Hannah Izer   |   January 28, 2022

A Hard Look: Comparing Hempcrete to Concrete

2022 will usher in exciting developments regarding the use of hempcrete. But how does it compare to concrete?
Freelance writer with a specialization in the cannabis industry including strains, products, technology, education, and everything else connecting to the green plant. Her work has been featured in Thrillist.

Many have asked the question, “is hemp better than concrete?” And, the short answer may be ambiguous, as these materials have different properties for different uses. But hempcrete is beginning to make its way into being an essential building material for homes, commercial buildings, and other industrial structures.

Zev Paiss, chairman of the Fiber & Hurd Council, shared with Hemp Industry Daily his predictions on hemp in 2022: “I feel confident that 2022 will usher in the official start of widely available hemp building materials. This will include hemp batt insulation, hemp flooring, hemp exterior sheathing similar to oriented strand board (OSB) or, in this case, OHB, composite decking materials with hemp filler, and a variety of hemp paper products.”

Here is a more in-depth overview of some essential factors to hempcrete and concrete.

How They Are Made: Hempcrete vs. Concrete

The differences between hempcrete and concrete start with how they’re made.

Concrete

Most of us are familiar with this common building material created from water, an aggregate such as sand, rock, or cement. Cement typically comes in powder form. When combined with the aggregates and water, it acts as a binding agent when combined with the aggregates and water - likewise, the concrete agent.

The concrete mix is poured and hardened into a highly durable material. Ingredients to create concrete are readily available in most places. Other benefits of concrete include:

  • Tolerance to intense temperatures
  • High Durability
  • Easily cast into any shape
  • Low Cost of Maintenance

Hempcrete

As the name implies, this is a building material made from hemp. Hempcrete mimics concrete in several ways. Making hempcrete involves mixing the shiv (the plant’s wooden core) with water and a lime binder. As a result, hempcrete has fire resistance qualities, is an excellent insulator in cold climates, and is highly durable as a building material.

The bio-compostable material binds together due to a chemical reaction between the matter and the lime binder. Some advantages hempcrete offers include:

  • Carbon negative
  • Lightweight, breathable, and strong
  • Natural insulator
  • Pest, flame, and water-resistant.
  • Naturally non-toxic

Environmental Impacts Between Building Materials

Concrete production can have severe impacts on the environment. In 2019, The Guardian described concrete as “the most destructive material on Earth.” However, unlike concrete production, which has various adverse effects on the environment, hempcrete is an eco-friendly material, both in its raw and completed form.

The only negative environmental impact during hempcrete production is the carbon footprint generated from making the lime-based binder. On the other hand, hempcrete can store significant amounts of carbon dioxide, minimizing the greenhouse gas impact. Additionally, no harmful toxins are emitted into the atmosphere by hempcrete.

Is Hempcrete Stronger Than Concrete?

When comparing the compressive strength between hempcrete and concrete, concrete is stronger. Commercial concrete has a specific compressive strength of around 3000 psi, which is possible by its high density.

Compressive strength for hempcrete is between 72.5 - 507.6 psi, which is around 17% of that of regular concrete. Nonetheless, you can still achieve decent tensile strength with hempcrete by hemp fibers being mixed into the hemp hurd, water, and binder mixture.

Compressive strength is the resistance of a material to break under compressive. Hempcrete's low compressive strength level is due to its construction. It is composed of minimal dense material. It weighs around one-eighth of concrete.

Hempcrete offers tensile strength when its fibers are sued, reducing surface cracking. However, it doesn’t enhance compressive strength. Concrete differs because it includes sand and aggregates. The density of these ingredients adds to their high level of compressive force.

The Future of Hempcrete

Hemp companies will be required to put into place an infrastructure to maximize the production of the material. The hemp building materials used in hempcrete production are disposed of when during CBD extraction processes.

The biomass is discarded since it is not needed or used to produce compost. Focusing on this will reduce the waste produced by such companies and serve as a way to maximize non-CBD revenue opportunities.

The future of hempcrete is growing. First, the construction industry must be educated on the material; as a newcomer, professionals must teach proper handling methods and uses to increase public awareness of the benefits of using hempcrete for construction. In addition, these standards will enable more homeowners and those looking to make renovations to go for hempcrete.

Hempcrete insulation is also moving forward for certification in US building codes, as well. The US Hemp Builders Foundation submitted an appendix in the International Residential Codes on January 10th this year.

Undoubtedly, the demand for hempcrete is bound to increase, fueling industry growth. This particular material also had the added benefits of being a thermal insulator and could be a game-changer for homes in cooler areas. Regardless of the drawbacks of being both time-consuming and expensive. Hempcrete is the future of construction for upcoming years.

Bottom Line: Hempcrete vs. Concrete

Is hempcrete better than concrete? Hempcrete is a more sustainable option than concrete.

This development means that different industrial sectors will be moving toward greener processes. Hempcrete is a top contender thanks to its environmentally-friendly production in the construction industry.

Many countries in Europe are already embracing hempcrete. Soon enough, the rest of the world is bound to as an eco-friendly resource. The balance of hempcrete and concrete will open a new world for the cannabis industry and its companies.

 

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