You Can Build a House of Hemp – This Guy Did It

First and foremost, its not just anyone who did it, but former film director Steve Barron; however, the title remains true. Steve Barron, in an effort to do something good for the environment, actually proved you can build a house of hemp. How did he do it, what did it require, and the positive benefits? Read on to find out more.

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First off, who is Steve Barron?

Who Steve Barron is, isn’t actually important to the story, but it is good to know who undertakes such projects. There is a reality that often those with more money, have a greater ability to accomplish these feats. There are probably plenty of people who would love to do the same thing, but don’t see it as a financially viable option. So, who is this guy who saw fit to build a house of hemp, and had the ability to do so?

Steve Barron certainly isn’t an average guy, even if his name isn’t the most recognizable in the world of film. Barron was a big director in the 1980’s for the seminal 80’s music videos that came out at that time. He’s responsible for creating the videos for hits like Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’, Toto’s ‘Africa’, Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’, and Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer of 69’, just to name a few.

He also got into film directing, and was the director for the 1990 classic ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’, 1993’s ‘Coneheads’, ‘While You Were Sleeping’ in ’95, ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’ in ’96, and satirical comedy ‘Mike Bassett: England Manager’ in 2001. He also directed and produced multiple TV shows between 1987-2017. He is certainly a director with some interesting and popular credits under his name, so it suffices to say he probably had a bit more capital to invest in this project than the average person would.

Steve Barron built a house of hemp

Steve Barron is Irish-British, born in Dublin, Ireland in 1956. He was raised in London, however, where he attended school. And its in England that he decided to move away from film, and get into hemp farming and house-building. He built the home in Cambridgeshire, on his Margent farm (previously a wheat farm that Barron converted to a hemp farm). And he started this project at the age of 60. It took him five years of research into hemp to start the project, and he began growing the first crops to use for the house, in 2017. The house is named Flat House.

What kind of licensing did he need?

It’s not that strange to think that any new building requires a certain number of permits for different things. Barron’s project, however, went a little further than the norm, because he wasn’t looking to build using standard building materials, but with the hemp plant. And, of course, hemp is part of the cannabis plant, which means as an illegal plant in most places, there are extra roadblocks to using it, apparently even when not for ingestion.

According to Barron, “You’d think it’d be DEFRA (the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) or the NFU (National Farmers’ Union) or some farming body [who regulate the growing of hemp], but it’s actually the Home Office.”

Why is that? Continued Barron, “They need to check you out and make sure you haven’t had a drug past or drugs bust of some sort, which I hadn’t. And so I got a license from them.” Just to be clear, when looking to build an environmentally sustainable house out of hemp, at his own cost, Barron – who wasn’t looking to use high-THC marijuana for the project, still had to have himself checked out for drug issues, just to get clearance for construction. That’s how not supportive governments are of using hemp for clean processes.

Yet, such a big part of the reason for doing all this, is how hemp helps the environment. Beyond being a great building material in terms of strength and durability, it is “fast-growing and better than commercial forestry at sequestering carbon – and its long tap roots help to regenerate the soil,” says Paloma Gormley, the head of Practice Architecture, in an interview for Architects’ Journal (reported in The Modern House.)

She continued, “Beyond the relatively light processing and transportation emissions, the materials can be understood to be carbon-neutral (or carbon-negative if you count the sequestration), which is a vast improvement on steel, concrete, or petrol-based insulations.”

House of hemp
Steve Barron’s House of hemp

What was the plan?

So what does this hemp house actually look like? The house was designed using the skeleton of a barn already on the property. The house includes several different rooms with different purposes. One room is a glass, self-heating room with an open plan, other rooms include bedrooms (there are three) and living rooms. The interior design uses the exposed hempcrete made from the hemp crop’s core fibers. Barron actually worked along with Cambridge University’s Darshil Shah, a biomaterials senior researcher at the Centre for Natural Material Innovation, who advised on how to create a new corrugated cladding material out of the exterior fiber of the plant.

Barron explained of the house that smaller was more ideal, as smaller requires less heating needs, especially for a small group of people living in it. His entire methodology is being copycatted by the company Material Cultures, the research part of Practice Architecture, which is looking to use a building material that can sequester carbon naturally, which is biodegradable, and which can be used with solar, wind, and biofuel energy sources.

Says Shah of the project, hemp is more efficient at sequestering carbon than trees are, with the capacity to absorb 8-15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare yearly, whereas forests tend to absorb 2-6 tonnes. Shah explained how hemp can “replace fibreglass composites, aluminium and other materials in a range of applications.”

