Still Image of Video by Patrick Gilmore and Spencer MacDonald for National Geographic

culture | 01.08.2020

This 63-Year-Old Woman Built A House Entirely Out Of Hemp To Prove A Point About Climate Change

Why look for some Elon Musk technological breakthrough when the simple answer, hempcrete, may be sitting right in front of our eyes?

As human-caused climate change pushes us ever further to meteorological extremes, the tendency is to reach for advanced technological solutions. But Pamela Bosch believes we can achieve some of the same solutions without some romantic, sci-fi, Elon-Musk style technological breakthrough. We just need to fundamentally rethink the function of the home.

Bosch, an artist, and environmental activist, started researching hempcrete in 2015, a bio-composite mixture of hemp and lime, which can be used as insulation.

Bosch believes that hemp has the potential to be the perfect building material: cheap, well-insulated, mold free and pest resistant. Most importantly, the material’s ability to trap heat in the winter, and keep the house cool in the summer, means it has an exceptional potential to save energy.

As Bosch writes on her website, “While building with hemp and lime is a bit novel, the awareness that we need to change the way we build and consume energy is an urgent reality.  According to the US Department of Energy, buildings in North America account for 39% of the consumed energy.  This needs to change.”

Scientists have declared humanities transgression into a new geological age—or epoch—called the Anthropocene, which is defined by humans’ extreme impact on the planet and its atmosphere. As such, thinking critically about our everyday relationship to our environment will be essential. Research has shown energy efficiency to be an indispensable tool for preventing catastrophic climate change. It is by far our most ubiquitous, inexpensive and immediate resource. It’s also the easiest to implement. The cumulative effects that a nationwide, energy efficiency campaign would have on the economy could be astronomical.

In order to demonstrate the feasibility of hempcrete as a material, Bosch decided to construct an entire home out of the material, which should be finished this upcoming spring. According to Bosch, hempcrete is extremely easy to make.

How to make hempcrete

Bosch gives the recipe in full to Dope Magazine, which basically involves mixing hemp, lime, and water together in a cement mixer, getting it to the right consistency, then using it the same as you would concrete. The end result is a look that isn’t too different from stucco.

On her website, Bosch muses about how we must necessarily change our living habits to protect ourselves from climate change, and how these changes might spill into other aspects of our life. There’s no reason why our quality of life cannot grow in tandem with environmental conscientiousness.

“So, as the Hemp House was envisioned, the role of the single-family home in the setting of a small urban environment was contemplated.” As Bosch concludes on her website. “Can this ever ubiquitous bastion of American life transition to a future that supports a more integrated humanity?  How should our contemporary castles of middle-America hold the spaces or be the places where we learn to thrive in balance with our living environment?  How can our living spaces support our adaptation to a less consumptive way of living that is also of higher quality?”

Bosch’s project seems to suggest that hempcrete can provide a solution to at least some of these questions.

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