My Hempcrete Story

The air was filled with buzzing energy when a group of our friends and green building enthusiasts from around the country and Canada came together in Rolling Hills to help us build the first hemp walls in California!

In 2014, my husband Bern and I ventured into a renovation project, a long-anticipated 750sf addition to our Ranch-style home in Rolling Hills on the Palos Verdes Peninsula just South of Los Angeles. We replaced and added on to a sunroom that was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer to be enjoyed. Mostly we used the sunroom to grow vegetables from seed and experiment with other plants. The new addition would be a multi purpose room for reading, relaxing and our morning work out routine. 

The house was one of the first homes built in Rolling Hills in 1948. When Bern bought the house in 2002 his plan was to demolish and build new. But then he found an older aerial photograph of the house with personal notes about its construction by the original owner, the late Clifford Bundy, written on the back. After reading, Bern did not have the heart to demolish the house and he renovated it instead, except the sunroom.

Why Did We Decide To Use Hempcrete?

Fast forward to 2014 – At the time of planning our addition I owned a store selling sustainable goods, such as clothing, kitchenware, and gifts. This was a way for me to educate my customers about better products and a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. As I learned about natural materials myself, I discovered hemp – its uses and history. I was totally mesmerized by it all.

For our home addition, I made it my mission to find non-toxic and environmentally friendly materials and products – after I had to learn that “traditional” construction is not necessarily focused on healthy and non-toxic products.

That is why, when we started to plan our addition, I convinced Bern to use hempcrete for the wall insulation. Actually there was not much convincing to be done since he was as mesmerized by the opportunities and benefits hemp seems to provide.

Nobody in California had ever build a permitted structure with hempcrete. This project could serve as a steppingstone for others to build with hempcrete – a real adventure we signed ourselves up for.

What Is Hempcrete Made Of?

Hempcrete is a lightweight hemp and lime bio composite that is formed by mixing the shredded woody core of hemp stalks, a lime-based binder and water. The lime adheres to the structure of the hemp hurd and binds the composite together, giving the material firmness. A recipe is used to get the same consistency with every mix.

Hempcrete, in its loose form, is a non-structural building material and is usually used as wall insulation in connection with a timber frame. There are other hempcrete uses and products, like roof and floor insulation and hempcrete blocks and even pre-build wall-systems.

What Are The Benefits Of Hempcrete?

Hemp, like all plants, transforms CO2 during its growth by capturing carbon and releasing oxygen. Using hemp in construction locks up the captured carbon for the life of the building.

From a building performance perspective, Hempcrete is highly insulating with a high Insulation Value (R-Value per inch), resulting in an energy efficient building, ideal for reducing your utility bill and reducing solar panels if you plan to eliminate your utility bill.

Hempcrete is also a way of providing thermal mass. This means that the interior of hempcrete houses will change temperature even more slowly and reduce the need for heating and cooling compared with lighter weight building materials with similar insulation values.

Hempcrete is natural and vapor permeable (or breathable) helping to facilitate healthier more comfortable homes.

More Benefits In A Nutshell

  • Environmentally friendly
  • Healthy living environment
  • High thermal insulation leading to energy savings
  • Fully recyclable
  • Durability
  • Natural pest resistance
  • No waste, zero landfill
  • Fire resistant
  • Termite resistant
  • No dry rot
  • Inherently airtight
  • High acoustic performance
  • CO2 sequestration
Above All – It’s A Lifestyle Choice As long as I know I was always drawn to a more simple lifestyle, in harmony with my surroundings. A simple lifestyle, to me, does not mean austerity, it rather means increased self-sufficiency and less conspicuous consumption. Making more thoughtful choices that benefit my health, spirits and that of my surroundings – a balanced life with a little kick – the ultimate quality of life to me. 

The Ranch Project - Step-By-Step

Just keep in mind while exploring our hempcrete project…

When we started our addition project, with me as the project manager, I had not much knowledge of construction, building materials, how to choose the right architect or contractor. To say it bluntly I went into this renovation project rather clueless and I had to figure out most of everything. The only sure thing was that I wanted to build with hempcrete.  

