friendly

A green circle on a brown background with a brown thumbs up in the middle.
Hemp is an environmentally friendly building material thanks to its carbon sequestering properties and the fact that it is non-toxic and made using renewable raw materials.

The construction industry is critical for any economy, and its environmental impact is significant.

Many conventional building materials use natural resources, generate pollutants and wastes, and release greenhouse gasses, all impacting the environment.

There has been a growing movement towards sustainable construction practices in recent years.

This shift has led to the development of new materials and techniques that are more environmentally friendly than conventional construction materials.

One such material, called hempcrete, can be formed into hempcrete blocks and locks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing global warming.

The hemp plant is also non-toxic and eco-friendly, requiring no pesticides or fertilizers to grow.

Hemp shives and a lime binder are used to make hempcrete. Hempcrete is often formed into blocks and has numerous advantages when compared to concrete, such as:

  • It is easier to handle. Unlike concrete, hempcrete blocks are rather lightweight, which can significantly reduce the energy required to transport the blocks.

  • It is an excellent moisture regulator. Due to its ability to absorb and release water at a higher rate, hempcrete is an ideal alternative for regulating moisture levels. This ability means it can prevent problems like mold and mildew.

  • It has good thermal mass. Thanks to the twin properties of insulation and thermal mass, a hempcrete wall keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer, evening out daily fluctuations in temperature.

If you are looking for a sustainable and durable construction material, hemp blocks should be at the top of your list.

Hemp Fiber Is Pest and Fire Resistant

Hemp is a versatile plant that builders use in a variety of applications. More recently, it has risen to prominence as a sustainable construction material.

Hemp oil repels ants, cockroaches, and mice when used as a surface coating. Hemp oil is also effective against termites. In addition, its fiber is more resistant to fire than wood.

While hemp is a pest and fire-resistant construction material, more research is needed to confirm its efficacy.

Hemp Is Durable

Hemp-based construction materials can be stronger and more durable than traditional materials like wood.

Hempcrete, for example, is a type of concrete made with hemp that is said to be more resistant to water and rot. It can also be used to make insulation and other materials.

Hemp Can Be Used in Plastering

A man plastering a wall with a float. There is an electrical outlet box visible in the wall and the man is wearing a cap and overalls.
The use of hemp in plaster dates back centuries and is seeing a small revival now.

Hemp has been used as a plaster for centuries, dating back to ancient Egypt. It’s a type of natural plaster made from hemp hurds, the plant’s woody core.

This plaster is becoming more popular as a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional plaster made from materials like cement.

Hemp is effective as a plaster because it is absorbent and can hold moisture, which helps keep the affected area moist and promotes healing.

Cracked and knocked surfaces are good candidates for hemp plaster. It’s more suited for fixing holes and filling in cracks in already-existing plastered areas.

Hemp is also non-irritating and hypoallergenic, making it a good option for people with sensitive skin.

In addition, hemp has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to speed up the healing process.

Hemp Is an Excellent Insulation

Hemp’s capacity to trap heat inside void space gives it incredible insulation properties.

There has been a renewed interest in using hemp for insulation in recent years due to its high R-value, which helps to regulate indoor temperatures and reduce noise pollution.

What Is R-Value in Insulation?

R-value is a measure of how well a material can resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the better the material is at insulating.

R-value is important when choosing insulation for your home, as it will determine how effective the insulation will be at keeping your home warm in winter and cool in summer.

R-value is not the only factor to consider when choosing insulation. Other factors, such as airtightness and installation quality, can also have a significant impact on the overall performance of the insulation.

The Cons of Using Hemp In Building Materials

Despite its many benefits, there are some drawbacks to using hemp in construction that you should consider before using it in your next project.

Industrial Hemp Is Difficult To Find

A woman looking happy having found some hemp, which she is holding up to the camera and smiling.
Finding hemp products for construction can be challenging because they are not widely cultivated.

Despite the renewed interest in hemp, it is still tough to find because it is not widely cultivated.

To find hemp, one must often look for it in specialty stores or online.

There are a limited number of farmers who grow it and an even smaller number who process it. As a result, the hemp market is also very small. Most people buy it for personal use, such as making rope or fabric.

The cultivation of hemp for construction has resulted in a few companies using it in their projects, but it’s still not widely available.

It is also not commonly used in other industries, such as automotive or aerospace.

This leads to a chicken and egg situation where hemp cultivation is not widely pursued because the market is too small.

