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Former NBA coach Don Nelson touts the benefits of building with the plant
KIHEI, Maui » Building one of the first homes in Hawaii made of hemp has left Hall of Fame NBA coach Don Nelson open to some friendly ribbing from his Maui neighbors.
“Most of them think they can smoke it,” Nelson said.
While industrial hemp used in the construction of homes comes from the same cannabis sativa plant species as marijuana, it contains only a small amount of tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive chemical that creates the marijuana high.
“You’d have to smoke a telephone pole worth to get a little buzz on,” said Don’s wife, Joy Nelson.
The walls of the Nelsons’ 700-square-foot guest house are being filled with a material — made out of the chips and fibers of hemp stalk mixed with water and lime — called “hempcrete.”
Once the smaller house is finished later this month, the next project for the Nelsons is to construct the main house on their Sugar Beach oceanfront property — a 6,000 square-foot home — with hempcrete.
Don Nelson, 75, said he wanted to use hempcrete because of its low environmental impact, noting the sustainability of the hemp plant, which can be grown in Hawaii.
“I always felt that hemp was the building material of the future. It’s a wonderful plant. Some day there will be a lot of hemp homes,” Nelson said.
The building material is nontoxic and has other advantages for construction, including being resistant to insects, mildew and fire.
“We’re not killing any trees, which makes us feel good,” said Nelson, the winningest coach in NBA history. Nelson ended his NBA career in 2010 with the Golden State Warriors, the team heading into the NBA Finals Thursday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
George Rixey, architect and builder of the Nelson homes, said the cost for the 700-square-foot hemp house was approximately 15 percent more than a home made of traditional materials, primarily because the material had to be shipped from Canada and Europe.
Rixey said if hemp could be grown in Hawaii, it would cut the cost.
“It would have a completely 100 percent sustainable building product here in the islands,” Rixey said. “Someday if someone wanted to tear this house down, they could throw it in a dump and it would decompose and would be fine. They could also take it, throw it back into a bucket and remix it and put it back up again.”
The chips of the hempcrete were visible on the walls when Rixey and the Nelsons walked around the small house before the final touches. The home was built with conventional wood studs and the hempcrete was used as a filler for the walls. Stucco will be applied to the outside of the home and plaster on the inside of the home before it is complete.
The hempcrete adds insulation to the home, keeping it cool inside on warm days and warm on cooler days.
“Looking for sustainability is really difficult in the building industry,” Rixey said. “Along comes this hempcrete which is (in) every category you can imagine for sustainability in building.”
“My vision is on each island we grow the hemp and one use would be hempcrete. You have a ready material right there to build the walls of your home,” said Thielen.
Hawaii currently has one site on Oahu reserved for growing and testing hemp at the University of Hawaii’s Waimanalo Research Station.
Lawmakers introduced a measure, House Bill 508, last session that would allow the growing of industrial hemp under certain specified conditions. The bill proposed a grant program to help with registration of industrial hemp growers and seed testing. It would have provided a way to license farmers to grow hemp. Lawmakers deferred the bill in conference committee.
Thielen, 81, blamed the defeat of the bill on a handful of lawmakers who still confuse hemp with marijuana.
“Because there are a few people in the Legislature that are afraid of a crop that won’t get anyone high,” Thielen said, “we’re restricted to one single research plot.”
Denise Key, director of Industrial Hemp Hawaii and chairwoman of the hemp subcommittee of Hawai‘i Farmers Union United, said that more test sites are necessary to successfully research and build a hemp industry in Hawaii.
“We need to find the right seed for Hawaii,” Key said. “The farmers want to grow it. There was support all around.”
Joy Nelson said Key introduced her to using hemp as a construction material. After hearing about all of the benefits, Nelson said she decided to use hempcrete for the guest home on the family property.
Joy Nelson’s daughter, Lee McBride, said she was excited to be moving into the guest house, especially after learning how hempcrete insulates, making it easier to keep spaces cool.
“I have allergies, it is supposed to help with allergies and it is supposed to be more cost-efficient with heating and cooling,” McBride said.