INTERVIEW: Bob Escher, President, U.S. Hemp Building Association

A practicing architect in Dorset, Vermont for over 30 years, Bob Escher founded Escher Design in 1988, with the goal to create a company whose primary objective was to deliver the unique vision of each client without compromising artistic excellence, innovation and attention to detail. After being introduced to hempcrete by his son Alex, the father-son team embarked on a mission to create the aesthetic of hempcrete by developing and producing a proprietary hemp wall system. In 2017, Escher Design completed the first permitted hempcrete structure in Denver, Colorado. Bob was elected the first President of the USHBA earlier this year.

HempToday: Talk about hemp and architects. How aware are “green” architects about hemp’s potential? 

Bob Escher: I’ve seen an increased awareness among my colleagues ever since the Farm Bill was passed last year. One of the main goals of the USHBA is to create an education program targeting everyone in the construction industry. This will create the “infrastructure of professionals” to design and build high quality hempcrete structures that will conform to all U.S. building codes and life safety issues. 

HT: What’s the key to getting hemp construction into the broader “green building” movement? 

BE: Education, infrastructure and U.S. certifications. 

HT: What are the challenges with respect to building permits, etc., in the USA? 

BE: There is no easy answer to that question since hempcrete and other hemp based products are not yet fully certified in the U.S. I expect basic certifications will be awarded within the next five years, so until then, I recommend to anyone who is in the construction industry to use that time to educate themselves on how to integrate hemp based products into their construction methods. When you think about it, the hemp in a hempcrete house is probably about 30% of the actual material used to build the house.

Meet & Build with Bob Escher at Deep Green Building, Feb. 20-22, 2020, HempToday Center, Poland

There is still concrete, wood framing, interior millwork, tile, cabinetry, mechanical systems, masonry, roofing . . . the list goes on. We need experienced general contractors who know how coordinate all these subs and run a construction project from start to finish. We need people in all the trades to understand the properties of hemp and how it interacts with other materials that may expand or contract at different rates. We need to make sure that the hemp based products we use are of the highest quality in order to guarantee life safety, a healthy environment and comfort.

HT: How does the hurd supply/demand situation look in the USA at present? 

BE: Farmers across the country this year harvested the first legal crop of U.S. hemp in more than half century. Unfortunately, there are two issues that will affect the supply of hurd. First, the processing infrastructure to get the harvested hemp ready for market is extremely limited. This has left many farmers scrambling to find a buyer for their crop. 

Second, a huge percentage of this year’s crop is being grown for CBD, not fiber. The best hurd to use for hempcrete is from the fiber plant ,which grows higher, straighter and thicker than the smaller CBD plants. The bottom line is the fact that the CBD plant is much more profitable to grow, so we in the construction industry need to build with hemp to prove it is ready to be in the mainstream. This will create the demand and economic incentive for the farmers to switch over and grow for fiber instead of CBD. 

HT: What about the technology to produce hurd? What are the latest developments in the USA? 

BE: The rest of the world has been growing and producing hemp based products for decades, so the technology and equipment are there. The U.S. is way behind at this point, but once all the legal, social and building code issues are worked out, the U.S. will catch up very quickly. 

HT: Who’s contacting you these days? 

BE: My hemp related calls and meetings have involved an incredibly diverse group of people. The most fascinating “aha” moments come from people my age, who when reminded that they are “children of the 60s,” totally open up and realize that they have some unfinished business to take care of. After all, they were the first generation who wanted to “Save the World.” 

HT: Who are your heroes in hemp building? 

BE: Without question it is the small group of hemp activists and builders across the globe who decades ago created the cottage industry of hempcrete building that exists today

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