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Company Uses Hemp To Help Build Homes, Despite Costly Regulations

PRESCOTT, Wis. (WCCO) -- Chances are pretty good that if somebody asks you about hemp, your first thoughts might land on the weed that gets rolled into joints. And that's the unfortunate reality plaguing proponents who seek to strip federal regulations on industrial grade hemp.

"You don't want to tamp too much or we're going to lose our insulation properties," said Ken Anderson as he oversaw the installation of a cement-like hemp mixture into a wall cavity. Anderson's company, Original Green Distribution, instructed builders Tuesday on the correct use of its product, HempStone. It is a breathable material made of hemp fibers and lime that Anderson sees as a safer and more efficient alternative to conventional building materials.

"Not only does it have great R-value, it also has thermal mass, which will then capture heat and bring it in when it's cooler in the house and also transfer heat through the house," Anderson said.

Anderson's company promotes industrial grade hemp as the perfect building material. It's non-toxic, mold and mildew resistant and non-flammable. A fully encapsulated wall will not ignite even when the hot flame of a soldering torch is held to the surface for five minutes. In comparison, conventional building products can give off toxins like formaldehyde, which get trapped in today's air tight construction. So contractors say families are requesting hemp materials for health benefits alone.

And when the hemp fibers, called the hurd, are mixed with lime and a bit of water, the hemp mixture sets up like concrete. The mixture, however, is seven times lighter than concrete.

A 3,400-square-foot hemp home was designed by green builder Anthony Brenner in Ashville, N.C. He says home is heated and cooled for about $45 a month.

"It's easily about 75 percent less to operate that home compared to a conventional home," he said.

But until federal laws banning hemp production change, all the raw materials used for hemp construction have to be imported. That's keeping the cost up and Anderson's industry from getting off the ground.

"Right now, because of the cost prohibitiveness, we have to sell to a higher end market, whereas this material should be available to everyone," Anderson said.

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