NEWPORT NEWS — The small plastic models sat on the table with the 3D printer while the large machine trundled to life in the Jefferson neighborhood.
The machine used a special cement mix instead of plastic to make the walls for the 1,200-square foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. This was in contrast to the miniature.
Corrine Mann (32), excitedly walked around her home’s construction site, speaking with passers-by, Habitat for Humanity Peninsula, Greater Williamsburg staff members, and Alquist 3D builders.
“I think it’s going to be the future,” said Mann, a lab technician and single mother with an 11-year-old daughter named Aubrey.
3D printing a house is no different than a normal build for a house according to Zachary Mannheimer (founder and CEO of Alquist 3D).
“Really the only difference between a 3D printed home and a regular home is the walls are made out of concrete instead of wood — that’s it,” he said.
Mannheimer explained that there are many benefits to this method, including lower prices for materials and labor required for building walls for your home. A 3D printer could be used to print the walls in as little as 20 to 25 hours. Additionally, the homes can withstand most major storms, don’t burn and use 50% less energy than traditional stick-build homes, he said.
“But other than the walls, everything’s the same,” Mannheimer said.
This means trade work, such as HVAC and plumbing, is still required. Mannheimer stated that 3D printing could bring more workers into the construction industry due to the use of large machines and the advanced nature the technology throughout the entire process.
Mannheimer explained that a 3D-printed home is built by pouring the foundation as usual. The printer then arrives. He explained that the raw material is then mixed with water, then pumped through the nozzle of a machine. This prints the home layer by layer based on the design programped into the machine.
Technically, any concrete could be used, but Mannheimer explained that their home printer uses a special mix that can withstand 10,000 PSI. This is four times more strong than traditional concrete.
Although the mix is more affordable than lumber today it could be cheaper to source mix components locally, he stated.
“Something we’re looking at heavily here is using fly coal ash from Appalachia in the mix, which solves two problems,” Mannheimer said. “One, it’s low-cost and we can use it in the mix. And two, there’s a big problem with coal ash in Appalachia; there’s millions of pounds just sitting there, and nobody knows what to do with it. So this would help with an environmental concern as well.”
Janet Green, executive director of the Habitat chapter, said this is the second 3D printed home Habitat for Humanity is buying, and next to Mann’s house, another home will be 3D printed by Alquist with help from Habitat staff.
“Any means that we can continue building more affordable housing is so critical,” Green said. “And if we can do it faster, cheaper, safer, why wouldn’t we try? So I like to say it’s another tool in our toolbox for affordable housing.”
Mann, who is a Hampton native, said that she’s spoken with neighbors and friends about how expensive Hampton has become over the years. She was also shocked at the high prices she saw when she tried to find a Newport News home.
“It’s crazy to hear some stories,” she said.
For one place, she’d need to raise her credit score and make more money to live there. So, she began working on finances as she applied to Habitat for Humanity and was accepted for the group’s usual 30-year, no interest loan to buy the 3D printed home.
Green claimed that 3D printed homes can be up to 15% cheaper to construct.
“If we can build these houses faster and have more people have the stability of affordable housing, that’s a win-win for our community,” Green said.
Additionally, the group saves on construction time.
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“We’re hoping to shave off at least six weeks with the 3D house,” Green said. “Because it’s still a new technology, we’re going slower than we normally would to make sure that everything is done consistently.”
The group printed its 3D home in summer last year. A family was able to move into the Habitat for Humanity 3D printed home by December.
Mann said she enjoyed watching the home come together in real time as the symphony of machinery made its rounds and the home’s walls crept up toward the sun.
When people are puzzled that she will be living in a 3D printed house, Mann tells them to look it up on the internet and learn more — just like she did. Mann hopes they’re as amazed and as awed as she was.
“I feel really good about it,” she said. “And I’m glad I made this decision.”