Can 3D printed homes help rebuild Maui with resilient housing?
Alternative building options should be considered for Lahaina residents to assist in rebuilding efforts
In the wake of one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history, residents of Lahaina, Maui, face many difficult decisions ahead, including questions about future costs of rebuilding homes that may exceed current market prices.
Given Hawaii’s remote location, concerns about construction labor shortages that besiege other parts of the United States may be more pronounced there.
In construction, online job applications fell by 40% between 2019 and 2020, and that number has remained steady since then, NPR reported. When coupled with the accelerated retirement of baby boomers as a result of the pandemic, it is no surprise that the construction industry is struggling to meet current demand and attract replacement workers.
Therefore, rebuilding Lahaina with an emphasis on economies of scale and alternative construction methods should be a critical consideration to offset some of the increased costs associated with community revitalization.
Potential insurance challenges associated with rebuilding Lahaina
The primary funding for most families rebuilding their homes lost to wildfires comes from property insurance proceeds. However, depending on the homeowner’s coverage and how appropriately the home is appraised, some insurance policies may be insufficient for a complete rebuild.
Financial shortfalls can be due to not purchasing the correct amount of insurance, and then failing to keep up with ever-increasing construction costs. This may also be because other structures on the property, such as garages, porches or solar panels, are not secured. Unpermitted structures and additions are also a consideration, since these property improvements may not be insured, and municipalities may also be less likely to approve a building permit for a previously unpermitted addition during reconstruction.
Regardless of the reason, a lack of insurance is a real concern for homeowners when faced with a natural disaster.
In areas affected by bushfires, the road to recovery is long. Reconstruction in Lahaina will be particularly difficult, given the regional focus on tourism and the prevailing preference for local contractors on the island for rebuilding. From the outset, resources will be stretched, and timelines will be extended during the cleanup phase due to the sensitive nature of Maui’s environment, as well as the complexity involved in coordinating efforts across local, state, and federal agencies.
In addition to coordination challenges, sourcing and retaining construction workers to assist in cleanup and rebuilding efforts will remain an issue given the high cost of living in the area. Other potential considerations include the ability of local government agencies to issue permits and inspect, as well as enforce any potential changes or updates to building codes.
To help offset increased construction costs and speed up rebuilding efforts, innovative construction techniques should be considered.
3D printed homes: an innovative solution for flexible housing
While the devastation caused by the August 2023 wildfires is enormous, the near complete destruction of the Lahaina opens the door to building solutions that take advantage of economies of scale. Rebuilding a community the size of Lahaina requires thought leadership and considerations for all income levels. This is where 3D homes become a viable option.
3D printed homes are not only more sustainable – a 2020 study from Singapore found that a bathroom unit built using 3D printing produces approximately 86% less carbon dioxide than a traditional stick-built structure – but they are also more resilient to hurricanes, high winds, heat waves and more. From harsh weather conditions. According to ICON Technology, a home builder that is creating the world’s largest community of 3D printed homes in Texas, these homes are not only designed to be more resilient to physical property risks, but they are also more economical.
These economies of scale have already been tested. A 3D-printed neighborhood has been created for rural families in Tabasco, Mexico, where income is up to $3 a day. The project created several low-cost, 500-square-foot homes through partnerships between the private sector and various nonprofit organizations focused on affordable housing. A similar concept could be a recipe for success in Lahaina if enough housing stock can be obtained to rebuild using this technology.
A report by the Star Advertiser in Honolulu found that nearly 550 mostly low-income households were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by the Lahaina wildfires. This number represents about 16% of the 3,500 homes destroyed or damaged in the fire. Current FEMA guidance indicates that all options will be used to provide temporary assistance, including trailers and tiny homes, but these solutions are not intended to be long-term and likely will not help solve the housing crisis that existed before the Lahaina Nar. Low-income housing is an area where home 3D printing technology could be of great benefit.
While the possibility of using home 3D printing technology to rebuild some of the housing in Lahaina is promising, this solution will require coordination between the public and private sectors. Partnering with Texas and other jurisdictions that have approved 3D-printed housing projects may also benefit Hawaii. Through such alliances, Hawaii’s regulatory agencies can begin working toward reviewing and adopting new building codes that support the construction of 3D printed homes in a time frame that allows this option to become viable in reconstruction efforts.
In addition, the public sector has shown a strong desire to continue innovating using this technology. Therefore, interested parties should actively engage with Hawaii, as well as other states that have the potential to be vulnerable to natural disasters that may require rebuilding, regardless of income levels. The potential benefits of this type of public-private partnership could help address immediate disaster recovery needs, as well as the long-term problem of housing shortages and affordability around the world.
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