Because of this project I acquired a bounty of knowledge in green building practices, energy efficiency, and above all, I got a very good understanding of building science due to my training and certification as a Passive House Consultant. I know now how a house works. But all that came after the Hempcrete project!  

There are many lessons learned, nevertheless, The Hempcrete Addition project was a BIG success!

Planning & Design

The Purpose Of The Hemp Room

First of all, we had to do something about the deteriorating sunroom, it had several leaks and the concrete walls started to turn black. We could have just taken it down, since it was an addition to the original house anyways or we could replace it with a functioning space. 

We decided to make our addition one great, multi-function room and keep the options open to use it for different purposes over time. 

Initially we planned to partition it into a dinning and living/relaxing area. Over time we moved the dinning set back to its old space, opposite our open kitchen and countertop. Now we partitioned the hemp room into a relaxing/movie area, an area for me to enjoy my morning tea and reading the paper and another area to work out and stay fit. 

You can see from the images below that the planned addition would be a great enhancement to our house. 

…. there was just a “TINY” problem

Hemp and hempcrete were not an approved building material in the U.S.. In fact, industrial hemp was not even allowed to be grown in California and most other states of the U.S. in 2014.

Even though the addition would give us only two 8 foot hempcrete walls, in a way it was the perfect project to figure out how to get an unapproved natural material approved by our local Los Angeles Building & Safety department, how to get our hands on the hempcrete ingredients – hemp hurds and lime binder –  and how to build the walls successfully.

This was our way to learn more about this wonderful material and how to incorporate it into a construction project. 

If we could get all that done we could use our project as a trailblazer to get other projects, whole hemp houses, in the area approved as well – that was at least the idea.

Choosing An Architect And Contractor

Finding an architect was “easy”, we just asked an acquaintance who is an architect. We asked him if he would be helping us getting the hempcrete walls permitted. He said yes and off we went. After all it was just a one-room addition and the most important aspect was that he would help us getting the hempcrete walls permitted. In hindsight it was a terrible way to choose an architect – one of the lessons learned. 

How would I find a contractor who would give us a fixed bid on the project with this unknown material?

It turned out that I couldn’t find anyone locally.  Online I went, looking for this rare contractor who had the “hemp bug” like us and wanted to build with hempcrete and would join our project. As a result of a lot of research, a few emails, phone calls and luck, I found a young contractor from Arcata, 700 miles North of us. Like all the others he would not commit to a fixed price but wanted to be on the project. He had been researching hempcrete at the time and was extremely motivated to work with us and spend the time away from home for the time of the project, so we hired him. 

I started the process to find a contractor way before we had our permit. That way I was able to connect to him early, and incorporate him in the permitting process and securing the hempcrete ingredients as a well as the lime render we needed to finish the walls on the inside and outside. It also allowed him to build a little sample hempcrete wall for practice.  

Finding The Material To Make Hempcrete – Hemp Hurds And Lime Binder

Researching and finding the material was a whole other challenge in 2014. I could not find any local source in North America for the Hemp Hurds or Binder. No surprise there, barely any state had legalized industrial hemp at that point. By then very few hempcrete structures were built in the U.S. and all of them with imported lime binder and hemp hurds.

I found only very few options, mostly with big question marks attached:

The quality of the hemp hurds. How “clean” was the product? How much dust and hemp fiber was mixed in with the hurds? At that time there were no industry wide standards for hemp hurds in the US and most of Europe. It was hard for me to know how clean some of the product offered would be since I did not get much information other than, “it’s from Europe” or “Just Trust Us”. No trustworthy sampling and no materials sheets with any type of data about the product.

That did not go well with my data driven mind.

Especially excessive dust can have a detriment effect on the quality and structural integrity of the hempcrete wall and has to be absolutely avoided. Read OTHER BLOG POST for more details about product characteristics and quality.

On-time delivery. How reliable is the source to deliver the product damage free and on time.