Hempcrete as a new building material

Hempcrete is a natural building material made from mixing the inner woody core of the hemp plant and lime. Lime is also a major component of cement, and it’s the heating of the lime for cement production that comprises the majority of cement CO2 emissions. The woody inner core of hemp is called the ‘shiv’ and is naturally high in silica, which allows it to more easily bind to the limestone, without heat.

They are simply mixed together with water to create a chemical reaction, which in turn makes a glue sort of substance which binds the hemp particles together to form something called ‘bonded cellulose insulation’. This dries into hempcrete. Hempcrete differs from concrete and plaster in that instead of filling space between particles to create firmness and strength, the hemp particles are coated by the lime glue to stick together, but without filling up the gaps in between.

Hempcrete has a massive advantage over cement in that the lime is not heated, and therefore, no CO2 is emitted. In fact, hempcrete can trap CO2, actually taking it out of the air, instead of putting it in there. According to research, hempcrete can sequester as much as 19lbs of CO2 per cubic foot, which is just about what three refrigerators release in a year’s time. How much CO2 emissions does cement production create?

Hempcrete to build houses
Hempcrete to build houses

Cement is an ingredient in concrete, and makes up about 7-10% of it. The rest is sand, gravel, and water. The cement industry, because of carbon dioxide release, is responsible for as much as 25% of total CO2 emissions for the industry, and about 8% of all global emissions. Per each dollar of revenue, cement production produces the highest amount of CO2 emissions. As cement is an integral building material, without alternatives, this is hard to get around.

Hempcrete has the positives of sequestering CO2, high levels of insulation, is antimicrobial, has a high thermal capacity that makes it great for structuring and covering walls, and is 1/7th the weight of concrete. It should be remembered though, that hempcrete cannot be used as a load-bearing material, though it can add weight support, particularly for framing. As of right now, it can only hold about 1/20th of what concrete can, meaning a stronger form must be formulated, or concrete can’t be ruled out completely.


We might not all have the ability to build a hemp house just yet since its still an expensive and difficult industry to navigate. But things are changing, and hopefully it will be a norm soon enough. If you’re interested in learning more about how to build a house of hemp, check out this video about Steve and his hemp house project. And if you’re looking for more ways hemp can replace standard production methods, check out these articles on hemp plastic, hemp paint and wood finishing materials, hemp fuel in place of gasoline, hempcrete, hemp batteries, and hemp paper products.

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Hemp Building Symposium Coming to France

The 10th International Hemp Building Association Symposium takes place this year in Lacapelle Marival, France, from the 11th to 12th of October. As ever, this event promises to be a showcase of the latest technologies in building with hemp from around the world, along with interesting applications for hemp fibers in other industries, in particular the textile industry.

With the rising interest in environmentally friendly and sustainable building materials, the popularity of using hemp raw materials in building projects is spreading. As a result, new technologies are emerging to make the process more efficient. In this interview with International Hemp Building Association founder, Steve Allin, he explains what people can expect from the 10th edition of this event, the history of the industry, and the implications of working with hemp.

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Question: Why did you start the International Hemp Building Association Symposium?

Allin: It was a result of hosting the first symposium here in my hometown of Kenmare in 2009. That event attracted so much interest from so many different parties from around the world we realized it was time to get together to discuss this technology and the materials, as well as all the implications of using these materials. I was one of the early adopters in the industry, and was in contact with various people. There was a project in France in the 80s, and in the early 90s, other projects popped up around Europe, which is when the industry began to really get going.

Back then, there was a lot of discussion going on, ideas about how best to use the materials that were developing quickly. Many people were coming up with ideas for what to mix hemp shiv with, what types of binders to use. So, it became obvious to me, it was the right time to bring all these people and ideas together, which resulted in the event in Kenmare. We hosted a 3-day event and it was a great success, with more than 70 people from around the world, and from then on, we decided to create a formal association.

Question: What is the goal of the International Hemp Building Symposium?

Allin: We want to do a few things. First, we want to add value to the farm, and give more farmers reason to grow hemp. But we also aim to tackle the question of how to demonstrate hemp as a building material while also taking into consideration the wider implications of the plant.

Question: What are some of the implications of growing industrial hemp?

Allin: There’s no point growing hemp unless you have access to some kind of industrial processor. Unfortunately, it was a huge disaster in the U.S. when lots of people decided to get into growing vast fields of “industrial hemp.” I use inverted commas because they were growing the plants for CBD and that material isn’t really useful for anything else, which meant the market there was flooded, creating terrible outcomes on many levels.

