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Could 3D-printed homes answer the housing crisis?

Could 3D homes answer the housing crisis?
Could 3D homes answer the housing crisis?(WNEM)
Updated: May. 10, 2022 at 10:45 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WNEM) - Tyler Rossmaessler, Executive Director at the Flint and Genesee County Economic Alliance, says there’s a problem finding enough affordable housing.

“We have a housing crisis in Michigan, and certainly feeling it here in Genesee County,” Rossmaessler said.

The Flint and Genesee County Economic Alliance is working to make Flint’s first 3D-printed home a reality. It’s scheduled to be placed on a lot in the 300 block of Crosby Street later this year, thanks to a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

“We wanted to see if there’s a way to utilize new technologies like 3D printing, to lower the cost of construction so that houses can be more affordable,” Rossmaessler said.

That 3D-printed home will be made at Citizen Robotics in Detroit. That’s where TV5 met up with the non-profit company’s executive director, Tom Woodman.

“We can see quite clearly to the future where we’ll be at a minimum 15 percent below conventional construction,” Woodman said.

Woodman told TV5 how a 3D-printed home is made.

“We design the home using a 3D modeling software. And then we send that 3D model into a slicing algorithm that creates a print path for the robot. And then the robot is able to print all of the walls of the structure just with a robot operator and a material handler feeding the system with a dry mortar and water,” Woodman said.

Once the walls are printed, a roof is placed on top. Woodman says the homes will cost less because at most, three operators and a robot are all that’s needed. Compare that to a 10-person crew for the same structure.

Woodman also points out that 3D-printed homes can be made faster than traditionally built homes. He goes on to say that concrete homes are disaster-resilient, termite resistant, and won’t blow over in a storm.

“Everyone is going to want to live in one of these structures because it’s a higher quality home that costs less to heat and cool over time,” Woodman said.

Woodman said the home in Flint is still being designed. But he did say the structure will be a 1,400 square foot, three-bedroom, one bath, single-family, single-story house. Woodman says the large wall segments will be made in Detroit and sent north to Flint.

Before that happens, the Crosby Street site will be prepped with excavation, and the pouring of trench footings. Once the walls are set, plumbing and electrical go in next, followed by the roof, and after that, the windows and doors.

Woodman says the walls for the home can be printed in five days. Another two days to set them on site. Add two more days for the roof and an additional day for the windows and doors. In all, roughly 10 days from finished design conception to final product on site.

The home in Flint is one of three in the state, the others in Detroit and Grosse Pointe Woods, scheduled for placement this year. Woodman thinks lawmakers need to allocate more funding for this new technology to fight an old problem.

“We need to change the conditions in the state such that we are encouraging more innovations in homebuilding. That’s how we’ll solve the affordability crisis,” Woodman said.

But is this a structure residents in Flint want to call home? TV5 spoke with Sonyita Clemons, a volunteer with the Flint Area Community Housing Resource Board. She thinks the idea of 3D-printed housing is pretty cool.

“I believe that we need options, right? We are in a space where we don’t have available housing,” Clemons said.

Clemons says we need to find ways to ramp up home access.

“If this is the solution, let’s figure out how to do it, make it affordable, and move forward quickly. Because we have families even now that are homeless and can’t afford to wait,” Clemons said.

For his part, Rossmaessler is eager to find out if 3D-printed homes can be the answer to the affordable housing question.

“We can do things with 3D printed homes that you maybe can’t design-wise with a traditional build home. But this is what we want to learn, we want to learn if this is acceptable to the market here in Flint,” Rossmaessler said.