First-time homebuyer Tiffany Terrell was almost ready to quit looking for a house before she visited a 3D-printed home for sale on Carnation Street in South Richmond.
It had what she wanted for her and her 14-year-old daughter, Makayla Terry, in their price range: a kitchen with an island countertop, a nice backyard and an updated interior. After a six-month search, she now has the 3D-printed home, the first of its kind in Richmond, under contract for $235,000.
State and local officials say they hope that more homes like it can be built to address the shortage of housing that’s driving up home prices across Virginia.
“I didn’t know anything about 3D printing. I came to see it when it was bare-bones. … It looked like a brand-new house. I did my research after that and thought, ‘This is pretty cool,’” Terrell, 38, said at an open house for the home Thursday. “When you find what you want and it’s got everything you wanted, it’s great.”
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The 1,550-square-foot home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms is the result of a partnership between Virginia Housing and the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech.
The state agency gave the university research group a $500,000 innovation grant to obtain a 3D modular construction printer from Denmark to build the home’s concrete exterior walls.
Susan Dewey, CEO of Virginia Housing, said the idea came from the experts at Virginia Tech, who had advised that novel home building methods could help address the growing shortage of housing across the state.
“You’ve got to look at land cost, labor and materials. And I think the big benefit is going to be on the labor side,” she said of 3D printing home construction. “Whenever you are able to cut any of those costs, then it makes it much more affordable.”
Chris Thompson, the director of strategic housing for Virginia Housing, said the construction is a bit of an experiment. The printer was used to make two layers of exterior wall with a gap for insulation between them. He said the design is intended to make the home energy-efficient and dampen the noise of traffic along Carnation Street.
RMT Construction & Development Group, the builder for the project, used traditional construction methods to complete the concrete slab foundation, roof system and interior walls.
“With it being the first time out and not wanting to get a little too crazy, we decided to be more traditional inside and put drywall throughout,” Thompson said.
Other partners involved in the building project were project:Homes and the Better Housing Coalition, two Richmond nonprofits that helped provide the land for the building, homeownership services and construction management.
Andrew McCoy, the director of the Virginia Tech housing research center, said cutting back on the cost of other traditional construction material like sheetrock could lower building costs, but that firms need more experience using new technology like 3D printing.
“The more we can have some of these jobs pivot to automate, they’ll understand that process and drive that change in the industry,” he said. “It’s going to be important just to have options for that.”
As Terrell prepares to close on the home next month, Thompson said that Alquist, the Iowa-based construction firm that built the home, has pledged to build approximately 200 more 3D-printed homes in Virginia. The company last year built in James City County in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
McCoy said his center will continue advising Alquist as it continues building. He said areas of research could include finding ways to use other materials to make the 3D printing process more environmentally sustainable.
Ninth District Councilman Michael Jones, who represents the area where the new house is located, said he was pleased to see innovation taking shape in the community.
“That’s important,” Jones said. “It’s [not just happening in] the Fan or Museum District. This is Richmond as well.”