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Combine Hemp & Timber Frame - Grow Your Own House! PDF Print E-mail
by Henry O'D. Thompson   
Wednesday, 01 December 2004
The combined use of hemp and timber frame is the ultimate in true sustainable eco friendly construction; yes you can grow your own house.

By using hemp and timber frame construction these buildings have a potential for zero CO2 emissions. The proposed carbon tax may have been temporally shelved but will ultimately have to be introduced if we are to live up to our Kyoto agreements.This will affect all Irish builders in the future. This carbon tax will hit many building components suppliers hard as there will be a tax on the carbon dioxide emissions produced by such materials. A Hemp House may have net zero emissions and so contribute to keeping costs down. The carbon tax could be likened to when the unleaded petrol first came; at first it wasnít popular but it eventually became more sensible to use the unleaded and ultimately it may be the only option.

In France they have been building with hemp for 15 years with hundreds of homes completed. The OldBuilders are pioneering hemp technology building here to provide houses that will be warm, breathable and eco-friendly. Normal concrete block or standard airtight timber frame buildings often arenít breathable and so need ventilation and heat exchangers. They usually contain many synthetic materials many of which may be harmful to our environment in production or harmful in the environment in which we live, IE our house.

The hemp building is a solid wall construction that beats most conventional insulation methods because of its thermal mass. This means the hemp houses are cool in the summer and warm in the winter and are not prone to condensation and mildew buildups, very important as we come to realize the importance of indoor air quality on our health and in particularly the health of our children with the staggering growth in child allergies.

The OldBuilders Company is primarily a specialist in the restoration and conservation of old and historic buildings and it was in our pursuit of green and environmentally friendly techniques for conservation that we learned that hemp mixed with water and hydraulic lime was ideal for insulating and old stone buildings. Itís an extremely breathable vapour permeable material, a terrific alternative. Studies have shown that 35% of dry lined buildings after 10 years have toxic moulds growing behind the walls.

Over a number of years and experiences I became fascinated with all things relating to hemp and subsequently the OldBuilders Company in cooperation with Terry McGrogan and in consultation with Tom Wooley professor of green building at Queens University, built the first hemp house in Ireland for client Marcus McCabe, a well-known environmentalist in Clones, Co. Monaghan. Marcus produces read bed sewage treatment systems. This building is now being used as his office.

The OldBuilders are now completing the second and third hemp buildings in Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow. The hemp house in Dunlavin will be used as a workshop and the adjoining hemp building will be a sunroom.

We design the hemp houses to be as conventional looking as possible, the results are very similar to any masonry built modern building. The structure of the buildings is built similar to a standard timber-frame house although with some significant framing differences. The timber is then encased entirely by the hemp lime mix which solidifies to a masonry type structure, itís solid not a cavity wall.

An interesting experiment has been undertaken in Sussex in England where two houses were built alongside each other, one made from hemp the other from conventional concrete block. A thermal picture was taken of both houses at night and the difference was staggering. The conventional house was glowing because it was losing so much heat. The study found that the hemp house was on average two degrees warmer with the same energy input. That could translate into heat savings of between 15% and 20%.

In Ireland, the number of hemp advocates is growing daily and it is becoming very likely that the cultivation of hemp wonít be just a pipe dream. At the moment the only drawback to hemp is that it is more expensive than concrete but if it were to be grown in bulk in Ireland that problem would very quickly sort itself out.

Henry OíD. Thompson, OldBuilders Company.

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