Separate sources for the hurd and the lime binder. No testing and no guarantee that lime binder and hurd work well together since hemp hurds with different characteristics need different mix of lime binder. Without proper testing results of the mix there is a high risk of failure. Also, on-time delivery risk multiplied by two.

After reading up on hempcrete and its ingredients from online material from the UK I got very quickly the impression that I knew more or as much as the so called experts offering me lime binder and hemp hurds.

I was able to find good information on hempcrete websites in the UK because, at that time, there were hemp building companies with some experience in residential and commercial hempcrete construction in the UK. As it turned out even there the hurds and lime binder were imported from France and Belgium.

You already know I did find a source for our hempcrete mix!

I went with a company, better said a subsidiary of one of the former leading UK based hempcrete companies, based in Chicago. I believe the UK headquarter has closed down in the meantime. I am not naming nor recommending the company due to their lack of support at a very crucial moment of our project and promises not kept.

I decided to go with the company because of their connection with the company in the UK. The material had been tested and certified in the UK and proven to work in UK construction. The lime binder and hurds I bought from them worked out well.

The service was supportive in the beginning but deteriorated over time and communication broke down completely when we needed them most, just before and on construction day.

The price for the material included a day of training in Chicago where we were told that folders with all training material, the hempcrete mix recipe and more would be send to use right after the training and we should not take any notes during training. It turned out we never received any training material and I had to call many times until construction day to actually get the most basic information. This time I was busy writing while on the phone. At the end it was a terrible experience and my recommendation is to stay away from the company from Chicago.

What I also did not like about the people there is that they thought they “owned” the (non-existing) U.S. hempcrete market and treated everything like a big secret, instead of actually trying to create a market to compete in. I found that very laughable and shortsighted.

From a materials point of view I choose the safest choice from my perspective at that time in 2014.

Fast forward to 2020…

Although more hempcrete structures have gone up by 2020, I believe all hempcrete ingredients are still imported from Europe at this time, but with more products and companies with better customer service to choose from.

The wonderful thing is, the hemp building industry is forming here in the U.S., with a dedicated industry association – The US Hemp Building Association. Companies and people involved now share information and work together to build out this industry – from hemp growers to builders.

A variety of companies in different places of the supply chain  are gaining traction and developing products and processes. More hemp homes have been permitted and build in various states and experiences and expertise has ben created on the site of the professionals as well as the lucky owners of these hempcrete homes.

It is very promising to see all that has happened in the last few years when one state after the next has legalized industrial hemp. What a great win-win for  all stakeholders – the people, commerce and the environment.

How We Got Hempcrete Permitted By Our Building &  Safety Department

Talking to a few different people how to best approach the building department the resounding feedback was to stress the fact that the hempcrete was just an insulation material and not structural. That would make it a lot easier to get the building department consider a hempcrete permit. 

Another part of our strategy was to provide a folder with information about hempcrete at the same time we dropped off our construction plans with Building & Safety in Los Angeles County.

Another reason we went with the hempcrete products from the UK was to be able to leverage all the product information and certifications from the UK with plenty of examples of finished buildings. 

My folder included all that information with additional links to websites and videos. 

The idea was to show the Building Department that there have been houses built with hempcrete in the U.S. and that it was a common practice in the UK. In addition we wanted to show that the product was a certified building material in the UK – tested for fire resistance, insulation value, etc..

At the time my architect and I dropped off the plans and folder, I showed the young engineer our hempcrete wall detail and told him that he could find a lot of information in the folder and that I would be happy to talk to him as well.   

I also told him how important this project was for me to show how we can build with sustainable materials and use our construction project for others to follow.  

The engineer nodded and told us he understands and wants to help but needs to do his due diligence. Off we went hopeful we might get some inquiries on the way to a permit.

Weeks passed and nothing happened. No inquiries with my architect, just total silence. I pressed my architect to call and ask what the hold up was.

It turned out the engineer just  did not know what to do with our plans and just delayed to get back to use. Once we contacted him, we got the first set of comments back in relation to our construction plans. As you can see on the image below, the last point he made was more or less a NO to hempcrete. He implied that it had to be approved my the usual U.S. building standards lists, like ASTM, UL or ICC, before we could use it. 

