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Amazing Australia Lifestyle

Perth’s first eco-friendly hemp house has been built

PERTH: The Perth metropolitan is now home to its first hempcrete house, located in the Beaconsfield suburb near Fremantle. The pioneers of this toxic-free, sustainable home are May-Ring Chen, the home owner, and her Architect Barbara Cullity. Both women are inspiring to have sustained their vision of creating an environmentally friendly construction within an industry that was not entirely open or ready to try something new.

Architect Barbara Cullity (left) and May-Ring Chen (right) looking over the design plans for the solar pergola.
Architect Barbara Cullity (left) and May-Ring Chen (right) looking over the design plans for the solar pergola.

“When May-Ring approached me with her idea to build with Hemp, I got excited because I am always open to doing something different especially if it is beneficial for the environment. However, people don’t like thinking outside the box in this business, so finding the right tradesmen and builders to take on the job was the biggest challenge,” said Barbara. “We approached two or three builders who instantly refused because they didn’t want to go into unchartered territory. One of them said – I’d be mad to do this, no one in Perth has done this before and I wouldn’t want to be the first.”

“I had read a lot about the benefits of hemp. I also wanted a solar passive house. My father was an engineer and built the first solar heated house in Germany in the year 1975, so solar power always inspired me. I am fortunate to have found Barbara who easily agreed to take on the project. For me a sustainable home is an investment into my future, so that post retirement I don’t need to worry about the costs of utilities and overheads,” May-Ring told The News Tribe.

Finally, Barbara found Wandoo Design & Construction, who were open to an innovative and challenging construction with emphasis on low-toxicity. “Barbara had extensively researched Hempcrete construction around the world, so this was reassuring. We were selected early in the design process and were involved in developing practical architectural details that would work within the West Australian industry context. This meant we could build with standard trades and materials, within budget even though it was a non-standard build,” said builder Moss Johnson while speaking to The News Tribe.

Hemp–lime concrete is a low-embodied-energy, carbon-negative building material made with a lime-based binder and hemp aggregate.
Hemp–lime concrete is a low-embodied-energy, carbon-negative building material made with a lime-based binder and hemp aggregate.

Hempcrete WA owner Mikkel Hansen, who had helped on hemp homes in Margaret River after attending a hempcrete workshop there, was the contractor on the project. “I am very proud and happy that we got the opportunity to be a part of the first hemp home in Perth, it was a great experience for me and I learned a lot more than a workshop could ever teach. Of course, it was a challenge, but being the first build and with limited experience, it went really well and the end-result shows it,” Mikkel said.

The house has so far performed well on hot summer days, with only ceiling fans in the two bedrooms. “Because of the high fiber content the walls trap lots of air in, which is great for insulation,” said Barbara.

Hempcrete without the render.
Hempcrete without the render.

“You can literally feel the air quality in May-Ring’s house,” Moss told us, “All the materials in the house are natural and finished with breathable natural sealers. It is intended the home will be open for Sustainable House Day 2019.”

May-ring chose hemp because it is completely natural and carbon positive, termite proof, fire resistant, biodegradable and vapor permeable, ticking all the right boxes for environmentally conscious home owners. The floor boards are all made from recycled timber.

The house has a 3-kilowatt solar panel on the roof, with a 45,000 litre underground rain water tank. It is also grey water ready, equipped with 2 toilets, a sauna and two bedrooms, with lots of natural light and ventilation features throughout the house. At the back of the house is a workshop where May-Ring does her wood work. Once the solar pergola goes up in the backyard, she is looking forward to setting up a permaculture garden and a natural composting system.

Due to the high primary energy use and carbon emissions generated by the construction industry, it is important to develop sustainable building materials to replace conventional products.

“A hemp home is not only good for the environment but also the people living in the home”, said Mikkel Hansen, who is looking forward to working on more hemp homes in the future.

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