Will 3D printing be an answer for building more affordable homes?

A project in southern California will put onsite fabrication to the test against other construction modes.

California’s chronic shortage of affordable housing has been well documented. Conor Dougherty, an economics reporter for the New York Times, states, in his new book “Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America,” that 3.5 million housing units need to be built in California to ameliorate the state’s affordability and homelessness crises.  What’s prevented that from happening so far, he points out, has been resistance among homeowners, municipalities, and environmentalists to rezoning that allows for more housing density that—the thinking goes—would devalue existing properties and/or minimize these constituencies’ political leverage.

Meanwhile, Californians and their lawmakers are finding it harder to avert their gazes from the ragged and destitute legions sleeping rough on sidewalks, in tent cities, inside cardboard boxes.

Late last year California Gov. Gavin Newsom boosted funding for housing and addressing homelessness by $3 billion. Nearly three fifths of California’s estimated 108,000 homeless are located in Los Angeles County, where officials are looking at various temporary and permanent solutions that would increase the availability of affordable and low-income for-sale and rental housing.

On January 14, the county’s Development Authority awarded Los Angeles-based Contour Crafting Corporation (CC Corp.) a project for using 3D printing to construct affordable housing.  A major step toward that project occurred last June 4, when an evaluation committee of the International Code Commission approved acceptance criteria AC509 for 3D-printed construction-grade walls.

For the L.A. County project, Contour Crafting Corp. is collaborating with AEC firm HDR and Volunteers of America, the latter acting as the developer as well as the provider of social services for the eventual occupants.

This is a demonstration project to gauge whether 3D printing is viable as a construction solution on a larger scale. The county will also be assessing two other construction modes, to be built on the same parcel of land: tiny houses, constructed onsite; and prefabricated houses manufactured in factories and assembled onsite.

The proposed design consists of four 3D-printed housing units: one micro unit under 350 sf, and three one-bedroom units of around 450 sf each. The units will have their own private patios, and cluster around a common courtyard.  The residents will have access to a laundry facility on the premises.  While the units won’t have individual driveways or garages, they will be located near mass transit. The collaborators expect this project—which will include a smattering of photovoltaic roof panels—to achieve net-zero energy and earn at least LEED Gold certification.

Contour Crafting Corp.’s customizable 3D printer allows each unit’s exterior to be unique in form and color, while maintaining the efficiency and modularity of the interior elements like the kitchen and bathroom layouts. Insulated thermal mass of the 3D-printed building envelope should deliver high levels of human comfort.

 

Published by: AEC Tech, March 30, 2020, John Caulfield, Senior Editor

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