Years ago, I heard quite a bit about how “3D printed houses” were going to define the future of the U.S. housing industry.
I was skeptical, but curious. Still, I doubted the notion that they were going to be our future.
Then I realized that I hadn’t heard much about them for some time.
A recent NPR article quotes the White House as implying that the U.S. is currently experiencing a housing shortage of about 4 million units. 3D printed houses are an attractive value-engineering maneuver in the eyes of some (but not in the myopic, not-yet-presbyopic eyes of this contrarian).
That seems plausible with the hot market we continue to experience in this country.
But I wonder if anyone is researching the birth rate in the U.S. and how it has been slowing in recent years? In 2020, the birth rate was 55.8 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, and it was 69.3 in 2007. That’s a big decline. CNBC reports that the world population is expected to peak a 9.7 billion in 2064 and then decline to 8.8 billion by 2100 (currently, it’s 7.8 billion).
While those factors may influence future housing needs, they don’t solve our short term problem. Also, housing stock that is new today will need to be replaced by 2100.
Q: How do you “3D print” a house?
A: Forms are set up and concrete pumping equipment traverses the forms and lays down a layer of concrete a few inches thick with each pass, then makes multiples passes, stopping at the top of the forms.
Q: So, are you telling me that the 3D printing only pertains to the exterior walls of a house?
A: Interior too.
Q: Then what happens?
A: When it cures, you can construct conventional roof framing and superstructure.
Q: You mean we can’t “print” the roof or superstructure?
Q: I’ve also heard that you can’t print a foundation.
A: That’s both correct and incorrect.
It’s correct in the sense that the large concrete unit works above ground, not below ground.
It’s incorrect in that you can manually form up for a footing and use a similar concrete pumping mechanism to place the concrete in the forms to “pour,” “place,” or “print” the foundation. Some of these people don’t know what they’re talking about.
Q: How much money will 3D printing really save?
A: Well, the framing aspect is estimated at between 10-20% of the cost of a home.
Q: OK, but you’re not saving 10-20%, you MAY save a portion of that portion of 10-20%. You’re simply using alternative materials and methods and you may be doing it more quickly, correct?
Indeed, there are many steps to building a house:
Acquiring the land
Defining the building envelope and preparing the site
Bringing utilities to the site
Constructing the foundation, the link between the structure and mother earth
Building floors and walls (interior/exterior)
Building the roof/superstructure
Aesthetic finishes on the outside – shingles, cladding/siding, trim
Electrical and mechanical components – pipes, wires, heating, cooling
Thermal barrier – insulation
Wallboard – “drywall,” plaster, other interior finishes/paint/flooring
Kitchen cabinets. Fixtures – plumbing and lighting. Appliances.
~This is an overly simplified list for illustration purposes only~
And what the proponents of 3D printed homes are telling you is that by employing alternative materials and methods in the process of constructing THE EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR WALLS, we will save money and make housing more affordable!
Pure psychobabble at its finest.
Q: Is there any cost benefit to 3D printed homes? If so, how?
A: Perhaps there is a cost benefit pertaining to the use of 3D printed homes in a planned unit development – a development that is planned and executed simultaneously and not one house at a time – in the sense that the mobilization and rate of production offered by 3D printing would offset some of the costs. You could further enhance savings by keeping the designs simple, basic, and roughly square, and by having only 3 or 4 unique designs. But then again, one would be forced to build a group of houses that were all architecturally similar. Any time you want a custom home, 3D printing would not be your friend.
Q: How do you save money on home design and construction?
A: I’m glad you asked. The answer is that you value engineer every step of the process – the design and layout of the rooms in the enclosure and of the enclosure on the property, the construction process and materials, and where you place the mechanicals and utilities. Consider consolidating repeated tasks. Consider panelization. If you really want to dig deeper and learn what I know, email me at Lee@DrLeeNewton.com for a free copy of “How a Doctor Learned to Develop Real Estate.”
As you think about that, remind yourself to avoid being brainwashed by the psychobabble of the masses. It’s more contagious than the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Until next time,
Dr. Lee Newton
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