How 3D-Printed Structures Could Disrupt Housing

Housing Affordability

With the average median new home price hovering at around $321,500 in 2019, up from $216,700 just over a decade ago, housing affordability has become a leading issue for both home builders and consumers. Chief contributing factors include increasing land prices, rising costs for building materials (in particular lumber), consumer demand, and skilled labor shortages. But what if there was another way to create housing supply to help alleviate this crisis, especially in the wake of COVID-19?

Although 3D-printed housing is in its infancy stage, there are several ways this form of building automation could address growing areas of concern:

  • Affordability: 3D-printed homes tend to be relatively small (300-600 square feet), decreasing the amount of materials used. They can take just a few days to print, cutting down time, and can drastically reduce labor costs through automation. Some 3D-printed homes don’t require foundations, so those associated costs can also be eliminated in certain instances.
  • Sustainability: 3D printing wastes few materials, as the houses are designed to print only what is needed for each structure. Additionally, some companies are focused specifically on incorporating green features, such as solar power, systems that extract moisture from the air to generate water for the house, water-recycling technology, and more. Because of the way the walls, roofing and floors are printed, uniformity in the shell also helps to reduce thermal bridging and increase air tightness, therefore improving energy efficiency.
  • Design: Robotic 3D printers can easily be programmed to make different shapes, because of how exact the machines are, for flexible designs. This adaptability can help address rapidly changing consumer needs in the wake of COVID-19.
  • Delays: Because units are printed in a controlled factory environment, inclement weather is no longer a source of uncertainty, therefore reducing potential project delays. Structures can take as little as 24 hours, or up to a few weeks to print depending on size and the machine’s capacity, efficiently using time and labor to further decrease delays as compared to conventional stick-built homes.

One nonprofit has recently started to build an entire community of 3D-printed homes in a rural part of Mexico to solve both affordability and resiliency concerns. Those living in poverty will be offered the opportunity to live in these homes, whose strong foundations help reduce impacts from seismic activity in the area to ensure they continue to have safe, affordable housing. With communities like this and more start-ups coming into the 3D-printing space, automated solutions for the construction industry could help with housing affordability and sustainability across the industry.

To stay current on the high-performance residential building sector, with tips on water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and other building science strategies, follow NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building team on Twitter.

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