NOTICE: Building a solution – NJBIZ
It’s been over two months since the first 3D printed house hit the US market, and the company got a chance to see what’s possible. The question remains: is it scalable? Can 3D houses become a real option for affordable housing on a large scale? And beyond that, could this be a solution to balance the current real estate market which favors sellers a lot? As a member of the team that designed and planned this country’s first living 3D home, we can definitely say the answer is ‘yes’.
With an asterisk.
The New Jersey edition of the International Residential Code regulates all aspects of newly constructed homes, from the height of a building to the materials used. The code is updated every three years. Local municipalities then gave their own twist to the code, appropriate for that particular community. The code is intentionally flexible, so that new technologies and the demand for new spaces and materials can be met.
For example, before May 2020, no single family home in New Jersey could be legally built with less than 800 square feet of space. Then the state passed a mini-house provision (Schedule Q) allowing for more housing options, resulting in 400-square-foot homes and other fascinating real estate trends.
A similar provision for 3D printed homes could be a solution to the housing crisis plaguing communities across the country, including communities in New Jersey. It is time for the IRC, along with New Jersey code officials, to look at incorporating this type of building into the Uniform Code.
Currently, there is not enough affordable housing – or housing in general – to meet demand across the country. This shortage contributes to an increase in homelessness. The United States produced 7.3 million fewer homes than needed to keep up with population growth and consumer demand between 2000 and 2015; in 2015, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that there were only 62 affordable rental units per 100 “very low income” households, and a meager 38 affordable units per 100 “extremely low income” households “.
But it’s not just low-income buyers who are affected by current housing market trends. According to Redfin, the median selling price of homes in New Jersey rose 16.3%, with about 50% of homes selling above the list price. In contrast, the number of homes for sale fell 24.3%. With increased demand caused by working people fleeing cities to live in the suburbs and a lack of inventory, buyers who previously may have had no issues are also struggling to break into the housing market. This is especially true for new millennial home buyers.
As to what’s causing the lack of inventory, a reluctance by homeowners to list during the pandemic is to blame, along with a slowdown in new construction production. Much of this slowdown is the result of rising prices for lumber and other products, which are at record levels, and a shortage of labor. The production of 3D printed houses eliminates the need for products that have dramatically increased in price because it uses concrete, and decreases the number of workers needed to staff production using 21st century technology. Once these challenges are removed, 3D printed homes could not only have a positive effect on affordable housing for low-income buyers, but also on young first-time buyers who are facing soaring home prices. due to market conditions.
The need that these houses could satisfy is not limited to those who are actively looking for them. The ease with which 3D printed houses can be built also creates the possibility of using them as shelters in areas where natural disasters are frequent. They could provide relief from climate disasters like Hurricane Harvey, which decimated homes in Texas and Louisiana in 2017 and left thousands homeless to date. Applying this technology could be a solution to quickly rebuilding homes and neighborhoods, or at the very least providing safe shelter to those in need. And because the homes are built using a concrete construction method that is stable, durable, and able to withstand hurricanes, floods, and fires, the homes would likely survive future storms.
There’s a reason buying a home is such an integral part of the American dream, and if this past year has shown us anything about the real estate market, it’s that this dream is alive and well. But to make it achievable for all Americans, we must look to the future and find solutions to the challenges we face in the present. 3D printed homes have the potential to change the way we think about buying a home. It can level the playing field by increasing the supply of lower-cost housing with a reduced production schedule, and if municipalities accept this potential and change their zoning and building codes accordingly, the impact will be long-lasting.
H2M Architects + Engineers have a long history of navigating complicated zoning and code restrictions, and we believe clear restrictions are essential for quality real estate development. And while we want to keep our intellectual property strong, we know that the only way 3D printed homes can become a true affordable housing option is through new state provisions that make their development more transparent.
As architects, these projects are more than just designs. They are the proof of concept of what is possible. With this technology, the house is the model, so the only variable is the creativity of the architect and his knowledge of how it is to be built. Even in its infancy, the technology to build the house is out there – and it will only get better.
We encourage state officials to engage architectural and engineering professionals at all levels of homebuilding to ensure the next iteration of New Jersey’s Home Building Code meets the capabilities of 3d printing. Supply needs to be increased to balance the housing market and make home ownership accessible, and 3D printed homes are no longer a novelty. They could be the key.
Kevin Paul is Vice-President and Disciplinary Director in charge of private real estate at H2M architects + engineers.