Iowa State tackles affordable housing with 3D printing


(TNS) – Iowa State University hopes to find a significant solution to the state’s affordable housing problem through 3D printing.

The university’s College of Design, in conjunction with Iowa Central Community College, wants to print half a dozen homes in Hamburg, a small town of fewer than 1,000 people in southwestern Fremont County. of Iowa, just east of the Missouri River.

A team of many partners along with faculty and students from Iowa State and Central Iowa – including the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Alquist 3D, and Brunow Contracting, among others – are participating to the project. The actual printing should take place this fall or next spring.

Pete Evans, assistant professor of industrial design at ISU, said the goal was to develop an affordable and innovative technology housing plan that would capture Iowa’s workforce and housing priorities. affordable.

In May, Evans and others traveled to California to retrieve the two large home 3D printers that are now in Ames and Fort Dodge.

And the printers themselves are huge indeed – about 15 by 50 by 8 feet, each with a long, movable arm that “dumps” houses.

The affordable housing challenge becomes more difficult as rural communities struggle to build new properties at the same time that the cost to build often does not outweigh the cost to sell. Many developers are reluctant to build just a few homes in a small community when they could build more in or near a large city.

In Iowa, there is a need for about 60,000 more affordable homes statewide, Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority, told The Gazette.

“We’re excited about the technology, of course, but the purpose behind it is to bring more affordable and efficient housing to rural and urban areas,” said Julie Robison, Outreach and Outreach Program Manager.

“The need for housing in rural areas is so obvious. The housing stock in Iowa is aging, and that has a big impact on rural areas. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a community where housing isn’t not problem #1.

However, demand has increased due to job creation and more people working remotely, as well as the belief of some in the better overall accessibility that many small communities can offer.

“I’m beyond thrilled,” said ISU’s Evans. “The state is all in, and we know there’s no one size fits all solution to affordable housing. There are a lot of layers to this, and it feels like an elephant is sitting on my head, but it’s a lot of fun and we’re introducing a huge amount of opportunity.”


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Iowa State College of Design Dean Luis Rico-Gutierrez said the challenge was perfect for his school.

“It’s a really complex problem that requires experts in multiple disciplines, and we have it,” Rico-Gutierrez said.

“How does a house become a house? That’s the question. You can put walls together, but how do you raise a family and have positive memories within those walls? How do we adapt it to communities? We have experts in planning, industrial design, interior design and more.We use all our parts on this project.

The idea was born when Durham and Rico-Gutierrez started talking about the possibilities that 3D printing could bring to Iowa’s real estate landscape. Durham said she liked the potential and got the ball rolling with Jeff Geerts, IEDA’s special projects manager.

“I was interested in designing homes and making sure they fit their communities. We want to establish research tools and data on cost-effectiveness, housing resilience, like weather resistance (and ) energy efficiency, and we wanted them to look at building codes and requirements that communities could adopt. We want this to be an easy transition for communities,” Durham said.

The State of Iowa received four grants totaling $2.15 million for this project, including a $1.4 million grant from IEDA for 3D printers and materials.

“For the College of Design, it’s very big,” said Kevin Kane, associate dean for research and outreach. “The State of Iowa is used to getting multi-million dollar grants for engineering, but for design, this is one of the largest group of grants we’ve ever received for a project.”


The concept of 3D printing houses has gained popularity across the country over the past few years.

Iowa City-based Alquist 3D has built a few 3D-printed homes in Virginia since the company was founded in 2020, with a goal of building 200 homes in that state. The company cites the efficiency, affordability, and customizable options of 3D printing as solutions to affordable housing crises nationwide.

The parts of the house that are 3D printed are the concrete walls or the frame of the house. Other appliances, such as windows and electricity, must be installed separately.

The mixture for 3D printing is similar to mortar that goes between bricks. But it’s smoother than concrete. Traditional framing can be a longer process that can take the most time in building a home.

It can take about half a dozen carpenters to work on a traditional wooden frame house for at least two weeks if the weather is perfect. With 3D printing, it will take three to four people about two or three days to print and build the exterior walls.

“It all depends on the project, of course, but it could even take 12 to 48 hours,” Evans said. “If we align everything in the digital workflow, I think we can speed up the whole process.”

“We want to shape our industries and we want developers to be comfortable with that,” Durham said. “For us, we’re looking for solutions that can provide mass production to save time and bend the cost curve, and I haven’t seen anything that can do both like 3D printing.”

An August 2021 survey of real estate said 66% of respondents said they would consider living in a 3D-printed home.

Although colleges in Iowa have no plans to embark on long-term home building, they hope to test the cost, labor, and design benefits of 3D printing. effectiveness, and share these results with the public. Construction companies and developers can then decide whether or not to pursue 3D printing.

Durham said she also thinks the addition of this level of new technology will get more young people interested in the construction industry.

“There aren’t enough people for manufacturing jobs, and that’s a population issue,” she said. “So that’s one way we have to evolve. What’s exciting about it is that you’re going to get more skilled jobs, and that will increase the pool of applicants. I think that will increase the options for our young people. in the future.”

Brunow Contracting chairwoman Tamara Brunow said her company’s role would actually be to own the house in Hamburg.

Brunow said she’s always been excited about innovative opportunities, many of them in green energy.

His Council Bluffs company will prepare the site and work with the research team while his team is trained on the 3D printer. Once the printing is complete, Brunow’s company will make the roof and other key elements of the house.

“We think the advantage will be speed,” Brunow said. “We don’t know if it will actually save money, but that’s what we need to find out. If it works and we like it, you’re right, we’ll put some effort into 3D printing .”

Once built, the prototype house will be tested over a period of several months, which is why Hamburg was chosen. Brunow is building a 10-acre subdivision there with 34 single-family units and can monitor the 3D-printed home, checking the effects of Iowa weather on the property.

“Hamburg lends itself well. This city has been in hell since 2011 (with) all the flooding,” Brunow said. “This city wants to rebuild. They want people and they’re embracing new technologies.”

If the project is successful, cities like Hamburg – in theory – could see more construction because only a handful of people could visit one city, print a few needed houses and move on to the next city, according to many of the team at the l ‘UIS. .

“The problem we see with small towns is that a lot of your coaching crews won’t go to Essex, Iowa, to coach four houses. Not when they can stay in Omaha and coach 40.” , Brunow added.

Durham said she believes a decade from now people will look to Iowa as an example and the educator is this industry.

“In 10 years they will look to this partnership as industry experts,” Durham said.

Geerts added, “The State of Iowa convinced me that in 10 years we will have many different models across the state and a developer or buyer can customize your housing plan and order it directly. on line.”

©2022 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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