Green Building Bites presents a look at Locally Grown Hemp Building Products

This edition of Green Building Bites brings you a green building product spotlight on hemp. In an interview with Lori Daytner, Vice President of Program Development at the DON group of companies (DON stands for Disability Options Network, the name of the group’s first non-profit) in New Castle, Pennsylvania, we learned more about regional innovations in hemp growth and building material production. DON is working to support local jobs and healthy buildings by partnering with a variety of experts and stakeholders to grow, produce, test, and research hemp building products – specifically hempcrete – a nonstructural, biocomposite insulation material made from three natural, non-toxic ingredients: industrial hemp hurd (the inner woody core of the hemp stalk), lime binder and water. A PA Department of Agriculture grant catalyzed the work as a way to build the regional hemp market and create new opportunities for farmers, and DON is facilitating the work through its Hemp Test Acres Program and Project PA Hemp Home, a demonstration home using hemp building materials.

Project PA Hemp Home is testing the use of these products in the renovation of a blighted property in New Castle. DON spearheads a neighborhood revitalization program by building accessible, affordable housing rehabs and new construction, so this was the perfect application to begin testing the product. Construction on the home is currently under way, and the hempcrete was installed at the end of April (a live audience over Zoom was able to watch the process).

DON is partnering with the Parsons New School Healthy Materials Lab and the PA Housing Research Center at Penn State University on the project. The Penn State team will analyze the thermal, insulative, and performance properties of the material while the Parsons team designed the renovation and will conduct air quality testing. Further research will compare the hemp product to traditional insulation materials and identify resulting utility savings.

Here are some reasons this project is so intriguing:

  • the layered regional economic benefits to several industries, including agriculture and construction
  • the health benefits of using a non-toxic building product (for manufacturers, installers, and building users)
  • the potential climate benefits of using a carbon-sequestering hemp-based building product, which can potentially also reduce construction waste streams (check out this GreenBiz article on hemp building products)
  • and finally, I love how this innovation can support DON’s mission to empower people with disabilities to live as independently as they choose.

This is a very complex and long-term project, and one of the next steps for DON is to determine how to localize hemp production and processing for use in local manufacturing. Stay tuned for updates about this innovative process and to follow the research and findings of DON’s projects!

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