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Searching for affordability, Habitat for Humanity unveils 3D-printed house in Williamsburg

Habitat for Humanity unveiled this 3D printed house in Suffolk on Dec. 21. It's only the second 3D-printed house in the state.
Photo by Ryan Murphy. Habitat for Humanity unveiled a 3D printed house in Williamsburg on Dec. 21. It’s the second 3D-printed house in the state.

A new home unveiled Tuesday in Williamsburg is Habitat for Humanity's first 3-D printed house on the East Coast.

The new construction method could be a game-changer for housing affordability, as the cost of both existing homes and new construction continue to mount.

Habitat for Humanity’s built ten houses in the small Williamsburg neighborhood.

But the new one on the block is different.

You can see it when you get up close. It has these horizontal ridges running the whole length of the house.

That’s because the outer walls were laid down three-quarters of an inch at a time.  

Aiman Hussein runs the printer for Alquist 3D, a company that’s just started 3D printing houses. 

“It's really just your personal desktop 3D printer, just a much larger scale,” Hussein said. “You use concrete rather than plastic. But the basic principles are almost identical.”

He was the one in Williamsburg this summer running the company’s huge printer.

Layer by layer, the walls around the 1,200 square foot home went up over 22 hours of printing.

Hussein said weather delays meant start to finish, the walls took about 3 weeks to get up. 

Between that speed and the lower cost of materials, Alquist 3D says it costs about 15% less to print a home than to build one with lumber.

The company partnered with Virginia Tech to 3D print its first home in Richmond. That was a kind of proof of concept, paid for by the state’s housing department to explore solutions to housing affordability.

Data from the Richmond house suggests the concrete walls retain temperatures better than wood-frame houses. That can cut heating and air conditioning bills by as much as half.

From the inside, it's hard to tell it's concrete. Studs and drywall are mounted on the interior of the concrete walls, so it looks like any other newly built house in the area.

April Stringfield is moving into the Williamsburg house.

She said the 3-bedroom home is a big upgrade. It’s closer to work, bigger than her current apartment and has a yard for her 13-year-old son to run around in.

But she wasn’t originally sold on it.

“When they told me about it, I was kind of on the fence,” she said. “3D printed? I didn't know what it was. I had to look it up.” 

Part of what won her over: Her great-grandmother lived in a concrete-walled home when Stringfield was a kid. 

"It's kind of traditional," she said.

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

The world changes fast.

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