Fargo House to Research Hemp Building Materials

The two small homes rise on the back half of a lot just off a busy street not far from downtown Fargo.

“These homes have an identical floor plan, they’re 13 by 23, with 12-foot ceilings, there’s a loft in each of them,” says Grassroots Development president Justin Berg, the man behind the build and this one-of-a-kind research. project.

One of the houses is built with traditional timber framing, fiberglass insulation and clad in this bright white material

The walls are constructed with hemp or the inner woody part of the hemp plant mixed with lime and water and then sealed with plaster.

Dan Gunderson | MPR News

A second house a few yards away also has a wood frame, but the walls are filled with 12 inches of hempcrete, giving it a brown, textured look inside and out.

The raw material is called hard. It is the inner woody core of the hemp plant, cut into small pieces.

The hurd is mixed with a lime binder and water.

“And you mix the mix to a consistency, a nice kind of chicken salad – that’s our joke – consistency,” said Grassroots Development sustainability consultant Sydney Glup. “And we hand-packed, physically hand-packed, this whole house.”

two hands hold chopped plant fibers

Hemp raw material on the right and mixed with a lime binder on the left. Water is added to make a material that can be fashioned into walls.

Dan Gunderson | MPR News

They were guided through the process by Bismarck, ND based Homeland Hempcretebut the process was easy to learn, Glup said, just a lot of work preparing buckets of material, pouring it into forms and wrapping it so the walls were even after the forms were removed.

Hempcrete walls must cure for six weeks before being coated inside and out with a coat of finishing plaster.

These homes could become short-term rentals, but the main purpose is research.

“We’re just trying to get this concrete, unbiased research to contribute to the industry so we can fix the problems and figure out how to do better,” Glup said. “We want it to be so that anyone who wants healthier housing can afford it.”

To collect data, sensors are inserted into the walls of both houses to monitor humidity and air temperature. Energy consumption will also be closely monitored.

a worker stands next to a partially constructed wall

A worker fills forms with hempcrete while building a house in Fargo.

Courtesy of Sydney Glup.

“This study, to my knowledge, is the only one of its kind,” said Riley Gordon, principal engineer for the Minnesota-based company. Agricultural Use Research Institutea partially state-funded non-profit organization that helps develop new markets for Minnesota crops.

“We’re just looking to take advantage of the opportunity to have these two buildings built side-by-side,” Gordon said. “They are identical, which is perfect for a controlled study.”

Gordon is working with a Minneapolis-based Center for Energy and the Environment, which will analyze data collected from each home.

These hempcrete walls do not provide structural support, two by six wooden studs give strength to the wall.

Hemp is touted as a healthier alternative to insulation, reducing mold by creating walls that breathe, providing excellent insulating properties and serving as thermal mass, storing heat. The material is also flame retardant.

But Gordon said there was a need for data to validate some of those claims.

“A lot of the talk so far has been just a lot of assertions that haven’t really been backed up by a lot of data,” he said. “So I think it’s okay, for better or for worse, provide some answers to questions that I’ve heard quite often about this material. So I think this is a very important and timely study.

a woman is holding two orange wires coming out of a wall

Sydney Glup with Grassroots Development holds some of the sensors embedded in the walls of two houses under construction in Fargo. They will measure humidity, temperature and other data that will help compare a home with hemp walls to a traditional wood frame home.

Dan Gunderson | MPR News

The construction cost is about 25% higher for the hemp house. This is partly because raw materials are still hard to find and expensive. But Justin Berg also thinks this research will show that building with hemp can save money in the long run.

“Paying more up front and realizing those savings over time through energy consumption, you know, having a biodegradable structure. You start measuring the materials and their impact and I think that’s where we hope to help shed some light,” Berg said.

To buy raw materials that met their consistency standards, Berg said they had to buy the hurd in 400-pound bags from a company in Kansas and ship it to Fargo.

There are at least two new hemp processors starting up in Minnesota, and Berg is building a processing facility in Wahpeton that he plans to have operational later this year, but he expects it will take some months to refine the processing to produce a high quality product. .

Berg says there’s still a steep learning curve, from farmers growing the crop to processors producing raw materials, but he’s willing to invest in the belief that hemp will become a sustainable building alternative.

“It’s definitely early days, and I think 10 years from now you’ll see an industry that has real impact,” he said.

The region will need more hemp processing capacity to drive down commodity prices, and farmers need to be convinced that hemp is a viable alternative crop, Berg said.

He would like to see the federal government do more to encourage hemp production as an alternative crop that could also help fight climate change by storing carbon from global warming.

“You’re looking at something that’s going to help sequester carbon in the soil with a deep taproot crop as well as being put into materials that are stored for over 100 years and continue to sequester carbon,” Berg said. .

But ultimately, farmers will need a cohesive market for the harvest, and the construction industry will need to accept hemp as a viable alternative material. Berg hopes this research project on a tiny lot in Fargo will help convince more builders and consumers to try hemp.

a man and a woman stand in front of a partially constructed building

Justin Berg and Sydney Glup of Grassroots Development are overseeing the construction of a project in Fargo to test hemp building materials.

Dan Gunderson | MPR News

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