Jim Savage|Green Built Hemp Home
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We recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Jim Savage of Green Built LLC. Green Built works with architects, builders, visionaries, and others in the Hudson Valley New York, and throughout the Northeast to build a vibrant, sustainable, regional economy. Their goal is to reduce carbon emissions, improve resiliency, and to create sustainable lasting industries. They’re all about sustainable building, committed to community, the region and the planet. They believe there is a better way to build and a healthier way to live.
Coach Freddie: What inspired you to join the industry?
James (Jim) Savage: Around 2005 when Katrina hit New Orleans, I could see the impact of it on people’s lives. The mold in people’s homes destroyed so many homes. I saw people living in FEMA Trailers for years after and I felt I had to do something. I didn’t do it though, I continued to live my life and then in 2010 when the Haiti earth quake happened and people were buried under their homes I told myself now I got to stop doing everything else and start concentrating on making the world a better place.
I went to Europe soon after that to look for building material that wouldn’t fall down on people, that wouldn’t get moldy, wouldn’t cause carbon emissions, and wouldn’t be toxic. I found on the web something about hempcrete and ended up going to Europe for a hemp building seminar in Spain. It blew my mind! There was so much going on in Europe. I thought why can’t we do this here? There had been a couple of buildings built here. Tim Calahagn of Ashville had started using hempcrete but it was not widely known, in fact its still not widely known. I felt like I could actually bring this somewhere.
At first I didn’t think I was going to bring this to the United States. I went to the third world and tried to get it into Haiti. I also tried to get it into other places and I think what happened was that it was much harder than I expected it to be. I thought hemp could be the center of sustainable economic development in developing countries. Hemp could help revive Haiti, it could help revive places in West Africa that were under developed. Hemp could help where people were living in very poor conditions, and where they were importing most of their materials rather than growing them and building them themselves. But because the U.S. DEA had such long tentacles here in the Americas, and out of internal issues regarding economic development and civil society it became apparent after a while that it was going to be much more difficult than I thought it would be.
I tried a pilot project in West Africa and in the middle there was a coo! The people who were involved in agriculture left the project. We were left with nothing. Around that time we were starting to see subtle changes in the United States. The changes were driven really by the cannabis industry and the move toward legalization of cannabis. In hemp’s case, this is the caboose following the locomotive of cannabis. It seems kind of backwards since industrial hemp has almost no THC and as I like to say, “You could smoke a telephone pole out of it and it would not do anything other than give you a headache.”
It took a while for me to figure out exactly what I was going to do. I knew that up here in the Hudson Valley and throughout
the Northeast we have thousands and thousands of old buildings in need of retrofit so that they will be energy efficient. We have problems with climate change, so hurricane Sandy destroyed thousands and thousands of structures and New York City actually at this point is saying that they want to build buildings that are resilient and are zero energy. New York City is looking and really making a move toward reducing energy consumption in buildings, so I decided lets do this here in the Northeast.
I don’t think that there’s a better place on earth than east of the Mississippi river in the United States to build with hemp. Honestly, because one of the things that is so great about hempcrete is that it is a breathable material. It takes humidity out of the indoor atmosphere in the summer and puts more into the indoor atmosphere in the winter, and we’ve got a very humid environment here in the Northeast. Its very cold in the winter, it’s very hot in the summer, and its very humid in the summer. When you are on the West Coast, you don’t use air-conditioning to dehumidify. Anywhere in the east, whether it’s in Louisiana, North Carolina, or Maine if you use air-conditioning the principal thing you are trying to do is take humidity out of the atmosphere. Hempcrete does it naturally.
I started by retrofitting my own home, which is an old 1850 brick house on the Hudson River. I didn’t do the whole thing but the rooms that I did are just more comfortable and actually heal themselves in ways that other parts of the house made with other materials don’t. So here I am working with a bigger team trying to introduce hempcrete and hemplime building materials into this region. A region where from one day’s drive from where we live here in the Albany area there’s 150,000,000 people. So it’s a pretty big market. As big as England, France, and Germany combined!
Coach Freddie: Toxic materials are in homes and buildings in America. Can you elaborate about the toxic materials that we don’t know about?
