Colorado has a housing crisis. Could 3D printed homes be a solution?
Prefabricated homes look like any other single-family home. White-painted stone and wood columns anchored the front porch and traditional roof. There are large windows on either side of the black front door. The only noticeable difference was the corduroy texture on the white exterior walls, due to the layers of printed cement.
It was during a visit on behalf of Habitat for Humanity to an Alquist 3D project in Virginia — Alquist is the company that built the first owner-occupied 3D printed home in the United States — that Witt-Brown became a believer.
“I’ve been in this business for over 37 years, and it was the first thing that happened that would revolutionize this industry,” she said.
Homes were built faster, were more energy efficient and easier to maintain. The walls have proven to be more resistant to natural disasters, such as wildfires, an important benefit for Colorado.
Currently, 3D-printed buildings cost about the same as homes built from wood, according to Ahlquist. As technology improves, supply lines become more established and projects scale increases, they said, the overall price of their homes should fall by 20 to 30 percent.
“This is where we’re headed. We’re not there yet, but within the next 24 months, we believe we will be,” said Zachary Mannheimer, founder and CEO of Alquist.
Mannheimer and much of Alquist’s employees are in the process of moving their headquarters to Greeley, Colorado, as part of the company’s national expansion.
“The solution to our housing crisis is all hands on deck,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a press release welcoming the company to the Front Range. “Innovative solutions like Alquist 3D and communities like Greeley are critical to our success in lowering construction costs for housing and infrastructure.”
Ahlquist has been in discussions with six different states. Mannheimer said incentives and agreements made Colorado the best.
“Greeley has all the elements to describe how (the industry) can grow organically,” Mannheimer said.
Tax breaks and other incentives offered by the state and city total more than $4 million. In return, the company expects to eventually create about 79 new jobs, with an average annual wage of $73,987, through a new showroom and production facility.
Manheimer said her new home in Colorado will be the only place where 3D concrete printing robots are designed, built and used to build homes in conjunction with a purpose-built workforce development program.
“We look at this, Greeley, as the center of the 3D printing movement,” he said.
Alquist’s expansion is part of an emerging industry, as startups race to prove that their technology is faster, greener, safer and cheaper than traditional residential construction.
In Colorado Springs, a home 3D printing startup called StructureBot is operating out of CEO Jim Scott’s garage.
“We build large-scale construction 3D printers,” Scott said.
Scott’s garage is completely filled with a working prototype: a 16-by-16-foot gantry system that supports all the robotic movements of a simple-looking nozzle. It’s the programming that guides that nozzle and the concrete mixture that comes out of it that can change the game.
“We can use any number of other chemicals to do the same kind of work,” said Cameron McRoberts, chief innovation officer at StructureBot.
He listed examples such as additives that would make finished walls stronger, or materials such as Colorado red clay that would make cement usable at lower temperatures.
The team’s current 16-by-16-foot design only builds walls about 300 square feet, which is suitable for projects like bus shelters or tiny homes. The company currently has a small grant from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
But Scott said they’re busy designing a 40-foot-wide version of their system that can power much larger projects.
Likewise, Alquist will begin a partnership with the city of Greeley, likely before the end of the year, on printing and other infrastructure.
Alquist is also collaborating with Aims Community College to create a program to train students on how to use and manufacture Alquist printing robots. The college claims that the program will be the first of its kind.
“You could literally say the book hasn’t been written yet,” said John Mangin, head of construction technology and engineering at Aims.
3D printing education already exists at Ames Community College; It has been part of computer-aided drafting software for years. This program has largely focused on the skills needed for tasks such as making small plastic models of objects designed on a screen – which is what most people still imagine when they think of “3D printing.”
But the new certificate in 3D concrete printing for home construction will be within the Department of Construction Management. The program expects to graduate its first class by mid-2024.
“It’s a different wall system, but it’s still a residential construction project when it comes to what we’re actually doing,” Mangin said. “Obviously you’ll still have plumbing, electrical, mechanical, that kind of stuff. So, that’s probably where students start.”
3D concrete printing robots can only build walls currently. Although these walls can take almost any shape, incorporating curves as easily as straight lines and right angles, the technology in its current form is unable to build supports or roofs. With notable exceptions, robots can only build single-story high-rise structures.
Even students who graduate directly into careers with Alquist will need to understand the rest of the homebuilding process, Mangin said.
“In many ways, this new technology is slipping into a lot of what we already do,” Mangin said. “Except for this particular real part about 3D concrete printing, which is completely new.”
Meanwhile, Greeley-Weld Habitat has begun a small partnership with Alquist. They expect to build between five and 10 homes in the 174-home Hope Springs project.
“We’re actually going to do an ‘office’ in the first house, so we can live in it, and we can see how it feels, and we can experience, ‘What does it feel like to spend eight hours in the house?'” A 3D-printed house?
If those initial homes do as well as she hopes, she could see her organization approve 50 Alquist homes in 2025 and more.
“(It’s) something that I actually feel like I can see results,” she said. “But we have to prove it.”
(Tags for translation)Affordable Housing