There’s a lot of experimenting going on in Colorado in a quest to find how to make housing more affordable. The latest: 3D-printed homes.
On Friday, Iowa-based homebuilder Alquist 3D announced that it is moving its headquarters to Greeley to build a 3D-printed housing community, with lots of help from local government, a nonprofit and Aims Community College.
“Greeley is becoming the epicenter of 3D printing on the planet because it’s the only place that starting (Friday) will have production of 3D homes and infrastructure, assembling of 3D robots, creation of a new material and a workforce development program,” said Zack Mannheimer, founder of Alquist, which printed its first 3D home with Habitat for Humanity in Virginia two years ago.
About $4 million in incentives from the state and the city of Greeley contributed to Alquist picking Colorado and Greeley over six other states. Mannheimer also credited the support from the college in building a training program as the key.
“This will be the first of its kind for 3D printing in the nation,” he said. “And this is how we get young people back into the trades. This is how we reduce our carbon footprint in the construction process, which makes up about 14% of all global carbon emissions.”
The trend of 3D-printed homes has been popping up all over the world. A project in Mexico by 3D builder ICON was documented for Apple TV. ICON is also working with residential builder Lennar on the planned 3D-printed, 100-home community called Wolf Ranch in Georgetown, Texas, where prices are expected to start in the mid-$400,000s.
Getting the cost down to something that’s more affordable, however, will take time, Mannheimer said. Through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Alquist plans to scale the Greeley concept so printing houses become cheaper and faster. The plan is to build around 100 3D-printed homes in the nonprofit organization’s Hope Springs community in Greeley, where Habitat committed to building 300 affordable homes in January.
Right now, printing one house costs the same as a wood-frame home. But the more you print, the more affordable it becomes, Mannheimer said.
“When you’re printing at scale, 10 or more, we’re seeing cost reductions of at least 10% and close to 20%,” he said. “In the next two years, our goal is to hit a 30% reduction in cost just from the capital cost to build the home.”
There are other reasons why there’s support for 3D construction. For Alquist’s homes, “it reduces your overall utility bill by half (because) the walls are thermally broken so the energy usage is significantly lower,” he said. “And the homes are more sustainable. They don’t burn, they can stand up to most major storms. This is also how we stop the effects of our natural disasters from constantly having to rebuild communities.”
The college plans to boost its existing 3D-printing curriculum with new courses in 3D printing for residential construction that will train students on Alquist’s 3D printer to build houses and to program the robots used to print the homes, said Dr. Russ Rothamer, Aims executive vice president. The existing program was geared more toward general computer-aided design and programming.
“We already have a strong robot or 3D printing program already but with the new piece with Alquist and concrete printing, this really completes the project,” Rothamer said.
Alquist, which employs eight people, has a temporary office at the college but plans to open a facility where it’ll assemble the 3D-building robots to do the heavy lifting. The technology, much like an office 3D printer, creates objects one drop at a time by squirting out “ink.” On the much larger scale of building a house, the process looks more like a giant piping bag of cake frosting that squeezes out one extruded layer of concrete mix at a time.
Construction on the curbs and infrastructure is expected to begin next week. Mannheimer said in the spring, they’ll then print the wall slabs and then Habitat for Humanity would complete the rest of the house. An average home of less than 1,500 square feet is estimated to take less than 48 hours to print, though windows, doors are not 3D printed and are added later in the process.
In addition to the $2.4 million in incentives from the city of Greeley, the state of Colorado approved a Job Growth Incentive Tax Credit of up to $1,097,242, which kicks in as Alquist creates up to 79 jobs with an average annual wage of $73,987 (see details under Project Innovate). An additional $335,000 was also awarded as part of a strategic fund that is contingent on a matching amount from the city of Greeley, plus proof that Alquist has raised $1.5 million in capital for the project.
Mannheimer said he expects to hire about 20 people in the next 36 months, with more hires anticipated through the workforce program created by the college.