That was That! Our first Setback!

Although our architect promised he would help us with the permitting process, he gave up right there and told us “Well we tried, now let’s build with regular insulation”. I was not happy and told him that this only signified the beginning of the process. I told him to go back to the building department and request a meeting to discuss the matter, which he did. 

From that point forward I took on the leadership in negotiating with the building department, which meant going back and forth between building department, architect, structural engineer and our hemp supplier until we got the permit.

Basically it came down to show proof that the design of our hempcrete wall would comply with specific building code requirements, in particular with requirements for:

  • Shear strength (earthquakes in California!)
  • Fire resistance (we live in a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone)
  • Moisture barrier (the “house wrap”)
  • Thermal barrier (Insulation – R-Value)

Since we did not have a U.S. certified insulation product the building & safety engineer gave us additional options based on relevant code sections. These code sections also included descriptions of the type of materials that can be used.

He told me to come up with a design that would satisfy the outlined requirements and types of materials used. 

The image on the right shows an outline he drew up while he explained me code requirements and how he can see us satisfying them. 

The lighter writing are my own notes.

After many times of back and forth with the building department we were able to provided a wall design that not only satisfied the building code, including the four items above but also my own requirement: 

Not to compromise the benefits of hempcrete due to building code requirements. 

Here is how we did it:

Shear Strength

In California it is common practice to use a special type of 8’x4′ plywood sheets on the outside of the framing for the required shear strength, calculated by the structural engineer. Using plywood would have erased one of the benefits of building with hemp – to create a “breathable” wall, which means the hempcrete wall is:

  • Vapor Permeable – it has the ability to allow vapor to pass through,
  • Hygroscopic – it has the ability to attract and hold moisture from the surrounding and releasing it again when humidity levels change.

To resolve this issue we decided to use Hardy frames in a small part of the walls. 

DONE

Fire Resistance 

As we all know most of California is deemed a high fire hazard zone. My home is even in a very high fire hazard security zone with canyons and two nature preserves full of dry scrub and grasses throughout and surrounding Rolling Hills. 

It was understandable that our plan check engineer was very adamant to find a wall design solution that would satisfy the building code. He gave me the code section that describes the permitted types of exterior finishes. We got lucky, since the code mentions that a 7/8″ of stucco does the job. He was not familiar with lime render and it took information from my end and research on his side to come to a consensus that lime render is indeed stucco and that a 7/8″ of application would suffice.    

DONE

Moisture Barrier (Vapor Barrier)

Here comes the dreaded request for the wrap, the tight membrane that will take away the benefit of the “breathable” wall. And Michael would not ease up on that one!

What to do?

We used a 1″ gap between the hemp wall and the wrap, mesh, and exterior lime stucco and created an opening on top and bottom. Basically we satisfied the code requirements with an adjusted wall design. 

Without a building wrap we could have applied the exterior lime render right onto the hempcrete wall. With the gap and building wrap in the way we had to add mesh for the render (stucco) to hold on to. 

DONE

Thermal Barrier

Based on the information we received from our supplier, the R-Value for our wall construction is 2.4 per inch. We build a 9 1/2″ thick wall that makes it a R23 Wall. Our building code at that time asked for R13 for 2×4 walls and R19 for 2×6 walls. 

That we exceeded even the 2×6 inch wall requirements by a lot was probably why the plan check engineer accepted the rating from the UK. There was a lot of room for error to still be code compliant.  I had to provide him with the formula to convert the metric UK value into the imperial U.S. value. 

DONE

Finalizing The Permit

On a piece of paper this all seems very straight forward and a quick process. In reality it took us almost 5 month to get from first contact with the building department to the eagerly anticipated permit. 

There was a lot of waiting in the beginning, since Michael had to figure out how he could help us, yet make sure all code requirements are met. 

I did a lot of coordination between the building department, my architect and the hempcrete supplier with a lot of runs to the building department to get new insights and instructions. This all just took a lot of time. 

We live in a very traditional, conservative area and sustainable, alternative building materials are not any part of building, to the most part. 

