Hempcrete brings Alberta’s housing industry one of the most versatile uses for industrial hemp.
With ground broken on nearly 400 homes monthly in Calgary, the housing industry is just one that hempcrete aims to bring sustainability, affordability, and durability.
Hempcrete suppliers are beginning to pop up worldwide, giving an indication that there is a real demand for these products.
What is hempcrete?
The sustainable building alternative hempcrete is derived from a unique mix of hemp herds (the wood core of mature hemp plants), and a commonly used binder lime and water.
It’s an organic mixture provides an opportunity to reduce rising monthly energy bills in households across Calgary, Alberta, and Canada. Improved insulating properties give home builders an “easy to work with”, spray or mold on alternative to traditional insulation.
Hempcrete puts much of the hemp plant to good use, achieving efficiency by utilizing 30 % of the plant to collect the fibers. These fibers are taken from the stems and branches. Within the stem, we extract the woody core, after this process, we are left with the leaves to be discarded.
Although not load bearing, hempcrete applied to load-bearing frames provides :
- Better insulation
- A zero-waste building material for building sites
- Increased fire protection
- An option that’s naturally grown and readily available with quick regeneration crops.
Canadian owned Hempcrete Ltd. stands by hempcrete as a building material feasible for our future:
We replace petro-chemicals with natural materials, and fiber reinforced lightweight concrete, for a dynamic and energy efficient sanctuary, free of concerns like pests, water and fireHempcrete Ltd.
Hempcrete as an insulator
Hempcrete brings cost savings to homeowners in the long run acting as an insulator.
The R-value is a method of measuring insulator properties, a metric of heat flow through a specific material at a measured thickness.
Higher R values represent greater insulators, and hempcrete has proven time again to possess far higher R-values than competing concrete with traditional insulation.
Previous hempcrete projects have seen materials poured or sprayed on to load bearing walls, replacing traditional insulation application. This works both to keep heat in or out especially on those sporadic heatwave days.
To put it into perspective, a concrete masonry unity at 12” thickness provides an R-Value of roughly 1.28.
Hempcrete tests show levels up to 4.35 for a wall the same thickness, over three and a half times the resistance of traditional concrete. It is also important to spray an exterior coating that will allow humidity to escape and ultimately preventing mold build up.
One of the beautiful things about hempcrete is the fact that it’s made from biodegrable materials.
Hempcrete waste is 100% sustainable and offers home builders a waste-free solution, saving big bucks on dump fees and waste removal over the duration of a homebuild, although these costs tend to offset with a generally higher cost of production.
Now, hemp can even work to replenish oxgygen, and per acre hemp will actually convert more co2 into oxygen than a pine tree forest of that size.
Since the properties of hempcrete make it a natural insulator, we aren’t seeing excess fiberglass reaching landfills, or using them in housing.
This saves us on waste from cutting fiberglass, but also removes toxic materials from landfills in the event of building tear downs. This is not only better for the environment but safer for industry workers.
The strength of hempcrete
While hempcrete offers an alternative, the particle and fiber composition has weaker bonds between them, giving it malleability and toughness when comparing to concrete.
Typically the compressive strength of hempcrete is 20 times less than traditional concrete. This is a good reason why hempcrete still requires structural supports and beams that will bear the load, otherwise, this would be restricted in its load bearing properties.
Today, companies have begun using fiber reinforced hempcrete to give it that initial strength. Surprisingly these products do not only keep their strength but the lime mixture begins to harden over time and can last for 1000’s of years.
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Using lime water binder has been proven to be a more effective building block than using bricks.
Using hempcrete dates back to the Roman times, with structure constructed from this material still holding strong today.
When compared with other forms of poured building materials, hempcrete is found to be more malleable than standard concrete, and a little easier to work with overall.
In the long-term, this will take emphasis off your cutting tools and various other machining operations.
Hemp regeneration period
Seed to seed regeneration is roughly 4-5 months with hemp, depending upon the climate and region.
Hemp’s sustainability is furthered by its rejuvenating effect on the soil, during decomposition over half of the nutrients are returned into the soil.
In turn, this will lower the costs and resources that will be required to sustain another growth cycle. Dense fields of hemp will leave little growing room for other plants that may be considered harmful ultimately allowing for a chemical free operation
Hempcrete.ca provides valuable insight regarding the fire resistance of hempcrete used as a building material.
The added effect of higher R-values bodes well for fire protection, creating a barrier between rooms. During a fire, this can help contain a fire giving the victims precious time to make for an escape.
Let’s consider ourselves lucky to have accommodated for this crop to grow here in Alberta because according to Statistics Canada there are 480 licensed hemp cultivators, accounting for 22.6% of Canada’s total production and safely putting us into 2nd place(480/1830). This potentially billion dollar market could create sustainable employment above all other.
Hempcrete Used in Alberta Construction
The hempcrete discussion in Alberta is one of conflicting interests.
Hemp as an alternative to traditional building materials is the best decision for our environment. Moving into quick generation crops with zero waste from building materials leaving hazardous waste is only a positive.
Although using hempcrete requires a need to build load bearing walls prior to application, hempcrete’s shelf life, increased efficiency, fire resistance, lack of labor and ease of use make it a viable alternative for home builders focused on developing premium, energy efficient properties where cost is less of an issue.
We see an opportunity to remove traditional building materials that are harmful for the environment, but is this an opportunity that Canadian home builders will capitalize on? Probably not.
Decreasing house prices in Calgary, increased costs of labor and streamlined operations focused on increasing margins for builders means we probably won’t see hempcrete hit the market with the bigger construction brands anytime soon.
We see the opportunities presenting themselves to fresh building companies focused on streamlining hempcrete production and application, and sustainability and durability first.
Since the Cannabis Act of 2018, Alberta has seen a flurry of hemp-based developments surfacing including educational courses in post secondary facilities, even a 40,000 square-foot facility for hemp textiles outside of Edmonton in Bruderheim.