Research: Are 3D Printed Homes and Manufactured Homes the Future of Affordable Housing?

(The following contains excerpts from a report by the Virginia Center for Housing Research, titled: “Answering the call for affordable housing,” posted online by – Augusta Free Press)

Homeownership has long been a hallmark of the American Dream. But the rising costs of homes, land, and materials — coupled with stagnating incomes, a growing population, increased housing demand, skilled construction labor shortages, a straining rental market, and a global pandemic — have pushed the dream of homeownership even further out of reach for many Americans.

Through two vanguard public-private partnerships, Virginia Tech University faculty and students in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction are pursuing low-cost, high tech, and data-driven approaches toward making homeownership more attainable.

The Virginia Center for Housing Research (VCHR) is the official housing research and information for the Commonwealth of Virginia. For almost 20 years, the center has provided research and technical expertise to state and national policymakers, communities and businesses on a variety of housing-related issues. Over the years, the center has partnered with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as well as state and local governments to advance affordable, innovative, sustainable housing.

Researchers Will Produce 3D-Printed Home On-Site

This year, VCHR is helping pilot two parallel initiatives to determine whether 3-D printed concrete homes and manufactured factory-built homes are viable answers to the housing affordability crisis in Virginia and across the nation. The project involves an array of public and private partners, including manufactured home builder, Fleetwood Homes.

The first project aims to design and produce a 3D-printed single-family concrete home in the greater Richmond metropolitan area. Researchers will print the 1400 square foot home on-site using a massive modular 3D printer called COBOD2, a technology pioneered by the Danish that readily adapts to location and design.

Virginia students in grades K-12 will be invited to watch as the home is printed – and learn about the emerging field of 3D technology in housing construction.

In the second development,  Phillip Agee, associate professor, is principal investigator on a project called “Innovation in Manufactured Housing” which will study new factory-built modular homes as higher-quality, affordable alternatives to older mobile homes and stick-built homes.

Virginia Tech students will get hands-on experience using building information modeling (BIM) to design and develop 3D models and digital twins of the homes. They will use BIM to evaluate and compare production processes, energy efficiency, and operational performance of both site-built and off-site manufactured homes.

“Manufactured housing represents the largest source of unsubsidized housing in the U.S., so increasing the supply of quality manufactured homes will help us more quickly address affordability and homeownership challenges in our state and nation than other housing supply approaches,” Agee said. This study  aims to demonstrate that the manufactured housing of today is a high quality, affordable housing option.”

Work on both projects is already underway, with the 3D-printed home slated for completion in summer 2021 and the first manufactured housing units completed in late 2021.

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