I applaud our plan check engineer that he was flexible and put a lot of thought in how he could help us and work with us. 

I always joke and say that, at the end, I got the permit because he was just tired of me showing up at the plan check desk. 

But really, we came up with a pretty good wall design to satisfy the building code AND keeping the benefits of the hempcrete wall intact. 

Perseverance and creativity wins!  

On construction day he could not make it since his wife was expecting but we did get a visit from the local building department – The Building Department Manager himself.  

I want to make a BIG shout out to this young building & safety engineer! While he obviously was very tough on us following all building code requirements, he was also supportive to get there with a final wall design that fulfilled all code requirements and safety measures while it also kept the hempcrete benefits intact.  

First we were rejected …

(persistance) 

… then we got the permit 

    (some few month later)

Design Detail of the Permitted Hempcrete Wall

Training

The purchase price for the hemp hurd and lime binder included a one day training session. The caveat was that it was held at our supplier’s office in Chicago and I was only allowed to bring a very small crew. My two contractors and my friends Gay and Bruce came with me. 

We spend a day not only talking about hempcrete but we also got our hands dirty and mixed and build and got a bit of a feel for the process. It was a day well spend, although we were told we should not take any notes during the day since they would send each of us a big binder with very detailed information –  That is when all the problems with the supplier started.

We never received any binder nor did we receive even a single page of instructions. Until the day of construction they would not even share the recipe (how many parts of hemp hurds, lime binder and water, how to mix and for how long). Only after a big battle over the phone they were “gracious” enough to share THE BIG SECRET. 

Really, seriously?

They did not have the foresight and business sense to use my project to market their product and services on the West Coast. After all these years I am still speechless of how this all evolved. 

The one day training was helpful and it gave us more confidence that we can actually do that. In addition, our contractor built a small test hempcrete wall, including different types of render and a window. 

Right after we finished our addition, Alex Sparrow and William Stanwick published The Hempcrete Book. At that point I probably owned every hempcrete book out there, all had their highlights but none of them was a hands on guidebook with tons of lessons learned and deep knowledge like The Hempcrete Book.

Reading The Hempcrete Book I realized that even our training was not that great and we could have done much better if we would have had the book for our project. It turned out, the “experts” from Chicago gave us a few wrong instructions.   

I was so excited about this awesome book that I researched a bit, found Alex’s email address and send him a note congratulating him and William on their book. 

A while later, Bern and I had planned a trip to London to visit his nephew. I had no idea were Alex and William were located but suggested in my email to meet if they were anywhere close to London. We meet in Windsor for dinner and the next day for a very special tour of a few of their hempcrete projects. 

I even brought my book with me from the U.S. to have it signed! It’s such a nice memory. 

Fast forward a few years… Alex and his company UK Hempcrete have become an important partner and mentor to our fledging U.S. hemp building industry. It’s pretty awesome. 

If you read this blog post because you are thinking of building or renovating with hempcrete, buy The Hempcrete Book. It has become the standard work for anybody thinking, planning or actually building with hempcrete, no matter were you live. 

Step-By-Step: Our Hempcrete Walls In The Making

Of course a lot of work had already gone into the construction of our addition to get the frames ready for the hempcrete pour.  But we are not really interested in every aspect of the construction, only the exceptional – The Hempcrete! 

Following is a step-by-step picture album from bare naked frames to finished hempcrete walls, inside and out. 

Structural Frame

Creating hempcrete walls, you need a structural frame since hempcrete is not considered loadbearing but rather seen as an insulation material only. The frame can be placed either on the inside, outside or in the center. Our wall design called for the framing to be placed on the outside of the 9 1/2 inch wall system because that is where the hardy frames had to go to provide the required shear strength.

The hardy frame created a cavity which we could not fill with hempcrete once the outside form system was attached.

Spoiler Alert!

This was not a problem at all because we would be able to fill this cavity by hand, after we built the hempcrete wall and taken off the forms, as you will see in images further down.

Forms

You can buy whole form systems but we decided to be creative, save some money and build our own. We used new and used sheets of plywood to build our forms.

