Pamela Bosch of the Highland Hemp House project utilizes an alternative source for building material – hempcrete. // Photo by Jon Foster
By Jon Foster
From Highland Drive, Bellingham’s first hempcrete house looks unassumingly normal. Wood steps lead to a glass front door where windchimes sing in the summer breeze.
Once construction is finished, only Highland Hemp House’s name will key the public in to its unique building material – hemp.
Hemp is a cannabis plant that has been selectively bred for its fiber and seed oil, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Under federal and Washington state law, hemp needs to contain less 0.3 percent THC.
Bellingham resident, Pamela Bosch, started working on the Highland Hemp House project five years ago
“At first I was just looking for insulation,” Bosch said. “Hempcrete kept coming up as insulation.” She said that finding hempcrete is what got her started on this project.
Bosch teamed up with Hempitecture, a company that focuses on building with renewable non-toxic materials. Matthew Mead founded the company in 2012 while he was a senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York.
“I started out the company not as a hemp advocate, but as someone who was genuinely fascinated in how we can build differently and build better,” Mead said.
The Highland Hemp House project was in full swing by April 2017 when demolition of the previous house started. Mead worked with Bellingham Bay Builders to do the structural framework around the remaining house.
“We framed the entire house to accomodate and accept the hempcrete system,” Mead said.
The open house on Wednesday, June 27 allowed the public to come in and see the project and learn more about the benefits of working with hemp as a building material. Jameson McEwan heard about the open house through a mutual friend and decided to stop by.
“You imagine some super-hippy home or something like that, and instead you find a nice luxury view spot,” McEwan said.
Bosch wants to share her project with the public, saying she talks to anybody about it.
“I want to share this, you know, I want it to be a semi-public experience,” Bosch said. “So, how do you do it? You have parties or you have experiences where people get together and have conversations and have space. I like the idea of a public-private space in a neighborhood.”
The hemp used in the building was sourced from Holland and shipped to Bellingham. Hempitecture then took the hurd, the inner core of the hemp plant, and mixed it onsite with a water and lime slurry.
The hempcrete was then poured into frames and lightly packed down on the sides to provide support. The middle is left unpacked and remains slightly porous to provide better insulation.
Mead said that the laying of hempcrete will be done by July 4. He said once the hempcrete is done, the plastering and interior work will hopefully be finished by September to close out the project in the fall.
*On July 2 at 7:05 p.m., the lede of the article was changed to better fit the story.