November 22, 2009 – Leave it to Asheville N.C. to be the first place in the country to build not just one, but two houses largely out of hemp.

Well-established as a green building center, Asheville has two homes under construction – one in West Asheville, another off Town Mountain Road – that use hemp as a building material. The builders and Greg Flavall, the co-founder of Hemp Technologies, the Asheville company supplying the building material, maintain that they’re the first permitted hemp homes in the country.

“This area is known to walk the talk of being green,” Flavall said, adding that the Asheville area has by far the largest percentage of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, builders of anywhere in the country. Hemp is derived from the same plant that marijuana comes from. Although it contains very little of the active ingredient that gets people high and is completely impractical to smoke, it’s still illegal to grow it domestically.

But builders can import industrial hemp products like Tradical Hemcrete, the material Hemp Technologies sells. When mixed with water and lime, it makes remarkably strong, resilient walls. Some builders generically refer to the walls as hempcrete.

Clarke Snell, of the Nauhaus Group, a collaborative of local companies building the West Asheville home at 67 Talmadge St., describes the resulting structures as “forever” walls. Should you take a wall down, the hemp inside is also reusable.

“Basically, the only thing that can tear this wall down is water,” Snell said, adding that it would have to be a steady stream.

Flavall said the last study done in Europe puts the life span of hemp walls at 700-800 years.

“And even at the end of that, you can use it as fertilizer on a field,” he said.

How it works

The hempcrete mixture starts with 55-pound bales of Tradical Hemcrete brand hemp shiv, or ground-up hemp plant stalks. Workers mix it into a standard concrete mixer, four parts hemp, one part lime and one part water. They pour the resulting slurry into small containers and then pack it between plastic forms that raise a wall two feet at a time. The walls are built around standard stick-built framing.

It takes about a day for a wall to dry and about two weeks before it’s ready for exterior or interior coatings of lime stucco or plaster. Even with those coatings, the material still breathes.

“One of the main reasons I was drawn to the lime and hemp mixture is the breathability – there’s no mold, no mildew,” said Anthony Brenner, whose company, Push Interior/Architectural Design + BuildTechnologies, is building the Town Mountain home. “The lime is constantly taking in carbon, so it’s carbon-negative.”

Hempcrete is also a natural deterrent to insects, and it’s extremely fire-resistant, mainly because of the high lime content. It takes about 2 acres worth of hemp to do one house.

Cost calculations

Hempcrete is more expensive upfront than traditional building materials, mainly because of the shipping costs. Flavall says his company has to import it from Europe, which about doubles the cost.

For the Town Mountain home, he’ll use about 1,875 cubic feet of hempcrete, at a total cost of about $56,250.

That’s higher than typical construction, but Flavall says you’ll net a 30-40 percent reduction in framing costs because less lumber is needed. You also have the potential for a lighter foundation because the hempcrete walls are lighter. Also, homeowners may be eligible for a 10 percent reduction in insurance rates because the product is so flame-retardant.

Nauhaus partner Chris Cashman points out another major advantage: “With this, it’s your Sheetrock, insulation and Tyvek (moisture barrier) all rolled into one.”

Calculating the cost of a Hempcrete home gets complicated.

“We think we can build a house like our prototype for anywhere from parity for a high-end custom home – think Biltmore Village – to 5-15 percent more for a typical home,” Snell said. “However, that’s not the point because construction cost is not your monthly cost.”

He points out that a typical homeowner’s monthly home costs include the bank mortgage, utilities, maintenance, insurance and more. If you’re building a house that uses 15 percent of the energy of a conventional home, then you can take money saved on utilities and put it into construction and end up with the same monthly cost.

“Our mission is to provide carbon-neutral housing for the same monthly cost as a typical home,” Snell said.

Tim Callahan, another of the Nauhaus partners, puts it this way: “The reason it begins to be affordable is because we’ve reduced the energy loads so much.”

The costs over the long haul should appeal to the green-minded.

“The bottom line of this and a traditional house is it’s about cost-neutral,” Brenner said.

Labor-wise, it’s quicker to put up the hemp and plaster than all those other materials like Sheetrock and insulation. Brenner said it will take them about a week to get all the hemp walls up. The Nauhaus guys have put up a test wall and are waiting on the plastic forms from Brenner to do all their walls.

Model efficiency

The house Brenner is building will have 12-inch thick walls, while the house on Talmadge Street will boast 16-inch thick walls and will be 80 percent more efficient than code requirements – so efficient that Snell claims it could be heated solely by the body heat of 18 people.

