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House of hemp

Posted on January 10, 2004

Couple built 4,500-square-foot octagonal home to show hemp’s versatility; Commercially grown hemp means house won’t get you high.

Dalston, Ontario — Kelly Smith and Greg Herriott built their new home as an homage to hemp.

The walls of Smith and Herriott’s 4,500-square-foot house are filled with hemp weed, the floor and ceiling beams are stained with hemp oil, the roof is shingled with hemp composite and they plan to use hemp oil in the furnace.

But though their octagonal home has hemp at every turn, they won’t be getting high.

Like all commercially grown hemp, the weed grown at Herriott’s Hempola Valley Farm contains only the minutest traces of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

“We built the house because we wanted to show people that hemp is a versatile product with a lot of applications,” said Herriott.

Part of Hempola’s mandate is to develop hemp products that our environmentally friendly, so they incorporated that philosophy into the building of their octagonal home, said Smith.

“We used natural products such as slate and bamboo and as much reclaimed wood that we could get our hands on.”

The focal point of the house is a 45-foot-tall white pine beam — stained with hemp oil of course — that reaches from the basement through all three storeys. From that central beam eight more beams fan out on each floor to support the ceilings.

In a building technique similar to that used in straw homes, more than 400 bales of hemp weed were used to form the outer walls. The walls were then secured with wire mesh, which was then parged with concrete and painted.

“I can tell you, painting all that concrete was a huge job,” said Smith.

The result is a home “that breathes” while still maintaining an insulation level of R42, said Smith.

Since the hemp weed is encased in concrete, it poses a very low fire risk, she added.

To make the home more energy efficient, a glassed-in sunroom forms an envelope on the west and south sides of the building.

“It works very well when we get sun,” said Smith.

Herriott installed a regular oil furnace but is working on developing heating oil from the oil squeezed from hemp seeds.

“In theory it should work very well, even in a house furnace,” said Smith.

The couple used reclaimed doors, reclaimed hemlock for the floors and bamboo compressed into strips that resemble hardwood flooring for the stairs.

All the natural wood in the home, including the reclaimed elm in the breakfast bar, is stained with hemp oil, and the board and batten that covers some of the exterior is also stained with hemp oil.

The Enviro Shakes used for the roof are a composite of hemp and recycled tires and carry a 50-year warranty.

The couple’s budget was $300,000 for the three-bedroom, three-bath home, built on 20 hectares near the village of Dalston, about 15 kilometres north of Barrie, but their determination to make the house both environmentally friendly and luxurious led to some serious overruns.

Smith estimates that even though they have done much of the work themselves, the home has cost more than $570,000 so far.

“And we’re not totally finished yet,” she said.

Some of the luxury features include a two-person Jacuzzi in the master-bedroom ensuite and large windows on the third floor that give a spectacular 360-degree panorama of the rolling hills that surround the property.

The third-floor room is used as Herriott’s office, but Smith doesn’t rule out making it into a stunning master suite.

Herriott and Smith started Canada’s first commercial hemp farm in 1998. They grow, manufacture and market hemp seed and hemp seed oil products through national distributors throughout Canada and the United States.

Hempola, which also contracts farmers to grow hemp on 160 hectares of farmland in southwestern Ontario, has about 30 product lines, including hemp oil salad dressing, high-protein pancake mix, lip balm and hemp oil used as a wood finish.

With much of the Dalston farm turned over to research and development of hemp crops, they had to buy most of the bales of hemp weed they needed for the building, at about $5 a bale.

“That’s about twice the cost of buying regular straw for house building. But when you own a hemp company, you don’t want to use anything else,” said Herriott.

Copyright © 2004, Toronto Star. All rights reserved.