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A House As Nature Would Have It: A Net-Zero Dwelling Built from Hemp

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A House As Nature Would Have It: A Net-Zero Dwelling Built from Hemp

December 13, 2021

Two centuries ago, using hemp to construct a house would not have sounded strange. Back then the crop, a relative of marijuana minus most of the THC, was used for so many things—such as fashioning rope, weaving textiles, and making paper—that property owners in Jamestown were required to grow 100 hemp plants for export to England.

In the 1930s, a campaign against the evils of marijuana took down hemp with it. The crop, a celebrated carbon sink that requires little in the way of pesticides to cultivate, is only just now reemerging and being put to old and new uses. Building with hemp is an eco-practice pioneered in recent decades in France and Belgium, and starting to take hold around the world. Its use in the building of this thoughtfully designed house in northern Israel caught our attention.

The solar-powered, net-zero structure is the work of Haifa-based architecture studio Tav Group. Founding partner and lead architect on the project, Maoz Alon, received the commission from his longtime friends Yoki Gill and Daniel Benozilyo, creators of the hiking sandal brand Source Outdoor, known for its environmental leadership. The couple wanted quarters that incorporate local, biodegradable building materials with best green practices, compost toilets and a gray water system included. “The design concept,” says Maoz, “was to build a house as nature would have it, like a bird feathering her nest, treading softly on the earth and leaving the faintest ecological footprint.”

Exterior photography by Yoav Etiel, interior photography by Yaeli Gabrieli, courtesy of Tav Group.

situated on the southern slope of mount carmel overlooking the mediterranean, t 9
Above: Situated on the southern slope of Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean, the house’s upper walls are composed of hemp hurds bound with hydraulic lime and water to form an insulating material known as hempcrete. The hemp had to be imported from France—”growing it here is still not allowed,” says Yoki, noting that this is hempcrete’s first appearance in Israel. Use of traditional, carbon-intensive concrete was avoided except where mandatory, such as in the foundation.
all of the stone used in the \250 square meter structure is local and much of i 10
Above: All of the stone used in the 250 square-meter structure is local and much of it is from the excavation—the hillside was once a quarry that provided building materials for the area. The bottom floor is currently used as a rental unit.

Yoki, Daniel, and their daughter, Miya, left behind a city apartment and first lived on the property in a pair of connected yurts. The house is in Ein-Hod, which has a complicated history and has been an artists’ enclave since the 1950s.

the hempcrete is set in a wooden framework and finished with lime plaster tinte 11
Above: The hempcrete is set in a wooden framework and finished with lime plaster tinted with natural pigments. “The stone and hempcrete provide insulation and thermal mass,” says Maoz.
the main enterance is off a central courtyard. the front hall is flanked by liv 12
Above: The main enterance is off a central courtyard. The front hall is flanked by living and bedroom wings designed to catch the sea breeze. Note the copper rain spouts: the water is used, Yoki says, for “everything that is not drinking water,” including the showers. “Living in a natural house design is all about interacting with nature.” Solar roof panels supply all of the house’s electricity, plus enough to charge the family’s two electric cars.

Building the house, Yoki notes, cost approximately 20 percent more than standard construction, but in the long-run is “far more economical—and fun.”

on the interior, stonework is paired with rustic woodwork: window frames, panel 13
Above: On the interior, stonework is paired with rustic woodwork: window frames, paneled ceilings with exposed beams, and salvaged doors.
the interior stones were shaped on site. here, the walls are rammed earth, form 14
Above: The interior stones were shaped on site. Here, the walls are rammed earth, formed in a wooden framework and finished with a clay plaster.

Asked about the crooked fireplace chimney, Maoz responds “It’s a long story that can teach an architect some humility. First came the timber mason who took the liberty of distributing the wooden beams a little differently than what was planned. Then came the chimney mason who found a beam where the chimney was supposed to pass through. He vigorously started to saw the intruding beam—if it hadn’t been for Yoki’s alertness that might have ended up a catastrophe. The chimney man then came up with this twist in the plot, which we architects would hardly find conceivable. And lo and behold, it has become an attraction.”

the living room has a built in settee and custom sideboard. the clay plaster fi 15
Above: The living room has a built-in settee and custom sideboard. The clay plaster finish on the rammed earth walls  is the natural color of the clay, which was sourced from Mamshit in southern Israel.

“The house’s volumes and particularly the window sizes and orientation were
designed for optimal air flow,” says Maoz. “Together with the thermal mass of the walls, floors, and partitions, good
isolation, and exterior shading, there is no need for artificial air-conditioning.” “Humidity control via the ‘breathing walls’ is amazing,” adds Yoki. “Year-round, the house is 20 to 25 degrees [68 to 77 Fahrenheit].”

the eat in kitchen has hempcrete walls. the custom cabinets and shelves are oak 16
Above: The eat-in kitchen has hempcrete walls. The custom cabinets and shelves are oak salvaged from a century-old building that was taken down.

Of the wood-framed windows, Maoz says: “they’re a great solution—beautiful, durable, pleasant to handle, and insulating. But they’re not common around here lately—we’re in search of an able artisan for our next project.”

limestone from the excavation of the foundation was used as pavers throughout t 17
Above: Limestone from the excavation of the foundation was used as pavers throughout the living spaces: the stone was sliced to a 5 centimeter thickness at a nearby sawmill. The kitchen door leads to a yard overlooking the sea with a built-in taboon, a bread oven. Yoki and Daniel grow citrus trees, and have a vegetable garden and a chicken coop—”we’re not yet fully self-sustaining but we’re on the way.”
the three bedroom private wing, with pine flooring, runs in an axis off the fro 18
Above: The three-bedroom private wing, with pine flooring, runs in an axis off the front hall opposite the communal wing. The ceiling panels, beams, and stair are hemlock from a renewable source.
miya&#8\2\17;s room, photographed before it was fully occupied. the walls a 19
Above: Miya’s room, photographed before it was fully occupied. The walls are clay plaster.
the bathrooms walls are tadelakt, water resistant moroccan plaster—read  20
Above: The bathrooms walls are tadelakt, water-resistant Moroccan plaster—read about it in Remodeling 101: Moroccan Plaster Finish. The custom bathtub is hempcrete built in-situ.
a bedroom with a view and a built in bedside niche. 21
Above: A bedroom with a view and a built-in bedside niche.
a ceramic wash basin is situated outside a &#8\2\20;toilet cabinet.&#8\ 22
Above: A ceramic wash basin is situated outside a “toilet cabinet.”
salvaged french doors open to one of several private decks. 23
Above: Salvaged French doors open to one of several private decks.
the house overlooks the mediterranean and is designed to capture the sea breeze 24
Above: The house overlooks the Mediterranean and is designed to capture the sea breezes and the sun. Meet Yoki and Daniel, and learn more about their home in this TV clip from I24News.

If you’re interested in building with hemp in the US, check out Hempitecture of Ketchum, Idaho. And for a fascinating deep dive into the history and uses of hemp, listen to Trace Materials, a podcast produced by The New School/Parsons Healthy Materials Lab.

Some more eco-minded ideas and projects:

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