Thursday, May 11, 2017
Modern barn-raising: friends and strangers help build 'Miracle' hemp house for country family in need
By Melanie Pearce
Bucket by bucket, a hempcrete house is being constructed by volunteer labour in a small New South Wales town to provide an accessible and clean-air environment for triplets with muscular dystrophy.
Putting the hempcrete on the walls is a labour-intensive process and therefore could be very expensive, but the Read family of Canowindra in central-west New South Wales has been overwhelmed by help from friends, community members and complete strangers.
"It's pretty humbling and pretty exciting at the same time," said Jemimah Read, mother of the triplets and with her husband Ben, owner of the project dubbed the 'Miracle' house.
Ten-year-old triplets, Anwen, Mahalah and Gideon Read all have meroisin deficient muscular dystrophy and have been in wheelchairs since they were two years old.
But the family's current house in Canowindra is not big enough or has the modifications to accommodate three increasingly large powered wheelchairs or give the triplets independence.
The Reads decided they needed to build a fully accessible home on a block just outside town.
With both parents as carers for their children, money has been an obstacle so the Reads have had to take a leap of faith and rely on community help to make the 'Miracle' house a reality.
Now that the house is at the stage of putting the hempcrete on 120 metres of walls there was a need for a large number of labourers, so the call went out for volunteers.
The chairman of the Raising a Roof for the Reads support group, Mark Ward, said a week into the project and at least six volunteers, mostly from Canowindra but also further afield in NSW have come each day.
"It's a great feeling on the building site, everyone's enjoying it, laugh a minute and very busy."
PHOTO: Unloading of the hemp needed for week two of construction of the Reads' house. (Supplied: Jemimah Read/Facebook)
Ms Read said she hoped the enthusiasm on the building could be maintained because putting hempcrete on the 120 metres of walls was a "marathon" race that would take four to six weeks to complete.
However she was buoyed by the response so far.
The work is not difficult but it is time consuming but many hands are needed to mix the hemp material with a binder of lime, sand and water.
It is then ferried from the mixing machine, person to person in colourful, flexible buckets to the walls where it is poured into the formwork and tamped down to create walls 300mm thick.
PHOTO: One of the Read triplets, Anwen, at the hempcrete house building site. (Supplied: Jemimah Read/Facebook)
The Reads chose hempcrete because the triplets have reduced lung capacity and so need a clean and stable air environment.
"The hempcrete is breathable so the moisture can actually go out through the walls and still keep things really nice and warm in winter and cool in summer," Ms Read said.
The house is being built by a local building company that for the past two to three years has specialised in hempcrete.
PHOTO: One of the walls being constructed from hempcrete at the 'Miracle House' for the Read family at Canowindra. (Supplied: David Bullock)
Builder, James Isaacs from Belubula Hemp Homes at Canowindra said there were usually a few raised eyebrows when people learnt a house was being constructed of hemp.
However he said once people learn of the benefits of the building product, both for homeowners and hemp farmers, most people were positive and it was becoming more popular.
Mr Isaacs said while its use was relatively new in Australia, it had a rock-solid history elsewhere and hemp buildings have been built over the past two or three centuries in Europe.
"Where buildings have been turned to a petrified state just like wood does in the bush and they're virtually a solid stone house, two or three hundred years after construction," he said.
The Read family hoped to move into their new fully accessible house by Christmas or at the very latest, next winter.