A 100-year-old blighted home in New Castle, PA, was completely remodeled with hempcrete insulation through a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to become an example of how industrial hemp can be used in building materials. Photo courtesy DON Enterprise, Inc.
By Jean Lotus
A hempcrete residential remodel of a blighted balloon-frame house in New Castle, PA is providing proof-of-concept for the local farming community that there is, in fact, a realistic outlet for fiber industrial hemp in Pennsylvania.
DON Enterprise, Inc., a New Castle disability organization, fixes and flips blighted homes to sell for disabled residents.
But the frame home on Spruce Street is different. The new Project PA Hemp Home house was stripped to the studs over the winter to become a hemp construction showpiece.
In May, with assistance from a $109,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the home was insulated with spray-applied hempcrete by a team led by Cameron McIntosh of Allentown, PA-based Americhanvre using a French spray application machine, the ER-Easy. McIntosh is one of multiple Pennsylvania hemp entrepreneurs that have collaborated to bring the industry forward in the commonwealth.
“This hundred year old house is getting new insulation made of plants and minerals which will prevent the old wood frame from burning,” wrote Jonsara Ruth of the New York-based Parsons New School Healthy Materials Lab, on Instagram. The Healthy Materials Lab has researched hemp building materials for several years. Parsons students and faculty helped with the project, along with members of the Penn State University’s Pennsylvania Housing Research Center.
“I can’t wait to go back and experience how it feels inside these breathable, acoustically sound walls…which will soon be ready for local lime plaster,” Ruth added. “And the most incredibly inspiring part of this project is that DON Enterprise will give this home to a small family for an extremely affordable price once it’s complete.”
In six days, the crew, with help from local laborers, installed a 10-inch exterior wall to create a hempcrete insulation envelope that will be mold-proof, fireproof and pest proof, McIntosh said. Interior walls are 4-to-8 inches thick. Interior walls will be finished with plaster and exterior walls will include a rain screen detail incorporating an air barrier and locally sourced wood siding.
The house will also install HempWood™ engineered flooring made from stalks from the 2020 harvest of DON’s Hemp Test Acres Program, a regional farmer initiative that buys industrial hemp from local producers.
“Industrial hemp represents a potential commodity for farmers in our region as its many applications, like building materials, start to gain market awareness,” said Philip Berezniak, DON’s president, in a statement.
“We are scheduling events for farmers, media, builders, designers, architects and material suppliers to visit the house and learn about hempcrete firsthand,” Berezniak added.
The first public workshop at the new hemp home will take place Saturday June 12 live and over Zoom.
Speaking will be McInstosh, members of US Hemp Building Association as well as Greg Wilson, president of Kentucky-based HempWood and Pennsylvania-based hemp architect Anastasiya Konopitskaya of Coexist Build.
DON’s founder Chris Lloyd, a military veteran, said the organization’s goal is to provide jobs and revitalize the region while creating housing for people with disabilities. DON is the second-largest employer in the city.
“My goal was to create accessible housing because nobody else would and there wasn’t enough housing. We wanted to get people out of nursing homes. They had no place to go,” Lloyd told Pittsburgh’s WTAE.
The Project PA Hemp House will provide an opportunity for Pennsylvania builders, contractors, farmers, and end-use industries to learn about hemp building materials in a real-life application and to understand the potential economic impact of industrial hemp, said Lori Daytner, VP of program development.
The home’s hempcrete insulation will be covered with locally sourced lime plaster to create a home that is healthy and energy friendly, cutting down utility bills between 30-60% Daytner said.
Hemp is a versatile crop that can be grown for seed, fiber, or oil. The fiber is perhaps the most versatile byproduct, and can be used for everything from paper, textiles, fabrics, as well as construction materials, Daytner said.
“We want to show that there is demand here to attract a regional decortication facility,” Daytner told Let’s Talk Hemp. “The Project PA Hemp Home is the first complete renovation of a residential construction using hempcrete in Pennsylvania.”
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Jean Lotus is a Colorado-based award-winning journalist and hempreneur who writes about the American West and sustainable food and technologies.