Wider Horizons

Austrian-born Sabine Semmelrock, a student in Lethbridge College’s Engineering Design and Drafting Sabine SemmelrockTechnology program, started making her plans to move to Canada when she was just 10 years old. That dream became a reality in 1998. In 2012, she moved to Lethbridge and enrolled in classes at the college and has been able to combine her experience of working with hemp in the fashion industry with the research projects using natural fibres in her engineering studies. Her spring 2014 project involved creating a model house built out of “hempcrete” – a mix of hemp shive/hurd and lime with water. Wider Horizons sat down with Semmelrock to discuss the project, which received the praise of her instructors, and her future plans, which have been shaped by the research and work she has done at the college.

Wider Horizons: What made you decide to become an Engineering Design and Drafting Technology student at Lethbridge College?

Sabine Semmelrock: I was working with a dentist as an assistant in Austria and really enjoyed working in the lab. I went on the government’s website and did a career pathway test. The results suggested either a pathologist or drafting technician. I thought to myself “I have always liked drafting, why don’t I do that?”

WH: What got you interested in working with hempcrete as a material for construction and insulation for your model home as a research project?

SS: My former husband used to work as a machinist and he always wrecked his jeans. I tried to find him some hemp jeans, as I heard hemp was more durable. Apparently no one made hemp jeans. However, I found hemp fabric. I ended up ordering some hemp fabric to make jeans for him, which turned into me running my own hemp clothing line for many years. While manufacturing with hemp, I was always curious about the other applications hemp could offer. I started doing some research and came across hempcrete. You can do it yourself and it’s not really high tech. I never got the opportunity years ago to do anything with the research, but the interest stuck with me. When we were assigned a research project last year, I was excited! This was my excuse to work with hempcrete.

WH: Now with the completed project under your belt, will you be building your next home with hempcrete?

SS: Once I get to build my own house I will definitely use hempcrete. I do not want to use drywall or fibreglass because as soon as it gets wet it’s ruined. It can never be watertight, which causes things to mold and isn’t as environmentally friendly.

WH: Which home would be the most cost effective home to purchase? The hempcrete-built home or the conventionally-built home?

SS: In my research, in the end, the materials and labour for the conventionally-built home ended up costing less than the hempcrete home, with the difference being only five per cent. The hempcrete house stores the heat; it has thermal capacity. It absorbs heat and holds it in there and as the room temperature drops, it releases that heat again. Fibreglass just keeps the heat from escaping and does not store any heat.

WH: What were some of the complications with building the hempcrete house?

SS: It was extremely dusty. The hemp itself was not too bad to work with, the lime was a whole different story. I wore a dust mask but I still had lime in my ears and my nose and crusting around my eyes. If it’s just dry you can wipe it off your arm without a problem, but when you start sweating, it can start eating your skin as lime is a base. To prevent that, I used a lot of lotion, wore long sleeves and wiped it off while dry as fast as I could.

WH: What do you hope to do with your research in the future?

SS: I would like to stay in Lethbridge after I graduate in April 2015. Failing that, I would like to go up north to the Yukon to find a job. Either way, what I would really like is to be hired by a home builder who wants to go into the market of offering environmentally-friendly products, as I have the expertise now.
To learn more about research projects and work being done in Lethbridge College’s Engineering Technologies programs, email engineeringtech@lethbridgecollege.ca or call 403.320.3468.

Wider Horizons
Melissa Belter
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