Pat Rasmussen in front of tiny home built by Joseph Becker of ION Ecobuilding for his small family. Courtesy Michelle Burke
I dream of living in a tiny home with hemp insulation and solar panels on top. Suddenly finding myself 71, I’ve realized I need a safe, secure, warm home, a tiny home on wheels.
Many seniors on social security find themselves forced to live on less than $800 a month — you have to be creative to do that! Some, like me, worked for nonprofits that didn’t set aside retirement. Others lost their retirement and their homes in the 2007-2008 financial meltdown.
The energy efficiency of hemp insulation means no heating bills and solar means no electrical bills. Paying $300 or $400 a month to live in a tiny home in a backyard helps the senior with affordable housing and helps the homeowner pay their mortgage. This is doable.
But wait, I’m not the only senior in this predicament. Currently, Americans aged 65 or over make up about 15 percent of the nation’s population. That ratio will increase to 20 percent, or from about 50 million to 70 million senior citizens, between now and 2030, as the last of the baby boomers reach retirement age. I need to do this for more than just me. By building my hemp tiny home and inviting other seniors to help design and build a prototype, we can create a pathway for many seniors to do the same. Eleven tiny homes for 11 seniors. Then the path is open.
Washington passed a law in 2016 allowing farmers to once again grow hemp in the state. Seeds go in the ground in May of 2017, making local hemp accessible. The use of hemp hurd (chopped hemp stalks) as a building material has many benefits: non-toxic, no off-gassing, no solvents, mold resistance, high vapor permeability, humidity control, durability, sustainability, fire and pest resistance, passive self-regulation of temperature and humidity, breathability, and carbon sequestration. Mixing hemp hurd with lime and water makes hempcrete. The building is framed, then the hemp mixture is poured in and hardens. A 12-inch thick wall of hempcrete can have an R-value of R-30. That means that no home heating is required.
For a tiny home on a foundation, hempcrete is a good option. For a tiny home on wheels, the extra weight can be problematic. Hemp insulation batts are flexible and compressible insulation panels made from hemp fibers. Another solution is to blow in the hemp hurd with a binder. Using hemp, I can build a warm, efficient, eco-friendly tiny home. We are fostering a new industry for our state. It's time to get ready for building with hemp!
As I began my project, the City of Olympia launched a “missing middle” process to change codes to allow for permitting tiny homes, cottages, and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) in the neighborhoods. If passed by the City Council in December, the tiny house can be in a community space, a tiny home village, or as an ADU in someone's yard where they can live in community with the home dwellers and other friends in the neighborhood of their choice and with a network of support.
Although the most frequently asked question at the City’s planning desk is, “How can I get a tiny home permitted,” the answer currently is, “you can’t.” Tiny homes are wildly popular across the U.S., but in most places they are not permitable.
This needs to change. Rental rates are skyrocketing in Portland, Seattle, and even Olympia. With rent averaging $900 to $1200 a month in Olympia, a senior living on less than $800 a month cannot rent a place to live. They would be required to have an income three times the rent.
Along with my friend Chris van Daalen of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild, who created the Code Innovations Database, I created a plan: I launched a Gofundme “Help Seniors Build Tiny Houses.” Seniors will work together to build my tiny home, while learning the skills to design and build their own. We’ll work together with partner organizations and agencies to build a program and develop funding sources so many seniors can take advantage of the new “Senior Hemp Tiny Homes” housing solution.
I reached out to the South Sound Senior Center to find interested seniors. Other seniors who want to build tiny homes came forth. Seniors with building skills and tools volunteered. PureSolar, our new local solar panel company, offered free solar panels. Western Green will do the hemp insulation along with Northwest Hemp Builders. ION Ecobuilding that builds tiny homes will make the designs and lead the construction.
Together we’ll set off a new green, affordable revolution: hemp tiny homes for seniors!
Pat Rasmussen is an advocate for building hemp homes to house seniors and is coordinator of the nonprofit Edible Forest Gardens. On the Education Committee of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild, Olympia Chapter, Pat encourages natural building, especially using hemp as a building material and was instrumental in legalizing agricultural hemp in Washington State. Contribute to the Senior Hemp Tiny Home movement at her GoFundMe page and follow her on Facebook. To connect with Pat, e-mail her at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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