In Arizona, the state with the fourth most dire affordable housing shortage according to National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)’s recently released Gap report, the Central Arizona chapter of global nonprofit Habitat for Humanity is looking to pave the way for new modes of sustainable, scalable low-cost housing across the Grand Canyon State. How? With the aid of ample local largesse and a massive 3D printer imported from Germany.
While Habitat for Humanity has historically been quick to embrace emerging construction methods that help to drive down construction costs and boost efficiency, Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona’s latest build, a solar-ready single-family residence overlooking Clark Park in Tempe, marks the first 3D-printed home building project for the nonprofit in the United States. Construction on the three-bedroom, two-bathroom single-story dwelling began last month and is expected to wrap up in early fall. Income-qualified Tempe homeowners are currently being identified through Habitat’s standard application process, and once an eligible homeowner is selected, they could move into their 3D-printed digs as early as this October.
“While we have found success in building small 3D-printed homes abroad, at 1,700 square feet, this home represents Habitat’s entry into new, innovative space. It is the first of its kind in the U.S. and sets the stage for increased capacity through a solution that could be both sustainable and cost-effective,” said Adrienne Goolsby, senior vice president of U.S. and Canada at Habitat for Humanity International, in a statement. “We’re proud of Habitat Central Arizona’s research and progress using this new technology, and will continue to assess its potential to be scaled and more widely adopted so that we can further address the critical issue of home affordability in the U.S.”
Per the NLIHC, only Nevada, California, and Oregon suffer from a more severe shortage of affordable, available housing units than Arizona, where there are only 26 available affordable housing units for every 100 extremely low-income households. On a citywide scale, Phoenix ranks as being the fourth most affordable housing-strapped major city in the nation, trailing Las Vegas, Houston, and Los Angeles. (To be clear, the report focuses on affordable rental properties while Habitat aims to bridge the gap between renting and homeownership for qualifying, lower-income occupants via special homeownership programs.) Tempe, the eighth most populous city in Arizona, is located just east of Phoenix within the sprawling East Valley metro region.
For the Tempe project, the Habitat Central Arizona team have deployed a gantry-style Build on Demand Printer (BOD 2) shipped in March from Weißenhorn, Germany-based PERI Group. The family-owned construction company garnered international headlines in 2020 when it kicked off work on Germany’s first 3D-printed apartment building, a five-unit complex spread across three floors in the Bavarian city of Wallenhausen. Like other recent 3D-printed single-family homes that have been completed or are underway in cities ranging from Austin to Richmond, the Habitat home in Tempe is technically a hybrid build that combines 3D printing technology with conventional construction methods. In this particular instance, 70-to-80 percent of the Tempe home, including its interior and exterior walls, will be 3D-printed with a special concrete blend.
As mentioned, the home will be solar-ready when complete. Habitat Central Arizona is also pursuing LEED Platinum certification along with IBHS FORTIFIED Home designation.
Habitat for Humanity noted in its press materials that the 3D-printed Tempe project largely circumvents the soaring cost of lumber and other materials, which were “already on the rise” prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The use of a 3D printer, which requires less on-site manpower than traditional residential construction projects, will also enable Habitat Central Arizona to carry out projects during the dangerously hot summer months. As noted by the nonprofit, construction work typically slows to a crawl in and around Phoenix during the summer as the broiling temperatures put staff and volunteers at risk.
In addition to PERI, partners on the project include Lowe’s, COX Communications, and Candelaria Design, the Scottsdale-based luxury residential architecture practice that designed the (non-luxury) home, along with a number of other organizations and individuals who “contributed substantial financial and in-kind donations to make the project happen,” per Habitat Central Arizona. The City of Tempe, which owns the lot at 677 W. 19th where work on the 3D-printed Habitat home is currently underway, is also a key partner. In addition to the 3D-printed home opposite Clark Park, a total of 15 stick-built homes are also currently being constructed by Habitat Central Arizona on four other city-owned parcels. Since it was established in 1985, the Phoenix-headquartered Habitat Central Arizona has completed over 1,170 affordable new homes and executed north of 2,500 repair/renovation projects.
“This is really a moonshot opportunity for Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona,” said Jason Barlow, president and CEO of Habitat Central Arizona, of the chapter’s inaugural foray into 3D-printed construction methods. “When we consider the housing issues facing Arizona, the need for affordable homeownership solutions becomes clear. If we can deliver decent, affordable, more energy-efficient homes at less cost, in less time and with less waste, we think that could be a real game-changer. Just think of the implications.”