May 7, 2019 No Comments
Larry, good morning, welcome to HouseSmarts radio… So We Print Houses, you’re just gonna print a picture of my houses? What is it that you guys are doing?
Actually, its the real thing, Lou. We essentially have sped up the construction process and are building stronger houses mainly to attack the disaster areas such as California, where the fires and earthquakes, and especially down here along the gulf coast with the hurricanes, and the midwest with the tornadoes. We’re building a much better house, and doing it faster.
I have a little bit of experience in just researching this topic the past few years as its been coming more and more to light, and I know that there’s a lot of entrepreneurs coming into this realm. Its quite amazing. Talk to people about how this process actually works.
For the listeners, if you think of your desktop printer that’s sitting on your desk at home or at your office, there are mainly three components to it; its got the physical body, the ink, which it uses to make the picture, and the software and the paper that drive the image / the result you’re after. We kind of do the same thing – we have a mobile platform in which we attach a printhead to and we basically start with a frame called a SCIT panel (a structural concrete-insulated panel), which is essentially… if you think of a bed-mattress that has springs in it, this has wires in it, so its a cage, and its got insulation already put in it. So we’re basically spraying [if you think of an ice cream sandwich and the ice cream is the insulation and the chocolate on the outside if the concrete], we’re essentially creating a sandwich panel which is much stronger, is both monolithic inside and outside the house.
When you set up this printer, this giant apparatus, you’re gonna have an area where you’re going to put a house. I imagine you would pour a slab first, right?
Well you can, or like in the house we’re building right now outside of Austin, Texas, we’ve got a sloped lot that is about 17 feet from the front left corner to the bottom right corner. We’re actually putting a garage underneath, so that will have a slab. But we’re going to be doing footings, and then we create these columns and basically bring it up to level with columns and beams, and then we use these panels for the floor, the walls, and the roof, to create a structural floor and ceiling, and then put the concrete on it, so its done fully. We don’t just print walls, we print the whole house.
And it all comes out of basically… a tube?
It comes out of a nozzle that we spray, we’ve got the concrete being pumped out of a hose, and air right at the hose, and it sprays it out onto the panel. And we robotically move the printhead back and forth along, kind of like if you were spraying a house [left to right, move up six inches].
After layer, after layer, and its just going around of whatever the house may be and are you able to print the house in sections or kind of like an apparatus from the center of the structure? [I’ve seen this with smaller houses]
The problem with those systems, Lou, is that they basically only print the walls. Contractors don’t want to build walls, they want to build houses. So we came up with a way, using the SCIT panels, to basically do two things: to build the whole house, but most importantly to get permits, because the SCIT panels have been permitted into the code, so we can robotically administer the concrete instead of it being done by hand [which has been done in the past by hand]. We put the concrete onto an inch and 5/8 on both sides of the house, and I can build up to three stories. These other ones you have probably seen are very small, 400-600 sq. ft. type of house. There actually haven’t been any [houes] built in the United States because they can’t get permits right now.
You talked about the fact that the development of this was to really look at the disaster areas, we think about the hurricane that went through Florida that literally wiped out the entire city, and what happened in Houston, and places like that… The real idea is that once you get permits and you’re set up, you can build these homes pretty rapidly.
Right. A lot of the people you see online say “we can print a house in a day,” and that’s just not true. Depending on how big the house is, like the one we’re building near Austin will probably take about 14 days to build the structure, but that is start to finish – foundation, walls, roof, all put together, and that certainly speeds up the normal, conventional stick-built type house by about six to eight weeks.
I’m at the age now where if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When they say “we can build a house in a day,” its kind of like those commercials where you have bad teeth and they say they’ll give you a whole new smile in one day, you’re not gonna be feeling too good when you walk out of that doctor’s office, if that’s the case. How long have you guys been doing this?
I’ve been working on this for about five years.
What’s your background?
Its varied, but real estate development, construction…
So you have experience in the way we build houses, in the way we do build houses conventionally? This had to be such an eye-opener for you.
It was, and it took a while to get there. It wasn’t something you just kind of figure out over night, and so there is a lot of trial and error, and working and collaborating with people in the industry for cement pumps, and how fast does it pump, and how good is the mixer, and those kinds of things that, to get a consistency in the product that you’re actually placing on the house, that’s probably the secret-sauce – in the geopolymer concrete that we use, versus Portland cement. The geopolymer concrete is basically the same chemistry that the Romans used in the aqua-ducts down the port cities, where you see cement actually stepping down into the water, and they’ve been being hit by waves [salt water] for 2,000 years, and they’re still there.
Do you get a little more flexibility out if that – its not as rigid as traditional Portland-based concrete?
Right out of the gate, its about 9,000 PSI. It has better flexural strength, which means when the wind blows, the wall will flex more without breaking. There is some really interesting testing results that you can see that you can flex it a lot and it won’t break.
This is relatively new technology obviously, and there’s still this big learning curve, and obviously you’re not building 500 houses in a track somewhere, but talk to me about the cost-wise percentage when we’re looking at a traditionally-built home versus a printed house.
Understand that when we’re talking about printing a house, we’re talking about the structure, not the whole house. You’re still going to need to put in cabinets, flooring, and those sorts of things, conventionally. I took an example from the National Association for Homebuilders 2017, what the average house was, and it was about $237,760. Well, without getting into a lot of detail, we affect the framing, the exterior wall finish, roofing, insulation, painting, flooring, drywall, we kind of eliminate this in terms of needing carpenters and painters and insulators. We consolidate the time it takes to build, but we also save about 12-14% on the cost of that house.
Right. You mentioned, too, the soft cost part of it, I don’t know if this is included in there, but since you’re building that structure a little quicker, the loan carry and stuff like that, if you’re doing all that, would be shortened as well.
It will be. Over the entire process, we’re looking at about 17-28% savings depending on how you build the foundation and that sort of thing. The process that people use now is fairly archaic in terms of their paper systems and their project management tools, so we’re going to something called the BIN Model, which is a Building Information Modeling, a 3D -type software. We’re centering our whole business around essentials doing everything digitally, and then monitoring it, procuring, constructing, managing it digitally, as opposed to having any paper involved.
Sounds really cool. I wish you guys continued success, and I hope you build lots of houses. Its really cool. Larry Haines is the founder of We Print Houses at weprinthouses.com If you’d like to learn more about the technology that is changing the way we build houses in this country and around the world. Thanks for joining us today, I really appreciate your time.
The interview can be found at http://www.wabcradio.com/housesmarts/