3D printed model home aims to prove tech is ready for prime-time real estate
If you hadn’t noticed that your only neighbor was a concrete manufacturing plant, it would be easy to think that 1843 Middle Road in Calverton, New York was just a new modern suburban house with unusual siding.
This is kind of the goal. The house is actually a prototype residence 3D printed with concrete. Kirk Andersen, director of operations at SQ4D, the company behind the structure, said it was a proof of concept to show just how livable the futuristic-sounding house is.
“It’s one of the greatest 3D printed things in the world,” he said. “It’s a 1,900 square foot house, proof that we can put a few bedrooms, equip you with a bathroom, and you can decorate it however you like inside.”
Concrete construction is already popular in some parts of the country, but in many areas it is still considered new compared to traditional timber framing.
Andersen said the 3D printing method is intended to make housebuilding more efficient, predictable, and customizable.
How does homemade 3D printing work?
For the prototype, Andersen said, the foundation was cast in the traditional way and the roof uses wooden support struts, but the main body of the house was printed using a 3D concrete printer.
“We start to extrude the concrete in an inch and a half of bead. This one and a half inch bead is on one side and another one and a half inch bead is on the other side, with a five inch gap between them, making up an eight inch wall, which is basically the normal size of a standard concrete block, “he said.” It’s a gantry machine. We show him where to go. We’ve set this thing up. Now we just have to level the ground. “
The design of the house is determined by a computer program, which tells the 3D printing gantries how to move around the construction site. Andersen said the floor plan can be redesigned by tweaking the computer code, which leads to an almost endless number of potential layouts.
For now, his business is focused on making one-story homes, which Andersen says are less architecturally complex than multi-story ones.
The prototype also has most of its utilities like electrical conduits on the outside of the walls, but future models will have these infrastructure pieces printed in-house.
What are the prospects for this method of construction?
Concrete construction, along with other off-site construction methods, has key benefits, especially in today’s climate where supply chains are strained and lumber prices are skyrocketing.
“There is a general theme that builders are looking for alternatives to on-site, stick-built construction,” said Devin Perry, executive director of business improvement programs at the National Association of Home Builders. “You’ve seen an increase in interest due to labor and material constraints. “
He added that concrete houses are already popular in areas where natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires make wood-frame houses more expensive to maintain, and soaring wood prices are giving new impetus to companies. alternative construction methods.
“Your initial cost with materials and some of the advanced construction methods exceeds typical wood and stick construction,” he said, but “the cost of concrete has not kept up with the recent increase in price. lumber, so it is becoming more and more affordable. “
Plus, Perry added, concrete homes tend to have lower maintenance and energy costs, which saves homeowners downstream savings.
He also recognized that concrete construction may emit more carbon than traditional wood-frame houses, but due to higher energy efficiency, most concrete houses make up for this difference after about a decade.
It is concrete. Isn’t it cold?
“You think concrete: cold, because you are probably in a basement. But there are millions of people living in concrete houses in Florida, across Europe and around the world, ”Andersen said.
Although the prototype Calverton house is not insulated, future constructions will have foam insulation injected between the concrete layers of the walls. In the photo above you can see the space in the partially finished walls where the insulation will be installed.
“You can seal concrete in a number of ways. It is concrete, it is not new. I would prefer it to a wooden house, ”said Andersen.
What if I want to renovate later?
It is certainly a complicating factor. Concrete houses will be a bit more complicated to modify than traditional frame houses once construction is complete.
“It’s real, no one is stopping you, but that’s not where we’re headed,” Andersen said. SQ4D focuses more on building affordable starter homes rather than building homes that people will try to renovate in a meaningful way over time.
“I’m trying to do something that is one story, reasonable in size, affordable in which you can raise a family,” he said. “There are affordable housing crises everywhere. “
How is the interview going?
Concrete houses are durable, but will require maintenance like anything else. Concrete can and will crack, Andersen said, but if those cracks are filled with the right material, the wall will remain stable for decades to come. The next house his company builds will have a 50-year warranty.
Plus, Andersen said, emergency repairs can be easier on a concrete house in some situations.
“If a flood happens you can wash this thing with electricity, you don’t replace the drywall,” he said.
I am sold. How can I build mine?
Andersen’s company is working on expanding to New York and expanding to Florida and California. In fact, they’ve already signed a contract for their first habitable home in Riverhead, New York, which the new owners are expected to move into this summer.
Meanwhile, other companies like Austin-based ICON have already built a community of 3D printed houses in Mexico and more are in the works – including a contract with NASA for structures on the moon.
The technology for 3D printing houses is still under development, but it is gaining a foothold.
“It’s exciting to have more options for home builders, and 3D printing can be one of them,” Perry said.
If you would like to explore this method for your own housing needs, it is worth doing a quick web search to see what companies are doing this kind of work in your area and educating yourself to see what your options are.