For domestic floor covering manufacturers, it’s one thing to be able to locally source all the components that go into the making of the final product—not just the raw materials but also the adhesives, binders, etc. But when that product checks virtually all the boxes when it comes to sustainability, renewability and environmental consciousness, it’s doubly impressive. Such is the case with HempWood, a brand of wood flooring derived from a locally grown, plant-based material that has been utilized in the production of building materials for more than 10 years. But over the past few years in particular, HempWood has been growing in terms of its overall awareness.
“Our product started out as kind of a science experiment that turned into a floor that we are making in our pilot plant in Murray, Ky.,” Greg Wilson, founder of HempWood, told Floor Covering News. “Now we have two facilities, fully operational, working six days a week, where we have two dozen people making HempWood flooring.”
Wilson, who left the United States after he earned his degree in civil engineering, went to work in the bamboo flooring mills of Anji, China. He was tasked with researching bio-based materials to make hardwood. He tested more than 200 plant species using an algorithm he developed in college—and that led him to HempWood.
“‘HempWood’ had a nice ring to it and market potential, but that idea was short-lived due to legal constraints,” he recalled. “For years, HempWood was just a novelty item but all of that changed with the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill. In 2016, the first HempWood IP was filed and just two years later, on August 26, 2018, Fibonacci, LLC opened its doors to the public and began production of what would be the first USDA Certified bio-preferred hardwood flooring made in America. It’s been a long journey. We started the research in 2010 and here we are in 2023. We’re finally starting to get it out there.”
At the heart of the product’s growing popularity, according to Wilson, is its environmental appeal. For example, it takes only six months to mature industrial hemp plants for lumber production, and only Carb 2-compliant bonding agents—including plant-based glues—are used to turn hemp fibers into wood planks. “The commercial market in particular is loving the fact that it is a carbon-negative certified product,” he explained, citing HempWood’s life-cycle analysis and environmental product declaration. “We take our waste hemp and we turn it into our thermal energy in the factory through a bio burner, and then the bio burner spits out what’s called bio-char, which is used as a potash replacement for the soil when we’re planting out next year. So we’re turning our waste into our energy.”
These environmentally friendly attributes also appeal to residential consumers, according to Wilson. “The residential segment loves the healthy material aspect,” he said. “There are no VOCs or dangerous chemicals used to make HempWood. It’s not only healthy for people who suffer from allergies but also kids. It has been proven that having clean, natural materials in the school system or in homes supports higher cognitive ability during their development.”
HempWood appeals to what Wilson calls the “craftsmen/creative” types. “It’s ideal for somebody who owns a coffee shop or somebody who runs a retail store or a yoga studio. It’s for those who want to have a floor that you actually get inspired by. What we’re seeing is people are kind of fed up with just having two options, white oak or vinyl, and they’re saying, ‘Hey, I want something cool and new.’ People love the story behind HempWood and it inspires them to do things with it.”
How it’s made: The top layer of HempWood flooring features a 4mm wear layer bonded to a plywood substrate. According to Wilson, it is 20% harder than hickory—one of the more durable North American species. “It’s 2200 on the Janka scale, so it’s super strong and fire resistant,” he said.
Furthermore, HempWood is prefinished at the factory using Bona brand coatings and can be refinished in the field using the same formulation. And because it’s engineered with a tongue and groove, installers can lay it down the same way as many traditional hardwood flooring products. “People who install engineered oak can install engineered HempWood—whether it’s a glue down or nail down method,” he explained.
The most popular colors in the HempWood line are the more natural visuals, Wilson noted, but other stains are available as well. “We have a couple different colors such as granite—which is more of a gray tone,” he said. “It’s probably our third-biggest seller. We also have marble, which is a white color. Due to the natural grain texture of HempWood, the granite actually looks like stone and the marble looks like stone. Those two colors have really been taking off.”
HempWood offers a 25- year structural warranty and a five-year coating warranty. More importantly, the product, which retails between $8 and $12 a square foot, offers retailers healthy profit margins. “The gross margin dollars on this product are greater than some imports,” Wilson said. “Retailers can expect to make the same—if not more money—on this product versus other specialty wood products on the market today.”
HempWood is distributed by FlooringLines. For more information, visit hempwood.com.