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By Jean Lotus
A 12-unit residential project in Massachusetts created from hemp-lime tip-up panels will be the largest hempcrete dwelling in the United States when it begins construction this fall.
The Hillside Center for Sustainable Living in Newburyport will be adding six solar-paneled 2-unit hempcrete “Tea Houses” to the 4.5 complex’s South Rise.
Developers David Hall and architect Keith Moskow are the second generation of a longtime construction family in Newburyport, founded by their late fathers.
The Newburyport project is an entire sustainable living community built on a remediated brownfield industrial site that formerly contained 3,000 tons of toxic ash, which was all removed.
The community, which will eventually have 48 rental units, uses recycled rainwater, permaculture gardening and small low-rise multi-family units that meet LEED Platinum and Passive House standards. The community also has a 10-unit “uber affordable” YWCA building with a shared-kitchen.
“The group of residents are just wonderful, wonderful people,” owner David Hall told HempBuildMag. “It ranges from parents of younger kids to retired couples with grandchildren in the area. And if you live here and you renew in one- or two-year increments, your rent won’t increase.”
Each tea house has a two-bedroom unit on the first floor and a one-bedroom unit with a large outdoor patio on the second floor. Each also has a storage loft with a pull down staircase “which can serve as a crash pad for a son or daughter or grandchildren,” Hall said. The units are a walkable half mile from the city center and the T-line station to downtown Boston.
Hillside already has 12 fully occupied units built with tip-up slabs, but those were made with concrete and foam insulation.
The developers wanted a greener solution and after consulting with Northampton, MA-based HempStone LLC, came up with hemp-lime.
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“What really is mind blowing, I think to someone acquainting themselves with a hempcrete wall, is that you put the damn hempcrete in and then you’re just putting plaster on either side of it,” Hall told HempBuildMag. “Because we’ve all been trained to strap and sheet rock and vapor barrier and create the drainage plane, etcetera.” Vapor-permeable hemp-lime walls save labor and offer a “virtuously simple” solution Hall said. “You don’t have to create a whole other shell skin system [for the walls].”
Hempcrete also cut down the weight of the panels by more than half.
“When we were using concrete, our heaviest walls were 23,000 lbs and the hempcrete walls are about 9,000 lbs for the biggest wall,” Hall said. That means walls can be pushed upright with a forklift insead of a construction crane.
The panels are designed around a coated steel structural frame which is sprayed with hemp-lime to create a 16-inch thick wall system.
The thick walls give residents a “sense of shelter,” Hall says. “There’s a real serenity in it that is powerful,” he added.
To create the panels, Hillside has purchased a Ereasy spray machine and last fall sprayed some R & D panels with Americhanvre hempcrete spraymaster Cameron McIntosh and Damien Baumer the France-based inventor of the Ereasy.
More recently the team created a full wall panel with six windows, getting ready to build a total of 48 panels to be assembled at the end of the summer, Hall said. Each 2-unit building will require eight wall panels.
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“In the development world, it’s as much work if you do 20 or 40 units in a sense.” Getting the engineering and prototypes right allows the assembly of the walls to save time. The company is also experimenting with plastering the outer walls right away to save even more time.
Saving curing time by lifting panels within a week of spraying and plastering right away are experiments that are possible because the Ereasy machine and binder uses less water, but still the Hillside project is breaking new ground by slashing curing time to much quicker than traditionally scheduled.
“David is a bold, bold mover,” McIntosh told HempBuildMag. “But to the risk-takers go the rewards.”
Permitting and zoning moved through the building departments relatively smoothly, which Hall credits to the longtime multi-generational reputation of the company and their experience developing other multi-unit housing and renovating two formerly industrial mill properties in the Boston suburb.
The units will still have some concrete, in the form of a fireproof concrete plank deck between the upstairs and downstairs units, Hall said. But the foundations have been built with repurposed crushed glass from a newly opened factory in Vermont.
“It’s like figuring out how much to sin and not sin and the world of sustainability to get somewhere,” Hall said. “I believe that you’ve gotta do it in incremental steps.”
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The company wants to prove that this style of low rise multi-family construction system is adaptable to any New England site. “The goal would be to replicate the very same low rise multi-family design elsewhere,” the company website says.
Using hempcrete as one part of a sustainable built environment is “one of the things that we’ve all dreamed about,” McIntosh said. “Hillside has put it together with a number of other really awesome sustainable building techniques where hempcrete is great, but you could argue it’s not even the star of the show. …It’s the logical progression to say hempcrete should be together with geothermal and solar and high-efficiency homes and rainwater catchment and native plantings. It’s that whole package,” he said.
“It’s humbling that Americhanvre got the opportunity to help them with it,” he added.
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Originally published May 19, 2023 on Hemp Building Mag