Hemp home a fine joint

Alternative builders Patricia Schmidt and Graham Sippo of Larnook using secret hemp mixture to fill the wall cavities of their home before rendering it to improve its liveability.
Alternative builders Patricia Schmidt and Graham Sippo of Larnook using secret hemp mixture to fill the wall cavities of their home before rendering it to improve its liveability. Jay Cronan

WHEN Graham Sippo and Patricia Schmidt finish building their home at Billen Cliffs Village it will be one fine joint.

The couple are building what is believed to be Australia's first home using hemp as a building material.

“It's basically hemp, sand and lime,” Mr Sippo said.

However, there is a secret ingredient pre-mixed with the lime that comes from their supplier.

The couple are currently waiting on the delivery of a crop of Australian-grown industrial hemp to be delivered so they can finish their home, which sits high on a hill with sweeping views of Larnook.

The couple made the decision to use hemp as a building material about five years ago after learning about its superior structural qualities.

“Unlike cement it doesn't absorb water. It sets to stone over time,” Mr Sippo said.

Hemp masonry is also lighter than similar moulded building techniques, making it easier to work with.

The hemp also breathes, which Mr Sippo said was ideal for humid Northern Rivers conditions because it reduced the chance of mildew.

The hemp comes as chaff and is mixed with lime and sand. It is then poured into frames which can be removed just 24 hours later. After a few days the hemp begins to set.

Once set, the walls are rendered using another mix with finely ground hemp as a base. The final effect is rustic, earthy walls both inside and out, although smooth finishes can be also achieved.

The home's development application was approved by the Lismore City Council, with the assistance of hemp masonry pioneer Klara Marosszeky.

“They were willing to let us give it a try,” Ms Schmidt said.

Construction on the home began five years ago, but there have been delays – they had to wait for industrial hemp to become legal in NSW and then there was a further wait while it was grown.

And although building their own home this way is labour intensive, the couple are committed to supporting the fledgling hemp masonry industry.

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