“But if my house catches fire, will I get high?” If Matthew Mead, President of Hempitecture, received a tree for every time he’s been asked that question he could have planted a large forest by now. Mead and his business partner Tyler Mauri, each with architecture design and environmental design degrees, have created Hempitecture.
The company seeks to educate, motivate and advocate for the expansion of industrial hemp in building construction, hence the name. Speaking of education and advocacy, allow me to first clear up some common myths about industrial hemp.
First off, let me answer the question poised earlier. The answer is no. Industrial hemp contains trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. To boot, industrial hemp’s high levels of cannabidiol (CBD) negate THC’s ‘psychoactive’ effects.
Industrial hemp is not marijuana. While both are derived from Cannabis sativa, industrial hemp is not only scientifically different from marijuana but also cultivated differently. No matter what audience Hempitecture finds itself in front of, they still find themselves countering this misperception that ‘hemp is marijuana’.
Industrial hemp has been grown legally (with the exception of the United States) as an agricultural crop for decades. Since the (U.S.) Controlled Substances Act of 1970, it technically has not been illegal to grow hemp in the United States.
However as Industrial Hemp eloquently waxes, ‘Growing hemp is kind of like driving, you can’t drive without a license and you can’t grow hemp without a permit. The difference is that it is almost impossible to get a permit from DEA to grow hemp.’ Signaling a shift in awareness, approximately 11 states have legalized the cultivation and research of industrial hemp.
There are dozens of manufacturing uses for industrial hemp. The agriculture product is currently used in the manufacture of textiles, foods, body care, paper and even building materials. Oh, and by the way – industrial hemp is an organic, rapidly renewable, energy-efficient, non-toxic, resistant to mold, insects and fire and carbon neutral material. So why not build with industrial hemp? I find myself asking the same question.
Hempitecture represents a new way of thinking about sustainable building environment in the United States. “We want to represent a new generation of sustainable building,” details Mead. “We believe that the movement can and should be youth led and we believe passionately about improving building design and materials.”
During his senior year of college, Mead conducted significant research on sustainable earthen building strategies as part of his senior thesis. Chew on this. According to United States Green Building Council, buildings account annually for 39% of emissions in the United States. U.S. buildings alone are responsible for more CO2 emissions annually than those of any other country except China.
The materials many buildings are made with, coupled with inefficient design strategies, make up a large portion of this growing environmental and building efficiency problem. Hempitecture is as an organic response to this issue.
Recognizing the potential of hemp as an energy saving strategy, Mead and Mauri created Hempitecture – a design company focused on building with hemp material. As a sign of validation, Hempitecture has been selected a finalist in four different business plan competitions. “We want to take this idea from simply an intellectual concept to more of an applied concept,” states Mead.
“We wanted to find further the sustainable building design movement using sustainable products,’ adds Mead.
The hemp mixture, hempcrete, is placed inside wall forms which are then removed once the mixture hardens (similar to traditional concrete). The hemp absorbs carbon dioxide and puts nitrogen into the soil which it is built upon. Think of the finished walls as a living, breathing wall. According to Alex Wilson, executive editor for Environmental Building News, hemp can be grown with minimal use of chemicals wand water.
Aside from marketplace education, Hempitecture’s biggest challenge is sourcing the very material for which it is named for and advocates on behalf of. However, Mead and his team believe so passionately in using industrial hemp as a building material that they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign will be aimed at raising not only capital but also awareness about the benefits of industrial hemp as a building material.
Later this month, Mead and Mauri will be completing the country’s first non-residential building constructed using industrial hemp located in Sun Valley, Idaho. “We’re looking to make a statement with this project that this can be done,” outlines Mauri.
This is more than pie-in-the-sky thinking. Building with industrial hemp in the U.S. has the potential to make large impacts on not only sustainability but building efficiency and health. States Mead,
“We’re looking to enact positive change.”