A 3D Printed Wooden House to Address Labour and Housing Shortages

Printing a 3D house may become a thing in the future. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. On November 21st, the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC) unveiled BioHome3D, the first 3D-printed house, a 600-square-foot prototype, made entirely of bio-based materials. BioHome3D was developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hub and Spoke program between the University of Maine (UMaine) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Because the floors, walls and roof, made of wood fibers and bio-resins, are all 3D-printed, the structure is a fully recyclable house, highly insulated with 100 per cent wood insulation and customizable R-values.

Just like the rest of North America, the state of Maine is facing a housing crisis and labour shortages at the same time. “With its innovative BioHome3D, UMaine’s ASCC is thinking creatively about how we can tackle our housing shortage, strengthen our forest products industry, and deliver people a safe place to live so they can contribute to our economy. While there is still more to be done, today’s development is a positive step forward […],” says Governor Janet Mills.

In a report on housing shortages released in June, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) estimated that an additional 3.5 million housing units would be required to achieve affordability by 2030, calling it an “affordability crisis.”

This crisis does not only target low-income Canadians, for whom housing affordability is most difficult; according to the report, prices are out of reach for those with higher incomes as well. “The housing system is interconnected, so fixing Canada’s affordability challenge requires a suite of policies to affect the entire system,” explained Aled ab Iorwerth, Deputy Chief Economist of the CMHC.

Moreover, another survey lead by Habitat for Humanity Canada affordable housing – including limited supply, inflation and discrimination – is the country’s main issue. Seventy-eight per cent of those surveyed declared they need to restrict their food and transportation spending as well as their debt payments.

“This survey underscores how deeply concerned Canadians are about their housing situations and futures as affordable housing becomes increasingly out of reach,” notes Julia Deans, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada. “To address these growing concerns and make affordable housing and homeownership a reality for all Canadians, we need an all-in approach from non-profits, businesses, individuals and all levels of government.”

Innovations such as this wooden 3D printed home could be the solution to this crisis. Less time is required on-site building and fitting up the home due to the use of automated manufacturing, and off-site production. Printing technology, using abundant, renewable, locally sourced wood fiber feedstock reduces dependence on a constrained supply chain, while the materials support the revitalization of local forest product industries, and are more resilient to labour shortages.

Using these advanced manufacturing processes and materials, future low-income homes can be customized to meet a homeowner’s space, energy efficiency and aesthetic preferences in a relatively short amount of time.

The prototype is currently sited on a foundation outside ASCC, equipped with sensors for thermal, environmental and structural monitoring to test how BioHome3D performs through a Maine winter. Researchers expect to use the data collected to improve future designs.

BioHome3D was printed in four modules, then moved to the site and assembled in half a day. Electricity was running within two hours with only one electrician needed on site.

This is not the first 3D printed home, but it is the first printed using wood rather than extruded concrete. “Only the concrete walls are printed on top of a conventionally cast concrete foundation. Traditional wood framing or wood trusses are used to complete the roof,” explains Dr. Habib Dagher, ASCC executive director. “Unlike the existing technologies, the entire BioHome3D was printed, including the floors, walls and roof. The biomaterials used are 100 per cent recyclable, so our great-grandchildren can fully recycle BioHome3D.”

“This remarkable accomplishment was made possible by the tenacity and expertise of Dr. Habib Dagher, his team and students at the UMaine ASCC. […] Their ground-breaking work will lay the foundation for the future of affordable housing and help create new jobs across our state,” says U.S. Senator Susan Collins.

Daniel Brennan, director of project partner MaineHousing, adds: “This project gives us a real possibility to achieve something that has eluded us to-date, and that is the speed of production, to be able to mass produce in a very fast way – housing. The idea that we can create housing units in a fraction of the time with a fraction of the workforce – that is an efficiency that we’ve never experienced before.”

According to UMaine, the ASCC will be able to scale its advanced manufacturing research in housing construction with the opening of the Green Engineering and Materials (GEM) research Factory of the Future. When complete, GEM will serve as a hub for AI-enabled large-scale digital hybrid manufacturing. The Factory of the Future will drive innovation-led economic recovery in Maine, with bays dedicated to scaling up the production of housing, such as BioHome3D.

For more information, contact Taylor Ward: taylor.ward@maine.edu.

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