Industrial hemp is a different plant that produces fibers, biomass, wood chips and has seeds. Each one of those has to be part of the processing system and that’s why the topic of hemp connects with so many other industries. This plant can provide solutions to all sorts of problems for humanity in general because it covers the basics: food, shelter and clothing. These are things everyone needs, which is what makes hemp so unique.

Question: What kind of solutions does building with hemp offer?

Allin: We’re offering all kinds of solutions with hemp building. First, the raw materials don’t need a huge amount of processing and are low energy. But more importantly, we’re creating building materials that are carbon-negative, so materials that pull carbon out of the atmosphere, and store it. And even though these materials can store carbon, they drastically reduce the amount of carbon inside buildings, which has huge implications for health. And hemp is easy to work with, doesn’t involve lifting heavy blocks that demand lots of strength. Any healthy person, man or woman, can build a house with hemp. It’s an equal opportunities employer.

Question: What makes the Hemp Symposium different from other hemp conferences?

Allin: The plan from the beginning was to host a symposium in a different place every year. Even though that creates a lot more in terms of organization, the aim is to bring people to see projects in development. Rather than standing around conference halls talking about these things, we want to get people physically involved, and show the raw materials and technologies in action. It’s the best way to promote a new technology because it enables people to get a real grasp of it.

Question: Why is the membership of the Hemp Building Association so diverse?

Allin: When we set up the association there was no real need for a national association as no market was big enough. But when you put all the activity together, and look at the global implications, it’s a different story. Hemp can be grown in so many different locations, and has different implications for energy needs in hot or cold, wet or dry climates. Plus, every country has different codes and regulations. So, to really understand it, and uncover ways to adopt new technologies, a global perspective is required. We’re currently working with the U.S. Hemp Building Association and the European Industrial Hemp Association to create a building code for Europe, and there’ll be presentations about that at this year’s symposium.

Question: What new tech will people see at this year’s symposium?

Allin: This year we’ve got the most amazing collection of new technologies, including demonstrations by at least three different spray machines, if not more. The demonstrations on the program include AKTA-BVP, Baumer, and Tecnocanapa. This is a demonstration of mixing hemp shiv and applying it to walls. We also have a new processor demonstration of a new medium-scale machine, which processes hemp at a scale that many small communities could achieve. It produces both building materials but also high-quality fiber materials to be used by the textile industry.

That versatility drives up the value of hemp by creating a new application, which makes this a very interesting machine. But there’s lots of research going on at the moment about different ways hemp can mixed and applied, and those projects will be on display too. There are lots of projects testing hemp in extreme environments. One project is a 12-story hotel in Cape Town, South Africa, and another is a hostel in the Himalaya Mountains with a hemp envelope.

Question: What is the current trend in the hemp building industry?

Allin: Right now, there’s a move towards pre-fabricated blocks or panels, or modular housing systems. One of the largest markets for hemp is retrofitting. We’re interested in restoring the buildings that people currently use for work and living.

Question: How is hemp used by the textile industry?

Allin: Right now, hemp fiber is used by the clothing industry as a blend for linen, so a percentage of a linen cloth might be hemp to create a more ecological material. Hemp is far more environmentally friendly to grow than flax. Also, there are a lot of supply chain issues in the textile industry at the moment due to the shortage of flax. And it looks like it might be a permanent problem. Which is why the focus has shifted to hemp as a way to produce fine textiles in order to replace flax in the linen industry.

That said the most common use of hemp fibers is for the cotton industry, which is an incredibly fast and complex system of producing yarns. To fit hemp fiber into that model is not easy, as it’s difficult to get the same fineness from hemp. But the machinery that’s in place is designed to work with cotton, which is why they get such good results. The technology to get similar results from hemp is just not there

Question: But this new textile technology to be presented at the symposium gets similar results?

Allin: Exactly. We want to demonstrate how this processor can produce fibers in a way that’s applicable to the textile industry. The machine produces a fairly clean and lined material that can then be used for ribbon making to make woven sheets of finer material. Because it’s lined, the material can also be put through various carding and chopping machines, basically cut into short lengths so it can be used in the cotton industry. This is another huge market opportunity for hemp, and outside of China, the market isn’t being supplied.

Final Thoughts

To see the program for the 10th International Hemp Symposium Building Association, click here:

Hotel info can be found here.

The projects in Nepal are instigated by S.H.I.V.

The project in India:

This is must-see event for anyone interested in the future of building with hemp.

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Hempcrete for Industrial Building – An Answer to Cement Pollution Problem

Much like with hemp plastic, which has the ability to cut down on our global plastic use, replacing it with a biodegradable material which doesn’t kill the environment to make, and hemp batteries, which are still being investigated as an alternative to the standard, hempcrete is hemp’s answer to building materials, and comes with massive benefits for both industrial and private building projects. Here’s a little on what it is, and how it can help.

