The United States is currently facing a historic housing shortage, and researchers at the University of Maine think 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 built the first 3D-printed house made entirely of bio-based materials.
Finding a way to manufacture 3D-printed houses on a large scale is a challenge that many companies have tried to solve in recent years. Unlike most solutions to date, which have had to use concrete or clay and traditional construction methods such as wood framing, ASCC’s “BioHome3D” 3D-printed house is a different story.
The 55.7-square-meter 3D-printed house prototype features 3D-printed floors, walls and roofs made from sustainably sourced wood fibers and bio-resins. The house is also fully recyclable and does not require weeks or months of on-site construction time to assemble. After 3D printing four modules, the center assembled BioHome3D in half a day. then an electrician spent about two hours wiring the house.
The ASCC believes that BioHome3D can help solve the U.S. housing shortage by reducing the amount of materials and labor needed to build affordable housing. In Maine alone, there is a growing housing shortage of about 20,000 homes statewide.
Jenny Schuetz, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, believes that the current U.S. housing problem stems from restrictive zoning laws and land-use regulations that allow residents to prevent more homes from being built in their neighborhoods. In other words, the U.S. housing crisis is a policy problem, not a technology problem.
This is not to say that technology has no role to play in improving housing. Cement, a key component of concrete, has a huge carbon footprint. As of 2018, production of the material contributed about 8 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, more pollution than the entire aviation industry produces. Reducing or completely eliminating the need for concrete in residential construction is important for the environment.