The construction industry has a huge impact on the world that we live in, from job production to material use and creating the spaces we spend most of our time inside of. As such, it’s essential to innovate and work to improve our methods whenever possible. 

Hemp is fast-growing and sustainable—and it makes an incredible construction material. Hemp-based materials can revolutionize the future of construction and insulation and allow our industry to impact the world positively in many ways. However, there are several roadblocks the hemp construction industry needs to overcome for this to become a reality. 

What is Industrial Hemp?

Legally, hemp is any cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. Industrial hemp is grown specifically for manufacturing rather than consumption. 

Hemp-based building materials come in many forms. Hempcrete is a concrete substitute made primarily from the tough inner part of hemp stalks. Hemp insulation, an effective and nontoxic type of thermal insulation, is also gaining popularity. 

The Benefits of Building with Hemp

Hemp-based construction and insulation materials offer countless benefits compared to traditional construction materials. 

Hemp Has a Long History of Use in Construction

Construction materials made from hemp have been used in Europe since the 1980s. Hemp materials can be just as long-lasting as conventional building materials, if not more so; archeologists have even found evidence of hemp used as a construction material as far back as Ancient Rome.

From Europe’s example, we can see that hemp has a long history of use as an effective, long-lasting building material that would massively benefit the construction industry as a whole. 

Hemp Materials Resist Common Causes of Structural Damage

Building materials made from hemp naturally resist several common types of damage that impact homeowners and builders: 

  • Hemp construction materials are naturally fire-resistant. Using hemp lessens the risk of fire damage and eliminates the need for toxic fire-retardant treatments, materials, and additives. 

  • Hemp compounds are also naturally termite-resistant, so these pests are unlikely to infest or damage the structure of a home made from hemp. 

  • The ingredients used to make hempcrete and hemp insulation create an inhospitable environment for spores, and hemp building materials are naturally breathable and vapor-permeable. Because of these properties, hemp materials are naturally mold- and mildew-resistant as well. 

Hemp Can Create Eco-Friendly Buildings

One of the most significant benefits of building and insulating with hemp is that it is extremely environmentally friendly and sustainable. Hemp is fast-growing, requires very little water, and helps renew the soil where it is planted. 

Both hemp plants and building materials made from hemp can help to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; every square foot of hempcrete can sequester up to 19 pounds of CO2. Buildings that can pull this much carbon dioxide from the environment can drastically decrease their carbon footprint. Some environmentally focused architecture firms in Europe have even proposed plans for apartment buildings that absorb more carbon dioxide than they produce, thanks to hemp-based materials and other sustainable building techniques. 

Hemp Building Materials are Nontoxic

Hemp insulation is safe and non-toxic, unlike traditional thermal insulators. Conventional fiberglass insulation is a skin, eye, and lung irritant and can cause serious health problems for those who work with it. Hemp insulation, however, is plant-based, non-irritating, and safe to handle with bare hands. 

Hemp construction materials also do not need the toxic additives other building materials require. It naturally resists pests, mold, and fire; pesticides, mold killers, and fire retardants used to protect conventional building materials can all be toxic to construction workers and the people who dwell in finished structures. Hemp insulation and other hemp building materials can, therefore, help to create healthier homes and businesses. 

Challenges Facing Mainstream Hemp Construction

Despite its many benefits, industrial hemp has not yet achieved mainstream success. It will take work from the construction industry as a whole to make hemp a widely used construction material. 

Building Codes and Standards Are Still Catching Up

Despite hemp’s long history of use as a trusted building material in other parts of the world, industrial hemp and hemp construction materials were not legal in the United States until the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.  

Because the United States has only recently begun to accept this invaluable plant, hemp building materials are not included in official building codes. The ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) has yet to create official standards for these materials. 

The hemp construction industry must overcome this hurdle; large construction companies are unwilling to use an uncertified product, and without these large construction companies, hemp cannot become a widely accepted building material. 

Consumers are Unfamiliar with Hemp Construction

Construction professionals aren’t the only ones who are unfamiliar with hemp construction materials. Consumers also have very little exposure to industrial hemp. Because hempcrete and hemp insulation are new and unfamiliar, consumers are less likely to trust them in the construction of their homes or businesses. 

Hemp also faces some residual social stigma stemming from its association with cannabis. For hemp-based construction materials to enter into mainstream use in America, consumers need to be informed about the plant and all it can do. 

Importation of Raw Hemp Materials Limits Widespread Use

Because hemp building materials are not widely used in the U.S., the country does not have the facilities to produce the necessary raw materials. However, the fact that the U.S. cannot produce the required raw materials limits the widespread use of hemp in construction. 

The U.S. imports most of its raw hemp materials from France, Europe’s leading industrial hemp producer. The logistic, political, and bureaucratic difficulties of importing hemp construction materials provide another opportunity for growth in the American industrial hemp industry. 

Be a Part of the Hemp Construction Change

Hemp-based building materials, including hemp-based insulation, consistently work just as well—or better—than traditional materials and provide many additional benefits. Other countries that use hemp in building more regularly have proven that it is environmentally friendly, non-toxic, sturdy and long-lasting. 

To bring the hemp construction industry to its fullest potential, however, we need more construction companies to embrace the potential of these exciting materials. Natural materials have the power to revolutionize the construction industry and allow us to help create a better world, and hemp-based construction could be the beginning.