There is a problem with housing in this country. From decades of bad public housing policy to retrofitting the suburbs for sustainability to near consistent affordable housing shortages, we have to start looking at more innovative housing solutions. Not looking to solve all that, but certainly falling somewhere within the mix is Mighty Buildings, an Oakland based company 3D-printing generally affordable homes. All you have to do is find a place to put them.
Which, isn’t too far fetched a concept. People are building apartments in their backyards and from a luxury standpoint, offices or extra rooms in the backyard. Like container homes, 3D printed homes seek to offer a generally affordable alternative to a small, sustainable home created in a non-traditional manner. 3D-printed homes are not a new concept but have mostly been stuck in the conceptual phase until recently.
Mighty Buildings built a 79,000 square foot facility and received approval under the California Factory Built Housing program as well the first UL certification under the new standard for 3D printed construction. It can create 3D-printed homes quicker and more efficiently (it’s literally a giant 3D-printer that prints homes) and sells its output for $115,000 for a studio at the low end to $285,000 for a 3b/2ba. If you live in an inflated housing market (anywhere in California for instance) then you can see the cost benefit immediately.
The innovative part here is not necessarily the methodology of 3D-printing a home instead of cutting up a series of shipping containers to make a container home, but it’s that Mighty Buildings literally developed a new composite material to build its homes, making them more energy efficient and structurally sound.
The new composite solves general issues with the existing 3D process that still involves concrete and requires greater time to install load-bearing and insulation (because of concretes thermal conductive properties). This new material uses UV-curing to harden as close to instantly as possible, allowing builders to bring the whole shell of the house, including ceilings and overhangs, walls and floors. It’s more thermal resistant than concrete and is immediately load bearing.
This is leading to a shift in using composite building materials to make cheaper, more energy efficient homes. Mighty Buildings’ 3D-printed components can be produced with 95% fewer labor hours, two times as fast as regular construction and with 10 times less waste. Regardless of the benefits, 3D-printed homes will have to overcome the public fascination with container homes in order to gain true market traction.
“Container homes are limited in the shapes and forms that they are able to achieve and require substantial modification in order to provide adequate insulation, finishing, etc as well as to ensure structural integrity once openings are cut into them as they require reinforcement once you start cutting openings for windows, doors, etc.,” Sam Ruben, Chief Sustainability Officer and Co-Founder at Mighty Buildings tells me via email. “Because of this often times it can be more costly to modify repurposed containers than to simply build something custom off of new container frames, which undermines the sustainability angle of reuse.”
Obviously you still would have to have a plot of land somewhere, either bought or borrowed, to plop a 3D-printed home, but 3D-printed homes are likely going to be the future of housing. While that future floats somewhere between affordable housing as it relates to home buying and sustainable, energy efficient building processes it’s still one that can be built and installed quicker and cheaper. If the way the home-buying market latched onto container homes is an indication, it’s only a matter of time before 3D-printed homes will have their own show on HGTV.