Affordable Housing, Military Contracts, and Mars: Potential 3D Printing Building Builds | Pillsbury – Gravel2Gavel Construction and real estate law
[co-author: Lindsey Mitchell]
The 3D printing construction market is probably about to experience a boom.
This unique method of construction has many advantages over traditional forms of construction. Projects can be completed faster and at a fraction of the cost, since less labor is required and the materials used are much cheaper. Although market growth has stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic, industry leaders expect 3D printing construction to grow exponentially in the coming years.
While 3D printing technology has grown in popularity and prominence over the past two decades, it’s only recently that 3D printing companies have started making headway in the construction industry. The software used to create and model the planned structure is critical to the construction process. Software turns a building plan into code that then dictates the movement of a 3D printer on the job site. Once a concrete-like mix is loaded into the printer, the printer begins building the walls by laying down one cylindrical layer of concrete at a time, according to the plan. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to 3D printing construction: some companies print the central structure as well as the roof and floor of the structure, while others only print the core and shell and install these parts separately using traditional methods and materials.
Project cost and time estimates vary by company, but are well below comparable measures in the traditional construction industry. Many structures can be completed in less than 24 hours using mostly building material. Beyond the benefits in terms of saving time and money, 3D printing construction can also have immediate beneficial environmental impacts. Some companies incorporate recycled or carbon neutral materials into their concrete mix. The resulting structures are said to be more durable and environmentally friendly, as they are more energy efficient due to their good insulation. Impressively, construction waste is also drastically reduced, with some companies planning to reduce waste by up to 95%.
Alleviating the Affordable Housing Crisis
Given its cost effectiveness, one of the ways 3D printed construction is poised to have the biggest impact is in the affordable housing sector.
Several 3D printing construction companies have already made an impact in this area. ICON, based in Austin, Texas, has had a strong focus on the affordable housing market with a focus on reducing homelessness. ICON has partnered with Austin’s non-profit Mobile Loaves and Fishes to print homes in Community First! Village, an affordable permanent housing community that aims to reduce chronic homelessness in the city. ICON also worked with nonprofit New Story to provide affordable housing for local textile workers and fishermen in Tabasco, Mexico, printing an entire neighborhood of 500 square foot two-bedroom homes.
The industry also has the potential to create a larger market for affordable housing for individuals and families that are overpriced in expensive real estate markets. While some experts say the housing shortage is starting to ease from record highs during the COVID-19 pandemic, demand in many markets still far outstrips supply, especially for buyers on a budget. California-based company Mighty Buildings creates energy-efficient mini homes and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) with its own proprietary printing substance that hardens when exposed to UV light and is resistant to fire, water and heat damage. Their units start at $115,000. The company is also developing a neighborhood of 15 more customizable two-bedroom homes in the Coachella Valley by the end of 2022. They hope to expand operations outside of California into other expensive urban areas.
In addition to private companies, the US government has also begun to show interest in the possibilities of 3D printed construction. In June 2022, the US Department of Energy awarded Texas A&M University a $3.74 million grant to fund a project focused on affordable and sustainable 3D-printed housing. The project will involve printing structures using hemp concrete, a mixture of powder or hemp fibers with water and lime, and aims to demonstrate how the printed structures can conform to design codes. modern while being more cost effective and environmentally friendly than traditional construction methods.
Larger scale projects
While much of the discussion around 3D printing construction focuses on single-family homes, its many benefits are further maximized for large-scale construction projects. In 2021, the Texas National Guard unveiled a 3,800 square foot military barracks built in partnership with ICON. The structure was completed at a third of the cost of traditional construction methods and can accommodate 72 people at a time. The Department of Defense announced in April 2022 that it would work with ICON to build three military barracks on the U.S. Army base at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Prior to 2021, such a partnership would not have been possible because the Department of Defense (DOD) had not yet released its updated criteria for additive concrete construction. This meant that companies that used such methods were unable to bid on military projects. However, the DOD released its policy in September 2021 and has since announced that it is further exploring how 3D construction techniques can be used to manage the backlog of military construction projects. Given the potential, competition for military construction projects between 3D printing construction companies will almost certainly increase.
3D construction around the world and beyond
The potential of 3D printing construction is also being explored by companies around the world. In 2020, Belgian company Kamp C printed a two-story house that was 60% more efficient to produce in terms of materials, time and budget. In France, a family has moved into a 3D-printed four-bedroom house built by the University of Nantes as part of its effort to study more affordable housing solutions. Dubai has also stated its goal for 25% of new construction to be created using 3D printing methods by 2030.
NASA has also shown interest in the 3D printing construction industry. In 2019, they ran a competition program where teams designed 3D-printed habitats meant to work in deep space. They have since announced a partnership with ICON in Austin to explore how 3D printing construction technology can be used to create space exploration habitats on Mars. The construction method is particularly appealing given the prohibitive cost of transporting traditional building materials over multiple flights to space.
Potential challenges and regulatory unknowns
Given the expected growth rate of the 3D printed construction industry, the capabilities of the industry may outpace the development of corresponding regulations. Builders will need to ensure that their structures comply with local and national building codes. Due to the way structures are constructed and the material used to make them, standard items that are normally installed in walls or under floors, such as plumbing and electrical, must be installed using a alternative method. This method will need to be approved and outlined by residential building codes if expansion in the residential real estate market is going to take off. While states like California have already included a section on 3D printed construction in their home building codes, the vast majority of cities and states have not. This could potentially slow the expansion of 3D printed construction into residential space.
The relative youth of the industry may also pose an additional problem for builders hoping to expand into the residential real estate space. Since 3D-printed homes are still very new to the market, buyers and third-party service providers, such as plumbers and electricians, may require representatives and extended builder warranties to protect against unexpected issues that may arise. occur with homes in the future. . The potential need to provide extensive legal protections to consumers and third parties can make expansion into the residential sector riskier and less lucrative for builders.
These potential issues may resolve over time. The development of residential building codes and other regulations specific to 3D printed construction will be an ongoing process over the next few years. In the meantime, builders could inspect their first 3D-printed structures to determine how they fare over time. By the time regulations consider 3D printed construction, builders may have a much clearer idea of how to assess the risks associated with their designs to better structure agreements with consumers.