• Become an SSTI Member

    As the most comprehensive resource available for those involved in technology-based economic development, SSTI offers the services that are needed to help build tech-based economies.  Learn more about membership...

  • Subscribe to the SSTI Weekly Digest

    Each week, the SSTI Weekly Digest delivers the latest breaking news and expert analysis of critical issues affecting the tech-based economic development community. Subscribe today!

3D printed homes offer approach to tackle affordable housing crisis

November 16, 2023
By: Laura Lacy Graham

All across the U.S., states are experiencing a crisis-level shortage of affordable housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that nationally, there is a need for more than 7 million affordable housing units, while between 4.3 million and 5 million new homes are needed, according to Zillow and Realtor.com, respectively. Experiments occurring across the country on 3D printed homes offer an intriguing approach to help address the issue.

In Maine, more than 84,000 homes are needed by the end of the decade, according to a recent study (State of Maine Housing). State officials are hopeful that a bio-based 3D-printed home will play a role in easing Maine’s housing shortage and the urgency of affordability.

The BioHome3D, a 600-square-foot modular dwelling unveiled in November 2022 by the University of Maine (UMaine) Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC), is made entirely of bio-based materials that consist of wood flour (a waste product from sawmills) mixed with a binder made from corn, to create the 3D-printed floors, walls, and roof. The prototype, printed in four modules, then moved to a designated site, features a bedroom, bathroom, living area, and kitchen, and was printed using UMaine’s polymer 3D printer, which can print up to 100 feet in length, 22 feet in width, and 10 feet in height. The innovative housing was developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hub & Spoke program, a collaboration between the University of Maine and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and in partnership with MaineHousing, which created and reviewed the specifications for the home and in alignment with low-income housing standards, and the Maine Technology Institute (MTI), which supported the design of the prototype.

Following the successful overwinter of the initial construction, a second home is scheduled to be printed for habitation within the next year. After that test, the goal will be to print one usable home every two days. The current design—a single modular dwelling—costs roughly $40,000 to produce and can be assembled on-site in half a day. The ASCC also expects to scale up its 3D printing production factory by 2026 to meet the university’s plan of printing nine new homes for a small neighborhood it is developing with the community nonprofit Penquis.

While the initial success of the BioHome3D appears to represent a significant step forward in addressing the affordable housing crisis, it is not the only affordable 3D printed home under production.

Students at Woodbury University in Burbank, California, have created a 425-square-foot home using a 3D printer and concrete. The design took 15 months to build and cost $250,000. It features solar panels, mineral wool insulation, and recirculated shower water. The tiny home was designed as an entrant in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a college competition for structures powered by renewable energy.

The world’s largest community of 3D-printed homes is under construction in Texas. The development is a collaboration between the Texas construction firm ICON, the homebuilding company Lennar, and Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG),a Danish architectural firm. The project was announced in 2021; the first homes were available for occupancy in September. Another community of 3D-printed homes, the Wolf Ranch neighborhood in Georgetown, is located about 30 miles north of Austin. It consists of 100 single-story structures with printed walls using a concrete-based material, while the doors, windows, and roofs are equipped with solar panels. Each of the ICON homes takes approximately a week to build, ranges in size from 1,500 to 2,100 square feet, has three to four bedrooms, and is  sold at $475,000 to $599,000.

3D, affordable housing