There are tons of hempcrete benefits for industrial building, but that’s just one great aspect of the cannabis plant. Most of us are more familiar with it for its medical and recreational benefits. Much like the appearance of hempcrete, there are also tons of new products in the medical and recreational space, like THCV, THCA, and delta-8 THC. We encourage you to use hempcrete for building projects, but if you’re looking to take the edge off after working, take a look at our deals for delta-8 THC, and many other compounds, and be glad that expanding industries means lots of new options.

Standard building: concrete, cement and CO2 emissions

The first thing you’ll notice about hempcrete is that the name of the building material sounds much like the more well-known one that has been used in the last couple centuries for mass production in building materials, concrete. Concrete, and particularly cement, production account for a huge amount of CO2 emissions, meaning the standard building industry creates a lot of greenhouse gases, and leaves a major carbon footprint on the earth. This is more related to cement, while concrete production means digging into the ground and ruining the topsoil, which is the fertile, growing layer of soil.

Concrete is a hard, chemically inert building material made from an aggregate of (generally) sand and gravel, which is bonded by cement and water. Cement for its part, is a mixture of limestone, clay, and sand which is heated in a kiln to about 1450 Celsius to produce ‘cement clinker’, which becomes standard cement after it is cooled, ground down, and mixed with other substances. 40% of the emissions related to cement production have to do with the fuels used to heat the kilns. There is also 60% created in the process of lime being heated in the kiln, which releases CO2 into the kiln, in a process called calcination. This does create a carbon footprint in the manufacture of cement and concrete. All of this accounts for an entire 8% of global CO2 emissions.

Cement only makes up approximately 7-10% of concrete, the rest is the sand, gravel, and water. The making of concrete, and cement, essentially requires use of some of the more basic raw materials found on earth. The cement industry, through it’s release of carbon dioxide, actually accounts for as much as 25% of all industry CO2 emissions. This, along with the statistic that per each dollar of revenue, it produces the most CO2 emissions. While it is cement, and not the rest of concrete production that is responsible for this, cement is an integral part of making concrete, which means cement CO2 emissions have been very hard to get around.

CO2 emissions cement

How widespread is use of these materials? They’re literally everywhere. Think about the majority of sidewalks, many houses, most office building, most building structures, dams, on highways, and in tons of other places. Nearly everything we come into contact with in terms of industrial building, involves the use of cement and/or concrete. With increasing issues related to the destruction of our planet, atmosphere, and breathing air, looking for building materials with less carbon footprint, becomes even more important, and this is where hempcrete comes in.

What is hempcrete?

Hempcrete sounds much like the material it’s meant to replace, concrete. Hempcrete is an alternate building material made from all-natural materials lime and hemp. Lime, of course, is a main component in cement production, with the heating of it leading to the majority of the CO2 emissions involved. In hempcrete production, the inner core of the hemp plant is used which has a woody consistency, called the ‘shiv’. It’s naturally high content of silica makes it great with binding to limestone. This is, in fact, a property unique to the hemp plant among other natural fibers.

The hurds and lime are mixed together with a sufficient amount of water. When this happens, a chemical reaction takes place with the lime and water, which creates a sort of glue which covers the hemp particles and binds them together, creating something called ‘bonded cellulose insulation’. Once everything is set and dries out, the final material is hempcrete. When substances like concrete or plaster are made, the idea is to fill the space between particles to make the substance firm and strong. This is not the case with hempcrete, where the hemp particles are only coated by the lime-binder so they can stick to each other. This means there is void space throughout the material.

Not all hemp is created equally, however, and we already know there is a massive difference between strains when it comes to medical effects. This is true of industrial effects as well. For example, some strains have more fiber. More fiber increases density and strength, which can be good at times, but which minimizes thermal abilities. When building, it’s important that builders use the correct hempcrete for their building project.

Now, when making cement, lime is heated to temperatures which cause the massive CO2 emissions. The interesting thing about hempcrete? Not only is CO2 not released in making it, but it can actually take CO2 out of the air and hold it, or sequester it. How much? According to research, as much as 19lbs of CO2 per cubic foot of hempcrete (approximately what three refrigerators release in a year). In this way, not only would hempcrete not add to CO2 emissions, it would help clear CO2 from the air. Kind of a double whammy in the helping environmental issues department.

Now, one thing to be made clear, is that hempcrete would not actually be a 100% replacement for concrete. Hempcrete doesn’t have a lot of mechanical strength, and therefore can’t be used to support large weights. Obviously this is a drawback when considering that buildings require materials that can hold a lot of weight, like concrete. On the other hand, the idea that more fibrous hempcrete creates a more firm and solid material, might indicate that a form of hempcrete might be made in the future which could do this job.

hemp building materials

What are hempcrete benefits for industrial building?