Besides hemp walls, the 1,450-square-foot, four-bedroom house will have solar panels on the roof to generate enough electricity to power the home, with a surplus. It will have an earthen exterior made from the soil on site, rainwater gathered from the roof and a mostly edible landscape.

The home will be a prototype that the Nauhaus group will use for tours and education.

The house will be owned by the Nauhaus Group itself, although chief engineer Jeff Buscher and his family will live it for two years before it’s sold to allow for energy-efficiency analysis and other research.

Brenner is building the 3,100-square-foot Town Mountain home for Russ Martin, a former Asheville mayor and retired stockbroker, and his wife, Karen Corp. “We’re not afraid of trying something new,” Martin said. “We’ve always been adventurous that way, and this looks like it’s going to work out really well.”

Snell stressed that getting the Nauhaus going has involved a massive, collaborative effort involving multiple local companies.

Based in Asheville, the project is led by Think Green Building, Eco Concepts Development, Eco Concepts Realty and Green Plan.

Both Brenner and the Nauhaus partners want to expand hemp building far and wide.

Brenner said he’s working on a commercial project in Maggie Valley and another home in the Leicester area.

And they’d love to see farmers have a chance to grow hemp legally.

“Our feeling is: What a great crop this would be for North Carolina’s tobacco growers to get into,” said Callahan, the Nauhaus partner. “Bringing this in from England is probably not the greatest idea (economically). If local farmers can benefit from this, it would be great for them and great for the economy.”

Still, as Snell puts it, right now “what you have is a product that you can’t grow but you can buy” in the United States.

Brenner thinks the technology will take off when potential homeowners and developers come to understand its advantages.

“We’ve been seeing interest from all over the country,” Brenner said.

“People are truly interested in green construction and green building, and I don’t know how much more green you can get than this.”

Flavall said another hemp house will start up next year in Franklin, and he’s receiving strong interest in other projects.

“I’m seriously of the belief that we’re making history here,” he said.

By John Boyle Source. On the Net:

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July 5, 2009 – 10:52 PM – Prescription painkillers made her retch. Muscle relaxants ravaged her liver. So Jean Marlowe put down her pills and rolled a joint.Picture 12

“I tried marijuana, and in five minutes, my stomach stopped shaking for the first time in five years,” said Marlowe, who has used marijuana as medicine since a doctor recommended the drug in 1990. “It really does work.”

The founder and executive director of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients’ Network, Marlowe is asking state lawmakers to pass a bill legalizing medical marijuana use. The bill is currently in the House of Representatives’ Health Committee, and two of Gaston County’s three House delegates who serve on the committee have indicated they would likely vote against it.

House Bill 1380, the N.C. Medical Marijuana Act, would allow patients access to medical-grade cannabis with a signed statement from a physician. Growers and dispensaries would be licensed and regulated by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

“All of these people who have been kindly, caringly, lovingly sticking their necks out to grow a little bit of high-quality medication for patients could actually come forward and get a license and be legal,” Marlowe said.

North Carolina would become the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana and would see estimated annual tax revenues of $60 million within four years of the bill’s passage.

No local support

Reps. Wil Neumann and Pearl Burris Floyd said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would have to approve marijuana for medical use before they would consider writing an exception into the state’s cannabis ban.

“The FDA needs to make the determination of whether it has medical benefits or not,” Neumann said. “I would not favor it until the FDA comes out and wants it properly cultivated and harvested for medicinal properties.”

Marijuana faces a political minefield in the fight for federal recognition. The FDA discounted its potential medical application in a 2006 review, contradicting a 1999 study from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine that found it “moderately well suited” for treating certain conditions.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration calls marijuana the nation’s most abused illicit drug and classifies it as a Schedule I controlled substance, indicating “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

Floyd challenges those who support medical marijuana to seek FDA approval.

“It would be nearly impossible to regulate an illegal recreational drug even with a good doctor’s prescription,” she said in an e-mail. “If it is such a great idea and an untapped source of revenue, then it would meet the rigors of the FDA approval process.”

Rep. William A. Current said he is “skeptical” of medical marijuana but has not studied the issue enough to have an informed opinion.

“I just haven’t heard enough to reach any kind of decision on it, but from what I know, I would be hesitant to open this door unless we had really tight controls,” he said.

Current, a private-practice dentist, said he would rely more on medical and scientific evidence than personal feelings when deciding which way to vote.

“I think the medical community is going to have to step up on this issue and help make this decision,” he said. “People in political realms are not equipped to make these decisions without their guidance.”

