Advertisement
  1. News

Hemp helps build a house in Tarpon Springs, likely first in Florida

Bob Clayton crafted a 1,640-square-foot house of hempcrete — the hemp plant’s woody core and a lime-based binder.
Published Aug. 17, 2014

TARPON SPRINGS — Bob Clayton leaned over the gleaming, industrial-grade oven, his crystal blue eyes focused as he slathered crab spread on golden-brown pieces of bread.

While Clayton prepared the crostini, his dozen or so guests sipped beer and sparkling wine in the kitchen and combined living-dining room of his Florida-style ranch home. Scott McKenzie's San Francisco played softly on the Bose sound system. The Saturday afternoon gathering had the feel of any one of a thousand house parties likely happening in Florida at that same moment.

Clayton's guests, though, felt like they were making a little bit of history as they mingled.

After more than two years of fits-and-starts construction, the 64-year-old retired mechanical engineer was hosting the first party in his house made of hemp.

"I'm excited they're excited," Clayton said. "There's a real buzz in this crowd."

On a red-brick street near the Pinellas Trail south of Dodecanese Boulevard, Clayton has built what is believed to be Florida's first — and America's fourth — house constructed of hempcrete.

Composed of chunks of the hemp plant's woody core and a lime-based binder, hempcrete is typically poured into forms and packed around wood frames. The breathable material dries as hard as concrete but weighs about one-seventh as much.

The material is common in countries where it's legal to grow hemp. In the United States, though, hemp has a long, complicated history.

It was an important crop here in the 18th and 19th centuries, used primarily for rope, twine and bagging. Industrial hemp and marijuana both come from the Cannabis sativa plant, but hemp is cultivated from the plant's stalks and seeds, which contain only trace amounts of the narcotic in marijuana. Hemp doesn't get you high.

Still, the demonizing of marijuana that began with the 1936 film Reefer Madness made farmers shy away from the plant. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 that lumped hemp with marijuana as a narcotic was "the last nail in the coffin," said Linda Booker, director and producer of Bringing It Home, a 2013 documentary about hemp construction. Booker traveled from North Carolina to attend Clayton's party.

She said a hemp resurrection is on the horizon as policymakers take notice of the millions of dollars of hemp products — from soaps to shirts to rugs — imported into the United States each year. In England, hempcrete is being used to build warehouses, townhouses and department stores.

"We now have some politicians that have seen we're cutting American farmers out of an opportunity that 31 other industrialized nations are taking advantage of," Booker said.

A small section in this year's Farm Bill authorized the growth of industrial hemp for research by departments of agriculture and higher education institutions in states where hemp cultivation is legal under state law. Not in Florida, though.

At least not yet, said Ingrid Setzer, a Cape Coral florist and the founder of the fledgling Florida Hemp Industries Association. Setzer organized Saturday's party to build momentum in Florida's grass roots movement.

"The time is right, right now, for hemp," Setzer said.

Clayton, an Ohio native who has helped install oil platforms in the North Sea and done graphic design work in Silicon Valley, wanted to know if a hemp building could stand up to Florida's hot, wet summers and hurricanes.

He worked with an architect to design the three-bedroom, two bathroom home that would blend well in Tarpon's historic district or in a traditional subdivision. He eventually parted ways with a contractor who had never worked with hempcrete and finished the job himself. He moved in this past January and kept working on the interior.

The walls, covered in stucco, are a foot thick and can withstand winds up to 150 miles per hour. Concrete production spews carbon dioxide, but the roughly 3 acres of hemp used to build his house absorbed the greenhouse gas without the need for herbicides and pesticides. His electric bill for the 1,640-square-foot home has peaked at about $90 this summer.

Hemp houses, he thinks, might help save the world.

The estimated $350,000 price tag is high, even with the granite finishes, maple cabinets and hickory floors, but Clayton said that cost would come down with a trained labor force working with materials grown stateside.

"Hemp is good for America, it's good for American workers, and it's a good, healthy home," he said. "I just wish people would wake up and eliminate this stupid ban and let farmers grow."

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. By the time Gunnery Sgt. John Guglielmino died Thursday at age 69, more than 200 service men and women had made the trip to Curahealth Jacksonville to salute him one last time. Facebook
    Katie Boccanelli was hoping maybe a handful of local servicemen/women might be in a position to respond.
  2. Casey Cane, chairman of the Pinellas County Housing Finance Authority. Pinellas County
    An inspector general’s report says he also engaged in "unethical behavior'' as a contractor.
  3. [Getty Images] Gettty Images
  4. This Oct. 20, 2019 image made from video by Twitter user @AthenaRising shows the tornado in Rockwall, TX. The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down in Dallas on Sunday night, causing structural damage and knocking out electricity to thousands. (@AthenaRising via AP) @ATHENARISING  |  AP
    Three people were hospitalized and evaluated for non-life-threatening injuries.
  5.  CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    How closely do you follow the Tampa Bay Times? Take our weekly quiz and find out.
  6. 30-year-old Victor Van Vickery II was arrested last week in the death of 57-year-old Asaad Akar. Mugshots Palm Beach Post
    Fort Lauderdale police records say Vickery and his girlfriend at the time noticed someone peering into her window around midnight on July 2, 2018.
  7. Two large cranes from the Hard Rock Hotel construction collapse come crashing down after being detonated for implosion in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. Officials set off thundering explosions Sunday to topple two cranes looming precariously over a partially collapsed hotel in New Orleans, but most of one crane appeared to be left dangling atop the ruined building while the other crashed down. STAFF PHOTO BY DAVID GRUNFELD  |  AP
    “We know that we are safer now than we have been in the past eight days,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
  8. American military convoy stops near the town of Tel Tamr, north Syria, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. Kurdish-led fighters and Turkish-backed forces clashed sporadically Sunday in northeastern Syria amid efforts to work out a Kurdish evacuation from a besieged border town, the first pull-back under the terms of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire. BADERKHAN AHMAD  |  AP
    They aren’t coming home and the United States isn’t leaving the turbulent Middle East, according to current plans outlined by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
  9. White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announces that the G7 will be held at Trump National Doral, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Washington. EVAN VUCCI  |  AP
    Mulvaney said Trump “still considers himself to be in the hospitality business.”
  10. Pasco County community news TMCCARTY80  |  Tara McCarty
    Pasco County news briefs
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement