Planning Your 3D Printed Home Project

The items below will help you with the “big picture” questions that need to be asked in order to define project scope, pricing and timeline to build a 3D printed home.

  • Where do you want to live? What’s important to you? Things like schools, church, job location, community, nature, price of land, transportation options, health care facilities nearby or family nearby?
  • What kind of house do you want? Is it size, bedrooms, bathrooms, options, façade, detached buildings such as garage or shops? How will it be used? Do you want an open floorplan?
  • What does the lot or land look like? What are the set backs and easements that effect building on site? What is the zoning and building size limitations? Are there HOA (Home Owners Association) rules or limitations? Is the lot flat or sloped? What kind of soil do you have on the lot? (These last two will effect foundation). What utilities are available nearby? Will trees and vegetation need to be removed to build?
  • Do you have financing or cash? Understand how you will pay for the services to design, engineer, permit and construct your home. Architects and Engineers like to be paid regardless of if you build your house or not. Special features or options may need down payments ahead of the building schedule so be prepared or work out something with the builder.

What does the building schedule look like?

So far, I have heard that two companies claim they “printed a house in a day” and both have stretched the truth a bit.

Can 3D printed houses be built faster, stronger, smarter and more affordably than conventionally built houses? Absolutely!

A 3D printed home needs a good foundation just like any other home. In most states, an engineer will need to design a foundation based on soil conditions, materials to be used and proximity to hazard areas such as flood plain or coastal erosion. So, what normally happens is:

  1. Customer puts lot under contract or buys the lot.
  2. Customer or builder hires soil testing firm to determine type, depth of strata, water, organic material and even potential environmental concerns such as an old dump or chemical spill.
  3. Design engineer uses soil boring data to determine the best options for slab, pier and beam, basement or excavation requirements.
  4. Documents prepared for foundation.

Document preparation is next. The architect of record will use lot information such as dimensions, easements, set backs, restrictions, lot slope, trees and renewable energy options, utility and driveway access into consideration when laying out the footprint of the house as well as ingress/egress options. He or she will develop a set of construction drawings that the builder can use to get a permit to construct, normally working with an engineer for the structural components. Together, the design and engineering, coupled with the desires of the home buyer will be used for construction financing, permitting and detailed construction details needed to get a firm price from the builder. NOTE: In some cases the architect and builder can be the same company.

Determine the funding source(s) is next. Everyone wants to be paid so working with banking sources or private lending or equity sources is a must. In most cases, the architect and engineer will need to be paid upon delivery of an agreement and final payment upon completion of construction drawings. In many instances the architect can be the owner’s representative throughout the project which may alter the fee structure accordingly.

Permitting is key for a 3D printed home. There are many companies that say they can get houses built in a day but it’s not that easy. Inspections, concrete material constraints and sub contractor scheduling make this “built in a day” concept nearly impossible. Sunconomy’s goal is to build affordable housing that uses the latest technology to build 3D printed houses faster, stronger and smarter than what is currently available using “sticks and bricks”. Permitting is a local issue. I can’t stress that enough….PERMITTING IS A LOCAL ISSUE. Although many planning and zoning departments adopt the international codes as they come out every two years, some are behind in adopting and some are more stringent depending where you are. Permitting fees also vary greatly which is why we are starting in Texas. In trying to get a permit for a house in California, I was told there were 11 different agencies that were “involved” in the permitting fee process and that it was going to add about 15% onto the price of construction. Not so where we build.

Building a 3D printed home is not easy. Most companies concentrate on the device that delivers the material – i.e. the 3D printer. That’s a big mistake. Builders need to be experienced and trained in the 3 main parts of 3D printed homes. I like to use the desktop printer as the analogy. It has three main components which include the mechanisms that work together to disperse ink and paper, the ink itself and then the paper and software enabling the final product to be produced. If any one of these three components is not working right, the process is botched resulting in failure. And you don’t want failure on your 3D printed house!!

These three components include:

  • The printer, mixer and concrete pump – are they mobile or stationary? Do you have spare parts on hand in the event of a failure while building? How do you calibrate and control the printer’s disbursement of concrete and the flow of the mixture from the pump? Are any admixtures or fibers put in at the pump or nozzle?
  • The “Ink” – We use geopolymer concrete similar in chemical makeup to that of the roman coliseum lasting thousands of years. Some people use Portland cement which doesn’t last as long, needs significant reinforcement, especially in earthquake zones and is more prone to cracking, spalling and freeze/thaw failures.
  • The “paper” which includes design criteria, engineering and curb appeal. I hope the industry can use design and engineering principles to build better 3D printed homes than houses that are all the same lined up on streets like we’ve been doing for 100 years. Creativity and engineering with advanced materials lends itself to 3D printed houses that have great curb appeal and use technology for entertainment, security, home automation and renewable energy.

Combined correctly, 3D printed houses in eco villages can provide a lower cost solution than current building techniques and offer homeowners a much better community to live in. They can reduce monthly expenses for energy, water, and hazard insurance while standing up to just about whatever mother nature can throw at them.

3D Building Schedule Example

Construction Process Savings:

Savings are based on efficiency, effectiveness, materials not needed as well as labor saved in not using them. So let’s talk specifics.

BIM is the abbreviation for “Building Information Modeling”. In essence, it is developing a 3D plan digitally with all its building component pieces and integrating them into one model. This allows architects, engineers, builders, and customers to “see” the building before it is ever built. This saves time, reduces change orders once the construction starts and allows subcontractors, suppliers, and manufacturers to supply the right parts and service at the right time. The savings that come from using BIM can be measured in less time to design and engineer the homes. Also, integration with supply chains, subcontractors and vendors allow quicker response times reducing overall overhead expenditures by the contractor. The quicker the job gets built, the less overhead the contractor has per job.

Efficient procurement of materials and labor can save money just in job delays due to scheduling problems. Additionally, Sunconomy builders will save money because we buy in quantity vs. one at a time. This saves at least 4% of the material costs in a job and sometimes more.

Construction costs can be lowered due to the decrease in time to completion (saving labor and overhead) as well as direct costs using GeoPolymer concrete. Using a much stronger material to build houses eliminates the need for additional roofing materials, interior sheetrock, coatings for protection of materials, and wood studs, sheathing, trusses, headers and more. By eliminating several trades, you save labor, material, overhead and the delays associated with dealing with more subcontractors.

Closing out or selling your home to the homebuyer is sped up and documentation from the BIM model can be used to create O&M materials for the homebuyer as well as product information such as model, type, or version of a particular item. Warranty information is at the fingertips of both buyer and contractor and if done correctly, can save in time to close on the house.

Operations and Maintenance of the home can save the homeowner money on hazard insurance and energy consumption from the time they buy the home. If renewable systems are included, the savings per year can really add up, especially if you are selling energy back to the utility company.