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By Jean Lotus
Graduate students at Kansas State University constructed a small demonstration portable hemp structure that will be displayed around the state to show the industrial potential of building materials made of hemp.
Sixteen graduate students in the university’s 5-year architecture program participated in the for-credit project, officially called the “K-state Hemp Casita.”
“The project was designed to be a portable hemp exhibit, with the intention of using it to introduce construction techniques that can utilize hemp right now while working with contemporary building code and practices,” wrote Michael Gibson, AIA, assistant professor in an email. Gibson teaches in the K-State department of architecture and supervised the project.
The 10’ x 7’ casita was built over a 16 weeks “Hemp in Building Construction” class and contains multiple different types of hemp construction materials, including hemp-lime (hempcrete) wall systems, Idaho-based Hempitecture’s HempWool batt insulation and hemp flooring from Murray KY-based HempWood.
“It’s built like it’s a real house. But we skimped a little bit on the thickness of the walls to try to keep it a lighter weight, since it’s going to be transported.” Gibson said.
Students received coaching and guidance from Angelo Romero Jr., co-founder of Dodge City, KS-based Stuc-Go-Crete, a hemp building company. The Stuc-Go-Crete team gave a hempcrete demonstration to Gibson’s class the previous year.
The class began with an introduction to the myriad industrial uses of the hemp plant, including as food, Gibson said.
“We started off the semester passing around a bag of hemp hearts (raw edible hemp seeds) so that the students understood the full range of possibilities with hemp, in other words that it isn’t just like wood or other natural fiber materials,” Gibson wrote. “[Hemp’s] value as human and animal nutrition, in the CBD industry, and making industrial fibers was an important starting point to understanding why we should be using it more in buildings,” he added.
“[Students] used to making small models realized we were going to do something large when they saw the two huge sacks of hemp,” Gibson said. “They were also very interested in the hands-on process of using the hemp, to see how it compares with other building materials and methods they are familiar with,” Gibson said.
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“Some of the students had previously built a house with my studio, and had some experience with construction. I think they found that hempcrete took some finesse, planning, and preparation to use but created rewarding results,” he said. “I think they also really valued the expertise and help they got from Angel Romero,” he added.
Graduate student Samantha Hite said the project appealed to her desire to address the greenhouse gas footprint of the building industry.
“As a young designer, it is my duty to know what my impact is on the environment I am designing for — but also for the people,” Hite wrote in an email. “I believe wholly that I should leave a place better than I found it, and to design ‘smarter’ buildings that can positively impact people and planet – well, who wouldn’t want that?” she added.
She found working with the material surprisingly easy, she said.
“There were quite a few students who had never even used nails and a hammer before, but after a brief introduction from Angel Romero, everyone was ‘hemping’ like a pro. With a material that is so fast to learn, I’m surprised that as a community, we don’t know more about it!” she added.
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Hemp hurd for the hemp-lime walls was provided, as it was last year, by Augusta, KS-based Midwest Hemp Technology. Hempitecture and HempWood donated batts and flooring, respectively.
The project was funded by a New Jersey children’s charity, Hearts of Mercy, with a connection to Kansas farmland.
Kristin Santorelli, Hearts of Mercy founder, said she wanted to contribute to research so her family and farmers managing her family acreage in Kansas would see the possibility of adding hemp to a rotation crop with along with wheat and corn.
The hemp casita, Santorelli believes, will provide a proof-of-concept to “have a nice presentation to show [farmers and family members] the increase of income for everyone [from growing hemp],” she said in an interview.
Next year, Hearts of Mercy will partner with Melissa Nelson at Great Bend, KS-based South Bend Industrial Hemp to grow 50-100 acres, working with Romero and partner AJ Amaro, Santorelli said.
Touring the State
The K-State Casita will be on tour throughout the state, and finally given to Hearts of Mercy, Gibson said.
“We really just wanted to do something visible and real with hemp in construction in Kansas,” Gibson noted. “Innovation in the building industry is very slow and builders shy away from things that are new and risky, especially in residential construction where hemp would be most likely to be used first.”
“Essentially, we’re trying to collaborate the supply chain so the processors, builders, architects, all of us as a whole can basically present these results to the state of Kansas,” Romero said. “Kansas is basically all coming together for this project where everybody can do their part and are just helping solidify the majority of the supply chain,” he added.
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Originally published May 22, 2023 on Hemp Building Mag