We applied plywood sheets as one part of the form system on the outside and build pieces of long but only one foot tall forms for the inside to be able to pour the hempcrete in and add forms as we went up.  We attached the stationary outside part of our form one day in advance.

Framing from the Exterior – We placed the hardy frame flush with the overall framing on the exterior. 

We placed the stationary framing on the outside flush with hardy and regular framing. 

On the inside we used one foot tall, movable forms. We placed the first of these forms in advance as well with the idea to add on the other forms once the hempcrete wall grew to the edge of the lower form. We worked our way up to the roof line.

This way we could place the hempcrete easily on the interior around the hardy frame and electrical system, all the way up to the roof line.

And off we went, layer after layer. It was great fun and exciting. I bet we all had one thought crossing our minds many times that day: Will It Hold?

Construction Day – It’s A Team Effort

Finally, the day of hempcrete had arrived! It was exciting, exhilarating and nerve wrecking at the same time. I had all these people show up: friends, our contractors, strangers I had barely met, the local press and local dignities, like the former major of Rolling Hills, the head of the planning commission and architectural committee of Rolling Hills and the Manager of Building and Safety.

It was quite the scene! 

We had planned two days for wall construction. On the first day we gathered the whole team and spend the first hour explaining, instructing and building teams for the different tasks at hand.

We decided to create a sort of assembly line for:

  • Managing supplies & mixing the bio composite – First step was to secure a steady and secure flow of supplies to the mixer. To operate the mixer and ensure a consistent end product was crucial to our success. We decided to keep the same people on this team to make sure the mixture and mixing cycles always stayed the same.
  • Collecting the bio composite- Once the hempcrete mix was finished it got poured on the ground, on a sheet of plastic. The loose infill was collected into buckets and carried to the walls and empty buckets brought back to the mixing area.
  • Building the walls – The hempcrete mix was placed into the forms, layer by layer, and compacted with a “tamping stick” which we had prepared in advance. The instructions we got from the supplier were to compact a lot more along the forms and framing and less in the middle (which I learned was not entirely correct and by compacting too much we actually lost insulation strength in the walls).

We took turns between carrying the buckets and placing the bio composite. Of course everybody wanted to work on the walls!

It was a fun and exhilarating day. We all knew we were part of something very special and we all felt the energy. When I think back to that sunny Southern California day in 2014, I can still feel the excitement and buzz!

After taking off the frames we had a big glaring void of hempcrete infill in the hardy frame. We also had some gaps on the top and around the electrical box. 

All was expected, no real surprise. We prepared another mix, filled the indentation of the hardy frame with hempcrete, flush with the rest of the wall, and we filled in all other gaps as well.

It turned out to be a fun day with so many happy faces who finally were able to put their hands on hempcrete and be part of this exceptional experience. 

Some of the participants and dignitary visitors – what do I say – probably every single one of us had the same thought.

We all looked at the hempcrete mix coming out of the mixer and going into the forms thinking: how will this more dry than wet and coarse muesli like mix hold up once the forms? NO WAY! 

We had to wait 5 days until the forms came off. What if we loosened these forms and the whole thing came crumbling down? None of us had ever done this on that scale of a wall  and it was quite adventures, or as they say:

No Risk No Evolution 

Some of the volunteers and visitors insisted to come back on the day we uncovered the walls. It was great fun to discover what came out from behind the forms: A WALL! It worked, we got lucky!

We did have one little week spot on the other wall, which we had to repair. We never could quite explain what happened but the beauty was, it was very easy to correct.

When we took off the forms, the walls emitted an incredible good, earthy smell. It must have been the chemicals reaction between the lime binder and the hemp creating this beautiful scent. Bern and I decided to sleep the ight right next to our hemp wall, and that’s what we did.

We did it, we successfully build our addition with hempcrete, permitted and all!  

Exterior Wall Finish

Exterior Wall System

Internal Wall Finish

Interior Wall Finish

The Finished Project

For a couple of days, our ranch became a hotspot for invigorating discussions about healthy and sustainable living. 

