Anissa Thompson is one of those friends of mind who never fails to impress me. Not only was she recently part of the first ever NT team to enter and finish GeoQuest (one of those crazy 48 hour endurance sport events), but she also just finished building a stunning hempcrete studio out the back of her house in Alice Springs. (Plus she pretty much never drops over without delicious baked things!)
Hempcrete has a number of virtues. It’s a great insulator, is produced from a renewable biomass, stores carbon, can be smashed up and reused, has great breathability and is reasonably easy to build with. Industrial hemp production has even been suggested as a strategy for reviving the South Australian economy post Holden. In Anissa’s project, the hemp-lime mix wasn’t produced in Alice Springs but aside from that I think it’s a great choice in a place of climatic extremes (up to 45 in summer and down to -5 in winter).
Anissa engaged a builder to frame up and certify the studio but was there throughout the process of putting up the walls, mixing them hemp, lime and local sand in a mortar mixer and slopping it into form work. Apparently you just tamp the mix lightly to leave little air gaps in the mix which add to the insulative capacity of the actual hemp fibres. She also rendered the inside and outside of the studio with a hemp/lime/sand mix, which enables the structure to ‘breathe’, making it less susceptible to damp. The render is a lovely soft tan colour from the Jessie Gap sand which was used in the mix.
The roof is corrugated iron, with 150mm of wool batts for insulation. The floor is the only section of the structure which isn’t currently insulated but Anissa says that the studio is thermally comfortable so far without this detail (the studio is elevated as it’s built in the flood zone of the mostly dry Todd River and it’s a planning requirement). There’s windows to the north for light, plus the south for the amazing view towards Heavitree Gap. Eaves prevent the blazing central Australian sun from shining into the house in summer but allow the welcome winter warmth.
Perhaps most importantly though, the hempcrete studio is a delicious, airy space for a cuppa with an old friend, and one who’ll most likely be taking a cake out of the oven as she finishes adjusting the brakes after a morning of mountain biking out the back of Undoolya Hill. What a woman!
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