It’s been about 5 years now since I first became interested in building with hempcrete. I had this mid-century modern house that needed a lot of repair and an energy upgrade. Looking for non-toxic insulation, I discovered that hemp fiber batts, a logical insulation material, was not manufactured in North America. Research, however, revealed that the core of the hemp stalk, held together by a lime binder is an insulating system and so much more. I kept researching and the answer kept being that I should do it; I should retrofit my house with hempcrete.
Steve Allin was one of the first names I encountered in my hempcrete search. He had written the book Building with hemp and lime. I wrote to Steve and learned that he was doing a workshop in Colorado. I was there.
The next year he came to my house. We had a workshop and built a hempcrete demonstration building on my property where the big house is situated. The city of Bellingham allows for “sheds” that are less than 200 ft2 to be built without a permit. The workshop was attended by about 15 people from Alaska to Los Angeles and was a very satisfying accomplishment. It demonstrated to me and to the city that this was a viable and beautiful building alternative.
Fortunately, I live in a part of the country where environmental consciousness is strong and pushing on the boundaries of the status quo is not unthinkable. We are proudly a “green” city, bolstered by the natural beauty that surrounds us. But in addition to our local temperament, there were individuals in influential positions who were indispensable in securing a building permit. I am grateful to Jim Tinner of Planning and Permitting for understanding the role of alternative building materials in improving quality of life, to the City of Bellingham, and to Kirsten Barron, who encouraged my persistence. And I am grateful to the hemp advocates, farmers who wanted to grow hemp, and friends who showed up when I needed support: Sandy Soderberg, Nancy Metcalf, Marilyn Flint (the ladies of hemp), Debbie Vanderveen, Stephen Rowland, Kehrt and Marzenna Reyher, and many others.
Permission to build was essential, and so was education. I realized that since there were so few hemp building experts in the world, I would have to go where they were. I would never have had the confidence to enlist my life resources in this movement without the face-to-face connections that I achieved through going to Steve Allin’s International Hemp Building Symposiums. I went to these events in Germany, Italy, Montreal, and Belgium in successive years. I also sought to find processing facilities, a spray machine, hempcrete buildings, and people who confirmed with their own dedication that this building method is as viable as we understand it to be.
In 2017 I was ready to build. I enlisted Bellingham Bay Builders to do the framing and the roof. Deborah Todd helped me to draft my design and submit plans to the city. Mathew Mead contacted me to come and work as a framer with BBB in order to prepare the structure for hempcrete. He was joined by Tommy Gibbons, his partner in Hempitecture, who joined him for the hempcrete installation. We all had much to learn, made a few missteps, shared some gratifying successes, and built us a right beautiful house of hemp.
As of August 2019, we are in the process of learning how to retrofit the remaining structure with hempcrete. I have great hopes that retrofitting could save many timber structures from demolition. Norman Ridge is the contractor and carpenter who is on the scene, with his broad knowledge and 35 years of building experience. Together with revolving crews of enthusiastic millennials, an inquisitive community, and other hemp house dreamers, we hope to share what we learn with as many people as possible.
Of course, I have not done this alone. The people I am calling my advisers and affiliates deserve special recognition. Their problem solving abilities and their willingness to step outside of the comfort zone of business as usual has made this vision a reality.
I was formerly a teacher. I am still that, I suppose, and an artist. I am grateful to have this canvas to build upon and a world that supports me in this expression.
I would like to thank Sandra Pearce Raffealli, Lydia Raffealli Meyer, and Matthew Meyer for their part in sustaining me, affording me the freedom to imagine and build.
Steve Allin, International Hemp Building Association
Tiny Hemp Houses/USA
Wolf Jordan Associates
Dhiraj K. Shah
Deborah Todd , Deborah Todd Building Design Services
Kirsten Barron, Esq.
Barron, Smith, Daugert
Lila J. McGrew, P.E.
Evergreen Engineering & Design, LLC
Everson, WA 98247
Robert L. Smith Plumbing Specialties, Inc.
125 Candice Lane
Sedro Woolley, WA 98284
Bellingham Bay Builders
824 N. State Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
Chilltrix Ultra-Efficient Heat Pump Systems