James (Jim) Savage: Well, I’ll tell you about one in particular, and I want you to compare this with hemp-lime. Spray foam insulation is actually considered to be a green building material but its based on petroleum. It’s made with what are called isocyanates, which are toxic. It uses hydrocarbon blowing agents which are very potent global warming chemicals and it uses flame retardants. These are very persistent toxins so if a building insulated with spray foam catches on fire firemen don’t put it out because it off-gasses tremendously. It’s very dangerous, so if you see someone putting foam plastic insulation they’re wearing a Hazmat suit.
When people put in hempcrete as insulation and hemplime as insulation, I have to warn them that they have to use some safety measures like wear gloves and eye covering because they think that hemp-lime is completely harmless but it does have the lime in it. It is actually a superb material in many ways but is pretty caustic because it has a very high pH. You can also see that most paints have toxins in them. They release gas toxic chemicals when you put them in. They won’t necessarily continue to be toxic but overtime you’re going to find that people, and I’ve seen this with families today are having problems with asthma, cancer and other real problematic health issues that are caused by the buildings and homes that they live in. We should be living in homes that are healthy, safe, nontoxic, and a hempcrete house is just that!
Coach Freddie: Can you tell us a little about your venture in hemp homes?
James (Jim) Savage: A while back I thought that it was very important to show to the Building Community and particularly the Green Building Community that building with hemp was a superior way of building. It is a way of building, again in a way that is non-toxic and meets all the needs of carbon reduction that the green building world is concerned with.
There’s a group called the US Green Building Council, which certifies buildings to be green. One of the criteria they have is rapidly renewable materials. Less than one percent of the buildings that are certified green by the US Green Building Council meet this criteria. There’s nothing more rapidly renewable than hemp. It grows in 12 weeks, it sequesters carbon and the next year you can grow another crop!
So we decided that it was important to show the community of builders, developers, and homeowners throughout the Northeast region that there’s a better way to build. So I got a team together. Christina Griffin, who is our lead architect on Hemp Home Tiny+ was actually about to launch a kick starter campaign for Hemp Home Tiny+. It’s a 500 square foot house that is going to burn no fossil fuels beautifully designed. Christina Griffin is an award-winning architect based in Westchester, New York. She is also a passive house professional, so we’re designing it to what is called passive house standards. A passive house standard is something where there is no need for active heating and cooling. It’s airtight, and hempcrete is very good for air tightness because it’s a monolithic material. It’s not a material that today when you build a house, even when you build a green house you’re going to find that most of the walls have four, five, or six different layers to them. But with a hempcrete wall you don’t need to do that. It’s really just one layer and that’s the hemp. A frame holds up the hemp and the lime. It also must be finished interior and exterior but it is essentially one continuous material.
After Christina agreed to design the building for us I went to Tim Callahan because Tim is in my opinion, the leading expert in hemp building in the United States. Callahan agreed to give technical advice and consult with us on everything having to do with hemp. We also went to Ken Levenson, who is the head of New York Passive House and as a distributor of Green Building House is very opposed to using toxic materials in safe and energy efficient houses. Ken is also helping us with materials, planning, how we finish the house, how we put in the windows, and how we put in what’s called a heat recovery system which will actually allow us to have continuous fresh air in the house. Again no use for a furnace. Even up here in the Hudson Valley. We are going to be putting in solar panels, to provide all of the energy we need even though we are going to be reconnected. This is the team we put together, we’re going to build it and have it ready to show people this summer. We’re starting the kick starter campaign before the end of march. We’re looking at this as a prototype to show people this can be done. You can build beautiful houses that eventually are going to be as cheap as anything else, less expensive, and over the lifespan of the building will save a huge amount of money and protect the health of the residents.
Coach Freddie: That’s great, you know I am going to be on the iHemp revolution roadshow this summer up in the Northeast and I would love to come and visit and spend some time while you guys are building this house and kind of document it and interview everybody out there, that’d be a great project.
James (Jim) Savage: How much would I love that. You’re invited!
Coach Freddie: Great, and we’ll make arrangements and a time and everything else.
