The house that hemp built: Carpenter puts carbon-negative hempcrete to the test

  • Shelby Howland of Southampton, who is the owner of Village Carpentry and Landscaping, stands in front of a carbon sequestering house he is building on Fuller Road in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Shelby Howland, owner of Village Carpentry and Landscaping, stands beside bales of hemp hurd at the site of a home he is building with the material, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020 in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Shelby Howland, owner of Village Carpentry and Landscaping, holds a handful of hemp hurd at the site of a home he is building with the material, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020 in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Shelby Howland displays a wall made of hempcrete, left, and a wall of hempcrete after it has been coated in a mixture of lime and sand, right, at a house he is building in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Shelby Howland, owner of Village Carpentry and Landscaping, displays a tilt-turn window that opens from the top and also from the side, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020 at a house he is building in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Walls of hempcrete, a mixture of hemp hurd and natural hydraulic lime, at a carbon sequestering house being built by Shelby Howland, of Southampton, on Fuller Road in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Hemp hurd mixed with natural hydraulic lime is used to make hempcrete, shown on a house being built by Shelby Howland, owner of Village Carpentry and Landscaping, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020 on Fuller Road in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS—

  • The interior of a carbon sequestering house being built by Shelby Howland, owner of Village Carpentry and Landscaping, shows the timber frame construction. At left, Howland holds a handful of hemp hurd at the site of a home he is building with the material. STAFF PHOTOS/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/2/2020 4:48:10 PM
Modified: 10/2/2020 4:47:59 PM

A home being built in Goshen would be the first in the Pioneer Valley to be an intentionally carbon sequestering home constructed using an environmentally sustainable mixture of hemp and limestone called hempcrete.

The property, located on Fuller Road, will become the new home of 29-year-old Southampton resident Shelby Howland, owner of Village Carpentry and Landscaping, who is building the house not only as a place to live, but as a pilot project for the future of his family business. The project to build the 1,600-square-foot, two-story home has been in the works for the past nine months and should be finished by the end of the year.

“The biggest thing for me was I’ve cared about environmental things for a long time and have always been looking for ways to build houses that were not made out of plastic,” Howland said, pointing to house wrap, vinyl windows, foam insulation, prefinished flooring and asphalt roofing as being made from petroleum-based materials that have large carbon footprints.

“I also have to meet modern code, obviously,” he said. “The big challenge has been trying to figure out a building method that’s carbon negative — something that wasn’t a detriment to the environment. This is kind of the first method that I’ve been told about that itself could be marketable and viable.”

The house is also a collaboration with Chris Magwood, director of the Endeavour Centre, a school in Peterborough, Ontario, that focuses on sustainable new construction.

“He’s developing a carbon sequestering calculator for the construction industry,” Howland said, “and this is one of the projects that is being used to test out his beta of that.”

Hempcrete was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s in Europe as a way to renovate deteriorating medieval castles, replacing wooden materials that had rotted away during the centuries. But now, with its environmentally friendly makeup, it has a different use. When the house in Goshen is completed, the appearance will be similar to a house in a classic English village.

Sheetrock won’t be used in the house due to its carbon footprint, nor will latex paint, he said. Instead, they’ll be using natural oil-based paints.

To make hempcrete, limestone is mixed with the woody interior of hemp stalks called hemp hurds or shives, making a slurry. The lime works as a binder that interacts with and binds the hemp product, Howland said. The house uses a traditional wood frame, while the hempcrete is packed around the wall studs. At the home in Goshen, hempcrete will be used for the exterior walls, which will be finished with a plaster siding. There’s also the option to use wood siding as well.

“One of the things about hempcrete that makes it particularly excellent is its ability to hold a lot of moisture in the system without any degradation to insulation quality or mold growth, up to about 80% humidity,” Howland said. “It means that when it’s humid, the walls absorb a lot of that humidity. When you get into colder weather, then the walls release that humidity into the warm building.”

Howland said he plans to form a company to make hempcrete wall panels for house construction projects across the country.

“The idea is that in order to make any kind of environmental impact from any new building method, you’ve got to do a lot of it. One good home doesn’t matter,” he explained. “It’s got to be thousands in order to make any good carbon difference.”

Howland said he’s excited for the future of the construction company in regards to furthering its environmentally sustainable building practices.

“To me, building in an environmentally conscious way, if we can make it affordable and approachable as a building modality, that’s really going to be the future of climate change because it has to be a market-driven process. People aren’t going to want to pay extra or do extra work to fight climate change. If it’s going to cost too much, people are going to turn away from that.”

More than 25 years ago, the business was started by his mother, Sarah Sull, under her own name. About three years ago, her sons, Shelby and Wynter Howland, took on leadership roles and changed the name of the company. Now they’re plotting the future of their family business with an environmentally sustainable mindset that aligns with Sull’s ideals.

Sull, a resident of Plainfield in her late 50s who now does administrative work for Village Carpentry, said it’s been an “unusual situation where the tables have turned” and she’s working for her sons, but she is excited for the future.

“Energy efficiency and natural building has been an interest in mine all along,” she said. “I haven’t always been able to find work that focuses on that, but it has been a definite interest of mine.”

Sull said she thinks as she heads toward her retirement years, she’s happy to see the company in good hands.

“It’s a combination of new technology and century age technology these days, and the truth of the matter is that this is the first home built with exactly these methods in this area. How it will perform will be part of what we find out … It very may well be able to be a method that helps people build more energy conscious and natural material homes.”

For more information about Village Carpentry, visit villagecarpentryma.com.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.




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