With the United States facing a historic housing shortage, researchers from the University of Maine believe they may have found a solution to the problem. Using one of the world’s largest 3D printers, the university’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC) recently created the first 3D-printed home made entirely of bio-based materials. Finding a way to manufacture 3D-printed homes at scale is a challenge many have tried to tackle in recent years. To date, most solutions have involved the use of concrete or clay and traditional building methods like wood framing. The ASCC’s “BioHome3D” is different.
The center’s 600-square-foot prototype features 3D-printed floors, walls and a roof made of sustainably-sourced wood fibers and biological resins. The house is also fully recyclable and doesn’t require weeks- and months-worth of on-site construction time to assemble. After 3D-printing four modules, the center assembled the BioHome3D in half a day. It then took one electrician about two hours to wire the house for electricity.
The ASCC suggests that BioHome3D could help address the US housing shortage by reducing the material and labor needed to build affordable homes. In Maine alone, there’s a growing shortage of about 20,000 housing units across the state.
It’s worth noting the US housing shortage predates the pandemic and the supply chain issues that came with it. Jenny Schuetz, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, argues current housing issues can be traced back to restrictive zoning laws and land use regulations that allow residents to block attempts to build more homes in their neighborhoods. Put another way, it’s better to look at the housing crisis as a policy issue, not a technological one.
That’s not to say technology doesn’t have a role to play in improving housing. Cement, the key ingredient in concrete, has a massive carbon footprint. As of 2018, global production of the material contributed to about 8 percent of annual greenhouse emissions, or more pollution than was produced by the entire airline industry. Reducing or entirely removing the need for concrete in homebuilding could be a game-changer for the environment.