This restricts the availability of the hemp stalks containing the hemp hurds used in manufacturing hempcrete and other products, which means they are not specified in building projects.

Hemp Has a Weak Structural Integrity

Despite its many virtues, hemp has low compressive strength. This means it is unsuitable for some large-scale constructions.

Hemp is also not as durable as other materials, such as concrete made with Portland cement and steel, so it can’t be the main material in buildings that must last a long time.

Industrial Hemp Is Expensive Compared to Other Building Materials

A picture of a hemp crop with a graph showing high cost overlain in white.
Hemp building products are expensive but environmentally friendly.

Hemp is often considered a low-cost material, but this is not always the case. Occasionally, it can be more expensive than other materials, such as cotton, because hemp is not as commonly used as other materials.

Additionally, hemp is often grown in smaller quantities, which can drive up the price.

For instance, if you’re using hemp to create a biodegradable plastic, the cost may be higher than if you’re using traditional polymer resin.

Hemp may be a more environmentally friendly building material, but it can add a significant amount to the total cost of your project.

Hemp Is Not Widely Accepted

Hemp has been used as a construction material for centuries, but it is still not widely accepted in the building industry.

There are several reasons for this, including its perceived instability and the fact that it is not as well-known as other building products.

Hemp is a very strong and versatile material, but its use in construction is still relatively new.

As more people become aware of its benefits, hemp may become a more popular building product. However, its acceptance into the mainstream building industry will likely be slow.

Hopefully, the recent approval of Proposal_RB316-22 for the International Residential Code by the International Code Council (ICC) will speed things up. After all, hempcrete insulation has been used in European countries for over 30 years.

The team of hemp building advocates who testified at the ICC committee hearing:

Martin Hammer – A lead code consultant on the proposal, Architect
Bob Escher AIA – Founding President of the USHBA and President of Escher Design
Alex Escher – Director of Hemp Fiber Application at Escher Design
Anthony Dente – The lead engineer on the proposal from Verdant Structural Engineers
Tom Rossmassler – President and CEO of Energia and Chief Embodied Officer of HempStone
Tim Callahan – Design Engineer, General Contractor, Founder Callahan Home Design
Anthony Néron – DuChanvre, Canada
Jacob Waddell – Executive Director, US Hemp Building Association
Kiko Thébaud – A primary author and proponent for the proposal, founder Thébaud LLC
Sally Warren – Board-Certified Naturopath and Member Build Green Now
Henry Gage, Jr. – Director of Certifications, US Hemp Building Association, founder of Build Green Now.
The group is pictured indoors, some kneeling and some standing.
Thanks to the group of hemp building advocates pictured above, who testified at the ICC Committee hearing, we could be closer to the industry fully accepting Hemp as a building material. Image courtesy of The US Hemp Building Association.

Hemp Reduces Square Footage of Living Space

It’s common knowledge that when houses are built with hempcrete, the walls are thicker than average.

As a result, you’ll have less space to live in. This could be a deal breaker for some, and it may lower the future resale value of your home.

Hemp Isn’t Suitable for Every Environment

Hemp is a wonder in building applications, but sadly, it’s not suitable for every environment.

In hot climates, hemp plants can quickly become dried out and brittle, making them susceptible to crumbling. Hemp is also known to be a liquid-permeable material, which means it can’t be used in underwater constructions.

You might want to reconsider if you were thinking of using hemp to build in a hot climate.

Hemp Is a High Maintenance Material

A hempcrete wall being painted to preserve its looks and help to prevent moisture ingress.
Regular maintenance is necessary to keep your hempcrete walls in good condition.

In comparison to concrete, hempcrete is a material that requires more maintenance, which is one of the most significant drawbacks.

This is because hempcrete is porous and, as a result, is prone to damage from water. In addition, hempcrete should be sealed on a routine basis to preserve it from the outside elements.

Final Thoughts

Hemp is made from natural materials and is environmentally friendly, carbon-negative, durable, and pest-resistant.

However, it’s also expensive to process, and the industrial hemp plant’s raw material is not currently being produced on a large scale.

Overall, hemp appears to be a promising building material, and it’s also positioning itself as a sustainable solution for a greener future.

While hemp is not yet widely used in construction, it has great potential to become a popular building material.

If you are interested in using hemp in your next construction project, do your research to ensure that it is the right material for your needs.

If you found this article interesting, you might find our article “23 Sustainable Building Materials You Can Use Today” interesting as well.

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