Andrew Mackie President Canamo Enterprises

‘This product is a combination of great insulation and thermal mass.’

Could you tell us about your hemp-wall product?

We are developing a building material that uses hemp as the primary ingredient. We put up an experimental wall in our store at Riva’s Eco Store and we’ll have lots more to come this summer.

When will you be putting it on the market?

Theoretically it could be on the market within a few weeks. Certainly if someone wants to take the plunge with it we could make it happen.

What are the benefits of the product?

I am interested in alternative building techniques. My background is in architecture and I have a small design practice in town. The way we see real big changes being made to the building industry is changing the way we build. This hemp product is taking the traditional way of building with earth and straw but in this case it’s hemp to build your walls out of. We’re using lime as a binder and a hemp and then a recycled glass.

Why did you choose hemp?

We are excited about using it just because it’s such a superior crop in terms of how it grows — easily and quickly without need of pesticides — and it can be used as a break crop in farming to help regenerate the soil.

How do you build a wall with it?

Basically we pack it into the wall ram it down and make sure it’s well-compacted so there aren’t any holes. You work your way up a wall structure. We put it around the studs. We build thicker walls about 12 to 14 inches thick. Then you can plaster either side of it.

Is it cheaper than most walls?

We think it will be cost-competitive with conventional construction. This material will probably be more expensive than fibreglass insulation but there should be less onsite labour. It should last hundreds of years not the 20- to 50-year lifespan that many traditional walls have.

Are you the only one in Canada doing this?

We are the only company in Canada that is doing this. There is a person on Vancouver Island who is making a house out of this. But we are going to be the only ones who are selling it as a commercially viable product. Our vision is that we can make these in a city and it can have all of these great properties that we cherish.

Where will you get the hemp?

We have a reasonably sized industry in Alberta for hemp oil and seed. That works out great for us because the farmers don’t know what to do with the rest of the plant the stock. So we can get quite large quantities right here in Alberta. Hemp fibre is being produced for panels for the automobile industry but we are the only ones here pushing it towards the home-building industry. We have a grant from the government to help us with our research and development.

How is it efficient?

You can create a home that is incredibly energy efficient for a couple of different reasons. It has thermal mass which means it maintains its temperature for a longer period of time than a conventional building. This product is a combination of great insulation and thermal mass.

Are there problems constructing it at -35 C?

Yes. We cannot pour walls if there is significant freezing because the walls won’t dry until there is a melt. We are going to be developing a panel product where we can assemble it in an indoor factory and bring them to a building site. They will be heavy; you’ll need a crane to assemble it.