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Industrial hemp being used to build home in Bellingham

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- If you’re thinking of remodeling your home, using hemp likely didn’t come to mind. However, a company remodeling a home in Bellingham is hoping to change minds, by using what's called "hempcrete."

The use of industrial hemp actually dates back to Roman times, when builders would use the strain of Cannabis sativa, a flowering plant, to build. This particular strain of hemp requires it to be grown outdoors and is longer than a different version that is used for pot.

A handful of companies, like Hempitecture, are giving hemp a resurgence as a building tool.

“What we’re trying to do is look at how hempcrete can be applied into more custom homes, more larger-scale homes,” said Matthew Mead, founder of Hempitecture.

Idaho-based Hempitecture has used hempcrete for projects in that state, but now they’re working on an addition/renovation off Highland Drive in Bellingham. They’ve called it the Highland Hemp House. According to Mead, there are several reasons why hemp makes a sustainable and strong building substance.

“It’s derived from three things. It’s derived from the wooden core of the industrial hemp plant, a lime-based binder as well as water,” he said.

According to Mead, industrial hemp is commonly used for making rope, clothing or for nutritional supplements. For construction purposes, its wooden core is broken down and shipped in bales.

“We can combine a half bale of this hemp herd into the mixer with our lime base slurry,” said Mead.

Once it's mixed, the workers pour it and then tamper it down in between a wooden frame. And then, a couple of hours later, you have the finished product, hempcrete.

“You get a highly insulating, energy-efficient wall system that's also non-toxic,” said Mead. “Hempcrete is a green building strategy that’s healthy, breathable. It’s fire resistant."

Only a handful of buildings across the country were built with hempcrete. And according to Mead, there are several reasons why. For one, different states have different regulations on the use of hemp. For Mead, that means educating each state and each county on what hempcrete is.

“It really ends up being this repetitive process where we don't have a governing code that allows hempcrete,” he said. “So, we have the same conversation with each county that we work in.”

Another is production of industrial hemp itself. There just isn’t enough of it in the U.S., Mead said. For the project in Bellingham, hemp fibers had to be shipped from Europe.

“The more people that get into the processing industry, the more farmers will be confident that they can have that grown product turned into something that's sellable,” said Mead.

Only a few states are growing industrial hemp, with Kentucky leading in production, according to Mead. Another issue is breaking the stigma of “hemp” itself.

“One of my favorite ones is, 'If my house burns down, will I get high?' And the reason why I love that one is because clearly you don't know that much about industrial hemp because hempcrete is fireproof,” said Mead. “Hempcrete and industrial hemp doesn’t have THC in it, it doesn’t have the intoxicant that marijuana has.”

For Mead, he believes the future of industrial hemp is growing. He thinks with more open regulation and a better classification of industrial hemp, that will help the industry grow.

“Once you tell people what the building material is, they start to understand it. They get it. Why wouldn`t you use this strategy?” said Mead.

Right now, hempcrete costs about 10 percent more than traditional building methods, said Mead. He believes the cost will go down once production increases.