Habitat for Humanity 3D Printed Home Just Found its Newest Resident

After 3D printing its first two homes, and partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build more, Alquist is just getting started.
Alquist innovators print 3d homes with Habitat for Humanity

Alquist delivers 3D printed home exteriors in just 22 hours. Photo courtesy Alquist

A few days before Christmas, April Stringfield and her son received the keys to a new 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home in Williamsburg, Va. But the property wasn’t just another new build. Alquist, an Iowa-based 3D printing construction company, used a COBOD 3D printer to create the concrete walls of the 1,200-square-foot home.

Partnering with Habitat for Humanity for the nonprofit’s first 3D printed home, Alquist took only about 22 hours to construct the walls. It trimmed a standard construction schedule by at least four weeks, according to Alquist founder and CEO Zachary Mannheimer.

Using 3D Printers to Create Affordable Housing

Since media sites began reporting on the Williamsburg property, Alquist has fielded about 100 calls per hour from interested parties: individuals, developers, foundations, cities, states, and even countries. “It’s been overwhelming,” Mannheimer says.

But it’s not entirely surprising. Mannheimer is also the CEO of Atlas Community Studios, an economic and workforce development agency for rural areas. Through that work, he’s learned these communities share a common challenge: “Inevitably, every community, regardless of size or location, has a housing shortage.”

And that dilemma, Mannheimer says, “really has only two answers”: Businesses pay their workers more so they can afford the rising costs of homes, and/or homebuilding costs come down. Mannheimer can’t control the former, but he can help tackle the latter—with additive manufacturing. Last year, in partnership with Virginia Tech, Alquist built its first 3D printed home in Richmond, Va.

“The goal is to solve the housing crisis, primarily in underserved communities,” Mannheimer says. “We have to drop the cost of housing if we’re going to get back to the American dream.”

A 3D home takes three or four fewer weeks of construction than a traditional stick-built house, according to Mannheimer. A 1,500-square-foot home requires only 18 to 27 hours of 3D printing time, with little onsite waste. It takes just two to four people to operate and monitor the printer. And the materials are significantly cheaper than lumber, especially given recent price surges—with lumber’s cost almost tripling in just the last four months, NAHB reports.

Then there are the savings during occupancy. A 3D printed concrete home, which doesn’t require as much heating or cooling as a stick-built house, uses 50% less energy, Mannheimer says.

Habitat for Humanity 3d printed house
Habitat for Humanity 3D printed house. Photo courtesy Alquist

Still, the Alquist CEO is well aware that concrete, as he puts it, is “far from the most environmentally friendly material.” (Concrete accounts for 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.) That’s why Alquist has been researching hempcrete and other plant-based materials, with plans to replace concrete with a greener material by next year.

Overall, constructing a 3D printed home costs 10 to 15% less than a similar stick-built home, Mannheimer says. That savings would increase to 15 to 20% for a development with multiple units, which would spread out the cost of transporting, setting up, and dismantling the printer. 

But Mannheimer isn’t satisfied with that—he aims to reach 30% savings over the next two years. “One of the biggest things holding us back is speed,” he says. 3D printers can print up to 350 to 400 millimeters (13.8 to 15.7 inches) per second, but Mannheimer cites regulations that limit the speed to 250 millimeters (9.8 inches) per second.

Alquist's Home-building process

Currently, Alquist 3D prints exterior walls only. The walls comprise two sides, each two inches thick, with a four-inch gap between them. Traditional insulation fills that gap, though the builder wants to transition to a greener material for that, too. So far, Alquist has placed the electrical and plumbing in the interior walls, but it plans to start placing them in the exterior walls as well. Alquist embeds sensors within the exterior walls to monitor temperature and moisture and send real-time data to the homeowners, in addition to acting as the smoke alarms and security systems.

Alquist also equips each home with its own 3D printer (“built into the kitchen like a microwave,” Mannheimer says) so that homeowners can do their own renovations and repairs—or even print out a new light switch plate.

Alquist homes come with a personal 3d printer
Alquist homes come with a tabletop 3D printer, as shown in the Habitat for Humanity 3D printed house. Photo courtesy Alquist

By the end of this year, the builder plans to 3D print floors, ceilings, and roofs. Further out, Alquist hopes to 3D print everything inside the home by using materials such as plastic, glass, metal, and wood.

Now, with two homes under its belt, Alquist is set to ramp up operations quickly. Mannheimer says his company will soon announce 3D printed home developments in Iowa, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia—and possibly California and Kansas. The investment-based company aims to become revenue driven this year and to average 150 units annually starting next year.

In the meantime, Alquist, like other innovative builders, will have to address the knowledge gap. “The biggest challenge we have is finding talent,” Mannheimer says. That’s why Alquist has developed an eight-week certification curriculum in 3D printing construction, which it’s sharing with high schools and higher education institutions in several states where it will build.

That should help create a pipeline of talent for Alquist—and for the larger industry.

“We want there to be 50 more companies like Alquist,” Mannheimer says. “The need is great, and we can’t solve it alone.”

About The Author

Novid Parsi, Utopia Freelance Writer

Novid Parsi

Novid Parsi is a St. Louis-based freelance writer who covers a wide range of industries, including construction and technology.