hempcrete house in Czech Republic

A low-carbon hempcrete forest retreat

An experimental self-build using natural materials in the Czech Republic

By Alice Westgate | 23 December 2021

Lina Bellovičová of Ateliér Lina Bellovičová aims to enhance the way people interact with the spaces they spend most of their time in. When it came to designing her own forest retreat, it was time to experiment with natural materials.

The result was a hempcrete house with two bedrooms, open-plan living space on the ground floor, photographic studio in the basement and green roof. The build cost was around £200,000. Grand Designs magazine finds out how it was done…

a low carbon hempcrete house built in the forest in Czech Republic

A broad overhang forms a sheltered terrace. Photo: BoysPlayNice

Why did you build this house?

The client was my boyfriend – now my husband – Ondřej Koníček, who owned a site in the middle of a forest in Buchlovice, near Smrad’avka, Czech Republic. He always dreamed of building a cabin to use as a winter retreat and photographic studio, and asked me to design it. He didn’t want to use any synthetic materials, so he suggested hempcrete, which was an experimental choice as it has never before been used to build a house in the Czech Republic.

small contemporary bathroom in a hempcrete house with large picture window to the forest

The bathroom looks out over the forest. Photo: BoysPlayNice

What is hempcrete?

It is a wet mixture of lime and hemp shiv – the chopped up, woody core of the hemp plant.

What are its advantages?

Hempcrete is different from eco-friendly building materials such as clay and straw as it petrifies over time, drawing carbon dioxide from the surrounding air and setting like stone. It is also resistant to pests, fire and mould, and is breathable, recyclable and highly insulating, locking away more carbon than is emitted during the building process.

Lina Bellovičová of Ateliér Lina Bellovičová aims to enhance the way people interact with the spaces they spend most of their time in. When it came to designing her own forest retreat, it was time to experiment with natural materials.

The result was a hempcrete house with two bedrooms, open-plan living space on the ground floor, photographic studio in the basement and green roof. The build cost was around £200,000. Grand Designs magazine finds out how it was done…

a low carbon hempcrete house built in the forest in Czech Republic

A broad overhang forms a sheltered terrace. Photo: BoysPlayNice

Why did you build this house?

The client was my boyfriend – now my husband – Ondřej Koníček, who owned a site in the middle of a forest in Buchlovice, near Smrad’avka, Czech Republic. He always dreamed of building a cabin to use as a winter retreat and photographic studio, and asked me to design it. He didn’t want to use any synthetic materials, so he suggested hempcrete, which was an experimental choice as it has never before been used to build a house in the Czech Republic.

small contemporary bathroom in a hempcrete house with large picture window to the forest

The bathroom looks out over the forest. Photo: BoysPlayNice

What is hempcrete?

It is a wet mixture of lime and hemp shiv – the chopped up, woody core of the hemp plant.

What are its advantages?

Hempcrete is different from eco-friendly building materials such as clay and straw as it petrifies over time, drawing carbon dioxide from the surrounding air and setting like stone. It is also resistant to pests, fire and mould, and is breathable, recyclable and highly insulating, locking away more carbon than is emitted during the building process.

Image: The couple love the house so much they now live in it permanently. Photo: BoysPlayNice

How did using hempcrete affect the design of the house?

It was all based around the properties of the material. I designed it as a single-storey structure with basement because it was a prototype, but if you have a timber frame there’s nothing to stop you building a two-storey home along the same principles.

Tell us about the build…

Hempcrete is not loadbearing, so we had a team of carpenters to construct a timber frame. Then Ondřej and I created the walls by adding multiple layers of hempcrete inside a temporary wooden shuttering system. The mixture feels like wet snow to start with, but by the end of the day it dries like concrete and the interior surfaces don’t need to be insulated or plastered.

inside a timber-frame hempcrete house with large picture windows

The house is built with a timber frame and multiple layers of hempcrete. Photo: BoysPlayNice

Did you encounter any problems along the way?

Yes, there were many issues because we had no previous experience of working with hempcrete, but we overcame all the challenges. We discovered that it was important to use the same pressure during compaction, to get exactly the right ratio of mixed ingredients, and to work quite quickly. Our biggest problem was that the delivery of the windows and doors was delayed, meaning we had to leave openings instead of making the layers continuous, filling in the gaps later. This led to problems because small amounts of hempcrete don’t hold together as well as larger expanses, but we accepted there was no alternative as we were aiming to get finished before winter. Ondřej is gradually putting things right.

lina bellovicova built a low carbon hempcrete house in the forest in Czech Republic

Lina Bellovičová. Photo: BoysPlayNice

How do you feel about the finished house?

Ondřej is happy with the way that the house blends so perfectly with its surroundings, and we love it so much that we now live here full-time with our two children.

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