Building Low Carbon Hemp Homes

The construction of new structures from low-carbon and renewable resources is receiving particular attention both in the construction industry and in society at large. This article will look at building new homes with hemp, a low-carbon and sustainable material.

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The construction industry: a major contributor to climate change

According to the World Economic Forum, the global construction industry contributes around 38% of total global carbon emissions. The number of buildings constructed in the world each week could fill a city the size of Paris.

About half of the carbon emissions produced by a building during its useful life are produced during its construction before people even use it. This is called ’embedded carbon’, and materials such as concrete and cement are estimated to be responsible for around 8% of total global carbon emissions.

The construction industry is also responsible for the exploitation of large amounts of non-renewable virgin resources, energy, and produces huge amounts of waste during construction and demolition. Almost all waste produced during a building’s lifetime is disposed of in the environment, usually in landfills, wasting valuable resources that could otherwise be used to improve the sustainability and circularity of the sector.

Green strategies in construction

Recognizing the scale of the problem, the construction industry has focused on strategies to drastically reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings and infrastructure.

Several technologies have been explored in the construction industry, with renewable energy helping to reduce carbon emissions from sites and being researched for use in building raw materials. In the UK alone, three in five construction companies said they were interested in using renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power.

The gear also gets a green upgrade. Companies have explored the use of environmentally friendly construction equipment, with Hyundai announcing the development of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered excavator, with plans to introduce the machine in 2023.

One of the most exciting areas of sustainable construction is the use of alternative building materials that can reduce the amount of carbon embedded in new buildings and infrastructure. Many sustainable materials have been investigated in studies over the past decades, with varying degrees of success.

Sustainable building materials have made their way into the market in recent years, replacing the use of conventional carbon-intensive materials such as concrete. Examples include geopolymer composites, recycled plastic, recycled wood, rammed earth, bamboo, wool insulation, living roofs, straw bales, Ferrock (a type of recycled material made from materials such as than steel and dust) and hemp.

The use of hemp in sustainable construction

Hemp is an ancient building material. In recent history, the use of hemp has been overshadowed by its association with its psychoactive cousin, cannabis. However, there has been renewed interest in using hemp for a variety of commercial products, including as a sustainable building material that can provide a low-carbon alternative to conventional materials.

Many hemp-based building materials have been developed by scientists over the past few decades that show excellent commercial promise. Particleboard and hemp particleboard use this eco-friendly plant-derived material and incorporate other fibers such as linen to produce a stronger, lighter and more moisture-resistant alternative to conventional particle board.

Hempcrete is a revolutionary concrete-like material that combines industrial hemps (inner cores of hemp plant stems), water, and lime-based binders. Once applied and cured, hempcrete becomes a strong, lightweight construction product that can be used in new homes.

Building houses with hemp | Free Thought

Video credit: Freethink/Youtube.com

Hempcrete offers benefits such as good insulation, less embodied carbon and energy, low flammability, resistance to mold and pests, CO2 absorption during cure, increased strength over time, moisture resistance, non-toxicity and full recyclability.

Hemp offers several benefits for the construction industry and is playing an increasing role in the sector’s net zero carbon goals to meet international climate change mitigation targets by 2050.

Case Study: Common Knowledge – Building Tiny Houses from Hemp

The potential for hemp as a low-carbon, green building alternative is vast, but a social enterprise in Ireland is championing the small benefits of this ancient building material. Working with Margent Farm, a hemp grower, Common Knowledge designed a low-carbon tiny house using hemp.

They said their tiny houses could help people struggling with the cost of living and housing crisis. Named Tigin Tiny Homes, they are essentially oversized caravans. Besides corrugated hemp siding panels, these homes are made from other durable materials such as cork for insulation and natural rubber for floor tiles. They can be bought pre-made or people can learn to build their own.

Hemp panels were first used in Flat House, a pioneering zero-carbon project and are constructed from plant fibers and sugar-based resins from agricultural waste. Both are lightweight and extremely durable, and although UK planning regulations restrict their use in architectural products, this is less so when used in mobile construction.

Common Knowledge intends to make the plans for their Tigin Tiny Homes open source, meaning they would be free to use for anyone who wants to build their own. These plans would include architectural designs, material lists, recommended vendors, and pricing information.

In summary

Hemp is an ancient building material that has gained increased interest in recent years due to the need for sustainable alternatives to conventional materials such as concrete and the urgency to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry. and limit environmental damage. With innovative projects such as Common Knowledge’s Tigin Houses, the future of hemp in the construction industry looks bright.

More from AZoBuild: Can hemp rebar be useful in construction?

References and further reading

Frearson, A (2022) Hemp-covered Tigín Tiny Homes offer a way to “escape the rent trap,” says social enterprise Dezeen [online] dezeen.com. Available at:

https://www.dezeen.com/2022/08/11/tigin-tiny-homes-common-knowledge-hemp-cladding/

Fairs, M (2021) How to reduce the carbon footprint of construction? World Economic Forum [online] weforum.org. Available at:

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/07/construction-industry-doesn-t-know-where-it-stands-when-it-comes-to-carbon-emissions/

Hamakareem, MI (2021) Top 4 Renewable Energy Sources to Power Construction Sites The constructor [online] theconstructor.org. Available at:

Top 4 Sources of Renewable Energy for Powering Construction Sites

Hemp Gazette (2022) Industrial hemp as a building material [online] hempgazette.com. Available at:

Industrial hemp as a building material

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