In 2015, when Colorado legalized hemp, Phelan Dalton began growing it on family acreage in Longmont. He soon learned about hemp-lime building through the hemp community – and his interests in farming and construction came together to form a new career.
Dalton grew up working for his father, Bob Dalton, a builder who renovated and sold homes, and became a proponent of sustainable housing. When he learned about building with hemp, his interest was piqued.
“It hit on all cylinders for me, and as I learned more, I became more interested,” Dalton says.
In a class taught by John Patterson, one of the first builders in Colorado to experiment with hemp-lime, Dalton became curious about binder formulations and with a friend, Daniel Scowcroft (at right in photo), began to research and experiment with binder formulations, along with various mixing and casting methods. They used it to insulate the goat barn on Dalton’s parents’ property. As interest in hemp building grew, the goat barn soon became a classroom.
“We were doing it in our free time for fun,” Dalton says.
Using imported Kanabat hemp hurd from Chanvra in France, Dalton continued experimenting with binders for a few years while he worked construction and conducted hemp building workshops. After major import snarls during the Covid pandemic, he began working with hurd from South Bend Industrial Hemp in Kansas and Global Fiber in Colorado.
Dalton and his partners have done classes in many states – Texas, Kansas, Oregon and of course Colorado – and work with local materials whenever possible.
In 2020, Dalton, his father and Scowcroft founded Hemp Building Company, now based in Lafayette, Colorado. Their first project was a backyard studio for a friend.
In 2022, Hemp Building Company built a 28-foot-tall, two-story, 1,600-square-foot house in Howard, Colorado. Dalton said the project was difficult because of the structure’s height, and because it was far from his company’s headquarters. Luckily, many people from the hemp and natural building community wanted to “get their hands dirty,” Dalton says, which allowed the company to finish the structure in early July, using lime on the exterior, a lime base coat, and two clay-based plaster finish coats to complete the job.
“Lime is one of the most abundant minerals on the planet,” Dalton says, adding that it’s fairly easy to source throughout the United States. Along with hemp and lime, Hemp Building Company now sells a Pozzolan admix, a siliceous material that becomes cement-like when it reacts with calcium hydroxide, which Dalton uses with a high calcium lime.
Their next job was for Aliyah Field, an architectural designer. Her company, Adamah Design, based in La Veta, Colorado, designed a garage/greenhouse project that Hemp Building Company completed in August 2022. Dalton is looking forward to building a main house on the same property this spring.
Meanwhile, Dalton continues to focus on offering workshops and otherwise educating others about building with hemp and lime. Interest continues to grow, he says, especially in DIY hemp-lime building.
Workshops in the goat barn involved an actual insulation project and, later, classes where the group produced a demonstration wall, which allowed students to see the framing as well as both sides of the installed hemp. Hemp Building Company no longer builds demonstration walls, which wound up being put outside their warehouse, exposed to the elements.
But the discarded walls do serve a purpose, Dalton says.
“In some ways the demo walls are pretty cool, because we would test plasters on them and try out different finishes,” Dalton says, adding that he finds it helpful to see how the walls fare in different weather. Each wall has a different binder composition and finish, which allows Dalton and his team to glean information about the materials.
A hemp-lime wall that has been sitting outside for years has been snowed on, rained on and blasted by the sun, but is still intact. Says Dalton: “It’s a testament to the durability and longevity of hemp-lime.”