There’s something really magical about a 3D printer. In a matter of hours, a roll of plastic can be turned into literally anything you can imagine. But what if what you were imagining happened to be a house? Although not a common building technique, 3D printing is increasingly gaining popularity for small homes and offices, and it may well help solve the housing shortage that’s driving the housing affordability crisis in the United States.
Communities are going up all over the world made with 3D printing technology. One such community, located outside of Nacajuca, Mexico, is composed of homes that can be printed and finished in just 24 hours. These aren’t cheaply made homes, though, they’re able to be custom engineered for individual climates and hazards. The units in Nacajuca, for example, have already been stress tested by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake and came out like champions.
Are the newest trendy homes going to be printed?
The houses in Nacajuca are about 500 square feet each, with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a functional kitchen, and all the things you’d expect in a tiny house. Although not technically classified as such, there’s virtually no difference between a small 3D printed home and a stick- built tiny house on a permanent foundation.
Similar communities are popping up in places like Austin, where 400 square foot, one bedroom, one bathroom homes are being used to fight homelessness. But 3D printed homes aren’t limited to the smallest of homes. In fact, larger homes are being printed in markets like Riverhead, New York; Rancho Mirage, California; and Austin, Texas. These houses are modeled after traditional American homes, with very familiar layouts and exteriors that are nearly indistinguishable from wooden stick-built homes.
The first 3D printed home to actually be listed for sale in the United States was printed in Riverhead, New York. It’s 1,407 square feet, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as a 2 ½-car detached garage. It looks very similar to a classic bungalow, complete with all the little details that set this traditional architectural style apart. Listed at $299,999, the 3D printed house is already under contract, just waiting for closing day (the median sales price in Riverhead, as of September 2021, was $525,000).
Building a 3D printed home
Unlike traditional construction, where sheets and sticks of lumber are nailed together to create a solid structure, 3D printed homes are made with a giant printer that extrudes a mix of concrete, foam, and polymer. Layer after layer is printed, each set firmly on top of the one before it, until the primary structure is complete, usually in under about two days. Windows, doors, and finishes can then be applied to the buildings, requiring significantly fewer materials than traditional structures.
This is great for a couple of reasons. First, building material supply lines are still problematic and inconsistent. Prices are all over the place, and even things like blue paint are in short supply due to problems higher up in the supply chain. The 3D printing process requires fewer materials overall, making those materials that are available go much further.
Secondly, the way 3D printed homes are built requires very little labor. A specialist is needed to run the printer, but a couple of general skilled construction workers can often complete most of the rest of the job (plumbers and electricians will still be needed for those systems). So, in terms of both people and stuff, 3D printed homes are low input, making it possible to build more homes in less time with fewer hands on deck.
The Millionacres bottom line
The only way to get out of the housing crisis we’re currently facing is to go through it, but in doing so, we’re starting to see a lot of new ways to tackle the problem. It’s going to mean accepting a lot of different kinds of processes and buildings as “houses” that we may have never wanted to accept before.
I mean, like it or not, Americans are pretty snobbish when it comes to what we think of as a house. Changes to land-use rules that allow for smaller homes, and even multiple homes per building lot, will go a long way to help ensure that everyone has access to safe housing they can actually afford, whether they’re buying or renting.
We also have to look at sustainability, especially while materials are dodgy. 3D printed homes are just one of many technologies that can help us better leverage the resources we do have right now, and things like factory-built homes can help use labor more efficiently. The future is coming up new-home tech, if we’re just willing to seize it.