A Q&A with Jean Lyons Lotus, editor and publisher of HempBuild Magazine, who spoke with Let’s Talk Hemp from her home in Fort Collins, CO.
What first sparked your interest in hemp?
I became interested in hemp when I was writing for United Press International, covering the American West. I got thousands of views whenever I wrote about the resurgence of hemp in the United States. People were really interested.
I started to read about hemp building materials and realized that accuracy has been sacrificed. “Hempcrete” is a misnomer because it’s not a cement or concrete replacement. I realized I wanted to write exclusively about industrial hemp. Morris (Beegle) hired me to do some writing for Let’s Talk Hemp; I covered all kinds of things in hemp but was attracted to building materials and to the story of the successful material in Europe that can be a success here if we can get the pieces in place.
I started HempBuild Magazine, which launched at NoCo7 in March 2021. It has stories about hemp building projects from all over the world, mainly in Europe, the UK and the U.S. Last month we had 77,000 page views.
Tell us about your Clubhouse Club
Clubhouse started with Ray Kaderli in February 2021, a Thursday night hemp industry building discussion. We’re still doing it.
We have more than 1,000 members on the Clubhouse Club who are notified about the talk. It’s always on Thursdays at 6 p.m. Central Time. We usually get 40 to 100 people on the chat. All the replays are there so people can use it to listen and learn later.
We love it when people from the building and real estate world pop in. They can ask questions. No question is too simple or small. Sometimes people like Tim White from Texas Healthy Homes and other hemp building experts will join the room and you can talk directly to them.
Can you tell us about your DOE incubator project?
We know that there are 43 million structures in the wildfire zone in the American West. Some states, like Colorado, have no state building codes, while more of Colorado is being deemed a wildfire zone. A lot of fire insurance companies are announcing they will not insure these fire-trap properties and the state is considering a wildfire insurance pool. They’re looking at instituting certain retrofits of your house, now done in California and in the national building codes, but are also considering giving a rebate for making changes for fire safety.
I am trying to figure out a way to make a fireproof cladding, panel or stucco that includes hemp. I applied with an idea for fireproof hemp panels and was admitted to the IMPEL Department of Energy (DOE) incubator at the Lawrence Berkeley Labs. The idea is using something instead of Styrofoam and the other things that are in cladding that are terrible for the environment and add to the carbon footprint. The hemp panel design would be carbon negative.
I am a writer interested in building materials; I am not an engineer or a builder. I’m trying to get the right partners to take advantage of the DOE and the fact that they are supporting these companies.
There is a desperate need for something in Colorado. Fire retrofit is potentially a $93 billion industry. We had the Highline Fire in 2012 and the flames were 300 feet high. Being able to say, “This house will not burn down because it has been retrofitted” will save firefighting time and resources. Firefighters would have a map and be notified of which houses were clad.
If I were buying a house and I knew there was a code that instructs builders on how to lower the risk from wildfire, I would want that. It’s a matter of consumer education. There are going to be more wildfires in Colorado. People will recognize that they are at risk. I want to figure out a way to make it as cheap and as green as possible to protect your house.
Tell us about the hemp building industry directory you created
People started to ask for a book of everyone in the industry. I said, “I can do that” and began to work on a directory. It’s a paperback book. I wanted it to be easy to grab and to look people up. It lists 400 companies and people in 30 countries: building suppliers, architects, engineers, builders, trade schools in Europe, training associations and ancillary businesses. We will be including mortgage and insurance companies next year.
What else have you been up to?
I got to reunite with my old college band this summer. I was in an all-girl ‘80s punk band in Chicago called Barbie Army that became a sort of YouTube phenom during the pandemic. At the time in the ‘80s we were always broke and had a lot of drama. A friend put our songs on YouTube and one of them got like 70,000 views. A Berlin-based record label released an actual retrospective LP this spring and we had a reunion show at a dive bar in Chicago that streamed on Facebook Live. Lots of fun.