Detroit nonprofit launches project to build 3D-printed homes
Detroit — With the press of a button, a long-armed robot steadily produced a concrete mix, programmed to follow a pattern that will create the exterior wall of a house. Dozens of these segments would eventually be transported from a facility in Detroit and connected to build a 1,000 square foot two-bedroom home on the east side of town.
Citizen Robotics, a Detroit-based nonprofit that created the 3D-printed home, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority celebrated the start of construction on the home on Tuesday afternoon, which they say will be the first of its kind in the city.
“We need to learn how to design homes that robots can build,” said Tom Woodman, founder and executive director of Citizen Robotics. “And if we don’t do that, if we don’t invest in innovation, if we don’t allow more houses to be built with fewer workers, then our housing stock will continue to decline and the cost of housing will continue to rise. ascend.”
Woodman was joined on Tuesday by officials from MSHDA, the architect of the house. Bryan Cook of developARCHITECTURE and builder Jeff Russell of JL Russell and Associates, based in Grosse Pointe.
Those gathered for the build launch saw the robot, an ancient welding machine, repeat its pattern under the watchful eye of a team tending to the machine and manually ironing out rough spots. The robot had to continue this work for hours in the workshop of Citizen Robotics southwest of Detroit.
The Citizens Robotics store is on 20th Street, not far from Michigan Central Station. It serves as a site where portions of the house will be printed and then moved to land at 1444 Sheridan St. in the Islandview neighborhood. The segments will be glued and topped with insulated structural panels. It will take about two weeks to print the house and about three weeks for it to harden. Woodman said he expects to have a fully closed structure in about six weeks. The exterior will feature green tinted stucco.
“We deliberately designed this to fit the neighborhood so it doesn’t really stand out,” he said. “I guess people will drive by without even knowing it was 3D printed.”
The house is expected to be ready in the spring, when it will be sold to a private owner at 80% of the area’s median income, Woodman said.
The pilot house is expected to cost around $230 per square foot to build, Woodman said. In this case, it’s about $230,000. Woodman said over time, he expects costs to come down as the process becomes more efficient.
“This first home we’re expecting, the budget suggests we’ll be able to do it on par with conventional construction, but this is pilot construction,” Woodman said. “So making a pilot version at the same price as conventional versions is already really saying something. We can see the way forward to be 15% less than conventional build in a reasonably short period of time.”
Woodman said he’s also focused on building a more efficient home, reducing utility costs for the homeowner.
“We are so obsessed with our initial development costs, initial construction costs that we lose sight of the big picture, how can we build a better house?” he said. “How to build a house that costs less? And this is actually very important for the owner. If you talk about the issue of housing insecurity and you can build a house that will cost someone $50 a month, $25 a month for heating and cooling, you make a big difference to that person. So I would really like us to focus on how we can build better houses, not just cheaper houses. This is what we really believe we can do with our method.
The project received nearly $160,000 in funding from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program to cover building materials for the house. Tonya Joy, director of neighborhood housing initiatives at MSHDA, said the agency was exploring technology to ensure it was a viable housing option for Michigan.
“I think it could have an incredible impact on Michigan,” Joy said. “Simply because we have such a shortage of housing. We can find a way to build affordable, safe, and energy-efficient homes, which we’re supposed to. Energy costs in Michigan are so high. If we can minimize that and make it affordable, that’s a win for everyone.
Woodman said it took three years of development to get to this point, and Sheridan’s house was just the beginning. There are plans for building a 3D printed house with Habitat for Humanity in Flint. Russell, the builder, said he plans to build a 1,200 square foot 3D-printed house for himself on land he owns in Grosse Pointe.
“No garage, no basement,” Russell said. “Barrier-free. Kind of a thing that ages in place.
Woodman said Sheridan’s home will have a universal design with large hallways, wide doorways, an open floor plan and a handicap-accessible bathroom.
“I don’t think it’s going to be hard to sell it,” Woodman said. “I mean everyone will want to reduce their heating and cooling bills. And it’s gonna look cool.