James (Jim) Savage: Yeah we’re going to be building it in Catskill, New York.
Coach Freddie: Jim, are you focusing on building new or refurbishing old structures?
James (Jim) Savage: There are tons of old structures and we think-actually we know there is no existing material other than hemplime that can really insulate these old masonry buildings, particularly brick and stone buildings. Hemplime can maintain the way they looked historically and make them energy efficient. There’s nothing else that does that!
We are distributing materials to people who will be doing retrofits. We actually have a couple of projects that we are expecting to do this summer. We think that there is a huge market for that, and that market is going to grow, as we get better known. So not just people’s homes, but I look at all the institutional buildings, all the universities in the Northeast, and every university across the country pretty much has what’s called a sustainability plan. Sustainability plans say; we’re going to put in more efficient furnaces, we’re going to put in toilets that use less water, we’re going to put in solar panels. Very few of them have been able to figure out how to take these beautiful old stone buildings and make them energy efficient by insolating them.
Once we show that this can be done and it’s certified across the regions through out the United States, we think that there is going to be a big market in institutional buildings, industrial buildings, and residences across the Northeast.
Coach Freddie: Wow that’s a great vision, I love that! Let’s talk about the future of hemp and hempcrete and you building. Where do you see your business three years from now?
James (Jim) Savage: Currently I am purchasing my hemp from Europe. Three years from now, I see myself sourcing American Hemp, that’s going to reduce my costs. I see myself
having certification for my materials which will allow for building materials departments all over the country to just check a box and say this is good, we can use this. I expect that we will have builders who understand how to build without vapor barriers, with vapor permeable or breathable materials, because hemplime is a breathable material, it allows moisture to come in and out of the building and water vapor. We will be selling prefabricated houses, prefabricated panels, and raw materials to builders and contractors across the United States.
Coach Freddie: So your panels, they’ll be made out of hemp then, right?
James (Jim) Savage: Our panels will be made out of a hemp structure insolated panel, the way it’s produced today it’s made out of Styrofoam, and we are going to be making it from hemp. First of all it’ll last forever, instead of 20 years. Secondly, it’s going to be carbon sequestering from the day that its made. And third, at the end of its life if there is an end of life I mean right now with the end of life of Styrofoam I don’t know what happens. I guess this goes into the ocean with the rest of it, into the giant gyre in the Atlantic and the gyre in the Pacific where plastic sits forever. I see this as a way of taking what is an existing building technique and making it into a sustainable building technique.
Coach Freddie: This is fantastic, I love your mission Jim! We’ve covered quite a bit, is there anything else you could bring up about your business?
James (Jim) Savage: We want everybody to know about Hemp Home Tiny+, we want you to look at the images of the house as we’ve designed it so far. We also want you to go on the kick starter site and take a look at it and really begin to understand what we’re trying to accomplish. If you have the where-with-all folks, please help us out in funding it and funding the development that will get us from here to the next level to the point where we have a real sustainable business.
Coach Freddie let me just say, I know that New York, Connecticut, and Vermont are a little bit behind Kentucky and Colorado in terms of hemp development at this point. But long term, what we see is that we really want to have a sustainable economy.
We want to be able to grow our hemp here, process it here, and use it here to build our own homes. That’s where I see things going, its probably not going to be there in the next three years but in the next five I don’t doubt that we’re going to do this regionally.
Coach Freddie: Jim, I want to really thank you for this interview
James (Jim) Savage: Well, thank you for having me, its really been a pleasure. I look forward to you visiting us and walking through the house as we build it and seeing what we’re doing because its really going to be an exciting event.
Coach Freddie: I want to thank our listeners for tuning in today… and make sure you subscribe to the iHemp Revolution Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher Radio and give us a review. Follow us on facebook like us and tell your friends. Help us spread the word about how using industrial hemp can benefit people, heal the planet and provide long term profit. This is your Host… Coach Freddie… Inspiring people to do things that inspire them and thanks for joining the iHemp Revolution.
If you are an existing or start up hemp business and would like an interview with iHemp, please email Coach Freddie: email@example.com
To hear a podcast of this episode click here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ihemp-revolution/id1035389754