We were happy working with Ryan Hayes of TerraBuilt Construction, a green contractor, and his team, all very experienced and high-end craftsmen. The inspector from the LA County Building Department, as well as other subcontractors, complimented their work numerous times. We did receive our building permit after six month’s persistence.

Pictures and life in the hemp room. Anecdotes from people – LEED student, friend with guitar, our own inspiration, the truth window.

Lessons Learned

Pictures and life in the hemp room

The Hempcrete Project In Pictures

My Path Forward

Passive House, more considerate, more thoughtful, must be involved in any renovation, anything house. Never rely on a contractor to do the right thing, educate them. Tell them there is a better way and why and how it can benefit their own business and reputation. 

Our interest in industrial hemp as a natural raw material for healthy food, clothing and construction has led us to build with hemp masonry. The exceptional benefits of hemp to build an energy efficient and healthy living environment led my husband and I to learn more about energy efficient and healthy building designs and practices in general. It opened a whole new world to us. As a result, we decided to become part of the green building industry. I have immersed myself in courses, conferences and  networking activities and learned a lot about our building code, the core concepts of building energy efficient and healthy homes and technology to support the design and build process. Throughout the year I have been talking to many architects and contractors, and the takeaway is that many do not understand how to use the natural environment to build energy efficient and healthy homes with a minimum of chemicals, artificial lightning, and HVAC. Instead their designs typically depend on artificial lighting and heating/cooling to control light and temperature inside the house. HVAC’s today are often oversized. That is why the operating costs of many homes are higher than necessary and the air and light quality inside is not optimized for human comfort.

In short, just because a house looks good or has been designed by an acclaimed architect or an architect who has built many homes in your neighborhood does not automatically mean these houses are energy efficient or provide optimal comfort for the occupants. The good news is – the building code is zooming in more and more on smarter functionality, occupant comfort and better use of natural resources such as sun and wind.

Today the California building code and the energy code in particular, variously known as CalGreen and Title 24, is the most progressive in the country. The California Energy Code is known worldwide as The Energy Model and representatives from countries all over the world have come to study it.

From 2020, the California building code will require new residential buildings to be zero net energy. That means that an energy model must be created that shows that a building is designed and built in such a way that it does not use more energy than the energy that is produced on site. Building healthier and more energy efficient homes is not a question of money but rather of an optimized design process now being widely adopted by architects and others interested in sustainable development.

That is why it is so important to choose a good architect. In today’s world a good architect has to be able to provide you with the design technology and knowledge to build a home that requires as little energy as possible for your personal needs. Otherwise you end up with a roof and yard filled with solar panels to compensate for your architect’s poor design and material choices.

The better your architect understands these new design principles, and is knowledgeable about new materials and sustainable technologies, the better your home will function and provide you a healthy and comfortable environment for a fraction of today’s operating cost.

This, what amounts to a paradigm shift, is going to challenge our city planners, building departments and homeowner associations. Are they prepared to make way for sustainable solutions that leverage natural resources and minimize energy needs to maximize occupant health and comfort and simultaneously get to net zero energy?  Do our architectural committees recognize that they are going to have to compromise previously accepted aesthetics to incorporate sustainable design solutions?

Local building regulations will have to be reviewed and revised and approved product and materials lists will need to be overhauled. We’re at the gates of major change as our whole built environment, over the next few years, gets first reimagined and then reworked, to incorporate the principles of sustainable development, lower our footprint, and minimize adverse effects on the health of our planet.

On a personal note, I would like to comment on the picture with the little window next to the door. It shows the interior of the wall, the hempcrete. The little window has been with me for about 30 years and I never knew what to do with it until we built our hemp walls. The window is from an old building in Germany where my grandmother started a business (pharmacy). After WWII, a divorced mother with two little girls. My grandmother moved on and built her own multifamily building with her business on ground level and my mom rescued this and another window when the original building was torn down. I

was close very to my grandmother and she would love that this window is now permanently in my living room. A great memory of her and what a strong and independent woman she was.

Leave a Reply