Marijuana as medicine

Marijuana is “moderately well-suited for particular conditions” including nausea and vomiting from cancer patients’ chemotherapy and the rapid loss of body weight known as “wasting” in AIDS patients, according to the 1999 Institute of Medicine study, “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base.”

Long lists of side effects accompany many prescription drugs, and overdosing can be fatal. Advocates say by comparison, cannabis offers a safe alternative to pharmaceuticals.

“There are no side effects that are harmful,” Marlowe said. “There has been over 5,000 years of documented medical use of cannabis, and not a single death has ever occurred.”

Marlowe said a user would have to smoke 1,500 pounds of marijuana in 15 minutes – a physical impossibility – to ingest a toxic dose.

“There is no such thing as a lethal dose,” she said.

Muscle relaxants can weaken patients by gnawing away at their muscle tissue, Marlowe said, but cannabis allows them to maintain their strength.

“Almost every one of the muscle relaxers helps with muscle spasms, but they also atrophy the muscle over a period of time,” she said. “One unique property of cannabis is it can stop smooth muscle spasms while maintaining the muscle mass.”

Marijuana increases users’ heart rates and may decrease blood pressure, according to a 2001 American Medical Association report. It can impair short-term memory, motor skills, reaction time and information processing skills. Chronic users can experience withdrawal symptoms, but doctors conclude that cannabis is less addictive than alcohol and tobacco products.

“Although some marijuana users develop dependence, they appear to be less likely to do so than users of alcohol and nicotine, and the abstinence syndrome is less severe,” the AMA states in Report Six of the Council on Scientific Affairs.

In the 2001 report, AMA doctors encouraged researchers to develop a smoke-free inhaled delivery system for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive substance in marijuana.

“Like tobacco, chronic marijuana smoking is associated with lung damage, increased symptoms of chronic bronchitis, and possibly increased risk of lung cancer,” the report states.

Marlowe refutes the belief that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads users to try more harmful substances. She points to members of the N.C. Cannabis Patients’ Network who were formerly prescribed heavy-duty painkillers.

“Not only have none of them gone to hard drugs, they’ve all come off of narcotics,” she said. “Marijuana is not a gateway drug. The most recognizable, easiest gateway drug that most people run into is tobacco.”

A continuing crusade

An institute in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park processes and distributes medical marijuana to select participants in a nationwide federal study, according to the text of HB 1380. Meanwhile, the 386 patients of the N.C. Cannabis Patients’ Network cannot legally obtain the drug themselves.

“Our oldest patient is an 86-year-old World War II veteran who suffered nerve damage to his feet from the heavy packs he carried during the war,” Marlowe said. “Now he’s suffering, and he has to be considered a criminal.”

Marlowe, too, has been considered a criminal for her medical use of marijuana. The Mill Spring resident said she uses the drug to treat her numerous medical conditions, including muscular dystrophy, rheumatoid arthritis and degenerative disc disease.

She was arrested in 1998 when U.S. Customs agents intercepted a package of cannabis she ordered from a farm in Switzerland.

A judge sentenced her to six months on house arrest and two years of probation, but Marlowe was soon convicted of a probation violation because of her continued marijuana use.

She spent 10 months in a federal prison camp in West Virginia.

“It’s been a battle,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for 17 years.”

HB 1380’s future is uncertain. Health Committee members did not vote on the bill after a June 18 hearing, which included testimony from Marlowe and other NCCPN patients.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford), said he will seek a vote to move the bill out of committee without prejudice. The Health Committee would not vote on the bill’s merits, but majority approval would allow it to proceed to the House Finance Committee.

“It’s just one step closer to a full debate on the floor, and that’s what I really desire more than anything,” Jones said. “Every time the public hears more about this, many myths are dispelled, and we see an increase in support.”

Jones also filed a companion bill, HB 1383, which proposes a referendum on medical marijuana. The mechanism for licensing growers and dispensaries is identical to the one proposed in HB 1380.

“There are those who continue to feel some trepidation about it because it’s a political liability,” he said. “One option would be to allow the citizens of the state of North Carolina to vote on it.”

You can reach Corey Friedman at 704-869-1828.

MAKING INROADS

Since 1996, 14 states have passed laws allowing medical use of marijuana:

– Alaska
– California
– Colorado
– Hawaii
– Maine
– Maryland
– Michigan
– Montana
– Nevada
– New Mexico
– Oregon
– Rhode Island
– Vermont
– Washington

SOURCE: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

By Corey Friedman. Source.