There are plenty of hempcrete benefits when it comes to industrial and private building. Here are a few of the main ones to consider.

  • The first benefit, is that it doesn’t leave a carbon footprint like cement, and works oppositely, actually helping to rid the environment of excess CO2. This is like a reverse carbon footprint.
  • One of the main things hempcrete is known for, and one of the major benefits for industrial and private building projects, is its ability for insulation. This ability comes from hempcrete’s capability to stay structurally intact in humidity. Because of the porous structure (space between particles), hemp can absorb moisture directly into its cellular structure. The moisture can be stored or released based on changing weather conditions. According to a French study, one cubic meter of hempcrete can hold as much as 596kg of water. This means it can sustain up to ~ 93% humidity over a long period of time, without ruining the structure.
  • Another benefit is that lime is antimicrobial, and by biding to the hemp particles, it creates surfaces on which bacteria and funguses can’t grow. Other insulation materials can more easily grow mold, hempcrete will not. Mold is a major issue in most insulation materials, making hempcrete a better solution in this vein.
  • While hempcrete can’t sustain the same kind of weight as concrete, it can aid in weight support, particularly when cast around framing – conventional or double-studded. A Canadian study found that under certain circumstances, hempcrete infill along with standard wall studs, was able to increase support ability by 3-4X.
  • Hemp hurd is actually a byproduct of other industrial hemp activities that rely on materials like fiber and seeds. So as industrial hemp is grown more for these aspects, there is a growing amount of hurd left over that can be used in insulation. As of right now, this material can be compressed to fuel pellets, or used in products like animal bedding, but as hurd is not used in primary industrial hemp markets, there is plenty available specifically for insulation purposes, and its use in this way helps more of the hemp plant to be used without waste.
  • When creating hempcrete, there are some issues with lime being caustic, and requiring safety equipment to work with (though minor in comparison to other industrial chemicals). However, once fully dried, unlike insulators like asbestos which are now associated with massive health issues, hempcrete will release no toxins into the air around.
  • The high thermal capacity of hempcrete makes it good not just for insulation, but for structuring/covering walls as well.
hempcrete benefits industrial building
  • Since it’s made from hemp, and contains a porous structure, hempcrete is significantly lighter than concrete, about 1/7th the weight. On the downside, this also makes it significantly weaker in terms of supporting weight, at about 1/20th that of concrete, which is why, unless a newer stronger version can be formulated, it can’t totally replace concrete.

Why aren’t we using this much better material en masse already?

This is a great question, and goes back to why hemp was illegalized in the first place, and is also relevant to the use of oil/natural gas-based plastics instead of hemp plastic. Back in the early-mid 1900’s, there were industrial chemical companies headed by families like the Duponts which didn’t want competition, and still rely on the oil industry today to make products. Oil companies are some of the biggest contributors to electoral campaigns and the sitting ducks in office who never seem to do anything useful. There was also a paper industry and a pharmaceutical industry that didn’t want competition back when prohibition was just starting.

Of course, the cement industry and concrete industries are quite large themselves, with the cement industry expected to be worth $682.3 billion by 2025. The global ready-mix concrete market size is expected to reach 1.2 trillion by 2027. Together in 2020, the cement and concrete products industries were worth $333.26 billion. The idea that those who run the corporations in these industries wouldn’t do a lot to protect against new materials that could cut into revenue, is ignoring basics of general life and industry. The size of these industries will make it hard for newer and better materials to come out, unless such corporations can themselves find ways to benefit from them.

Technically, since hempcrete is made from a plant and lime, it has the capacity to be made much more cheaply than concrete which requires digging into the earth, and much longer processing because of the cement. However, because right now there is opposition by building corporations, not that many companies operate in the hempcrete space yet, making it more expensive at the moment, even though its production is generally less expensive with all other things being equal.

Hempcrete for Industrial Building – Conclusion

There are a couple things to understand about hempcrete benefits for industrial and private building. It has a lot of positive attributes that can make buildings overall stronger and better, but its also, like with plastics, against massive industries that don’t want competition from better materials. The existent industries, however, show the extent of the value that a hempcrete market is capable of having if it can start to divert from these other industries.

Will it happen? I think so. Soon? Hard to say. As environmental problems increase, looking to materials like hempcrete becomes even more important. But the rich tend not to care about their own environment, and so the first obstacle, is gaining momentum to start cutting into these already existent, and dominating, corporations.

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