Here Comes the Hemp
At the end of 2018 legislation was passed to get rid of restrictions on farmers for growing hemp. Essentially, hemp is now legal in the United States. It couldn’t come at a better time either. Farmers are facing inclimate weather patterns and difficulties in selling crops in the midst of the China trade war. On top of the benefit to the agriculture industry, hemp is a renewable resource that has stood the test of time, offers a significant reduction in our carbon footprint, and can be used in almost every industry, including home and attic insulation.
Hemp has been around literally forever. Archaeologists can date its use in textiles as far back as 8,000 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia. That seems like a really long time for something to be around and useful and not legal, you say to yourself. And you’re right. It is. But that’s because hemp comes from the cannabis plant and is often confused with its THC bearing counterpart, marijuana. And Nixon, and his War on Drugs, and misinformation etcetera etcetera. But the veil has lifted and we can now reap the benefits of this tried and true beauty of a plant. But what makes it so special, you ask?
Hemp naturally detoxifies the soil it grows in as it grows. This is huge! Crop rotation is a common practice among farmers to maintain their land. It forces the soil to carry more than one set of nutrients, reduces soil erosion, and ups the fertility and yield of crops. Add into the mix that hemp detoxifies the soil and doesn’t need the use of pesticides to flourish and we have the makings of magic.
Hemp is also 100% biodegradable. Which means all products made from hemp are compostable in either a compost or landfill setting; while also being naturally non-toxic. And because of its ridiculously long roots, it can sequester more carbon into the soil than other typical crops like wheat and cotton. It also grows in tightly packed spaces, which gives it the edge over weeds. On top of all these good things is the fact that it can grow in almost any climate, so farmers all over the country can partake in the planting.
The earliest use of hemp was in textiles. And you probably saw more than one “drug rug” in college walking around campus. It also made ropes and sails for ships, bags for storing and carrying. But today the uses for hemp are practically limitless. It’s an easy replacement for cotton and wood products, but its best uses can be found in building materials. Hempcrete is an insulating element that’s been used in buildings up to ten stories high. It still requires the use of wood framing, but it’s an environmentally friendly replacement for concrete since you can simply till the excess hempcrete back into the soil to clean up.
Hemp insulation for attics, though, is a great alternative to fiberglass or spray foam insulations. Its high thermal mass and low conductivity make it ideal for regulating temperatures in homes and buildings. Because it is made from a natural fiber the material is breathable. Being breathable means moisture can travel instead of build up, it naturally regulates condensation and keeps moisture from collecting in wood frames. It also doesn’t have the same chemicals as fiberglass and spray foam and will biodegrade. In some cases it can be reused or salvaged if there is water damage to the insulation by simply drying it out and repacking it. The cost is typically twice that of fiberglass, but it’s a worthy investment as it will last well beyond 50 years.