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Fundamental changes

A View From the Edge

There is perhaps nothing you need to create so fundamental as a home, a house, a place to live. There is something primitive and basic about construction, from laid stone to wooden beams to roofing to sheetrock and paint — anyone who lives anywhere either knows how their home was built or, indeed, can build and maintain the structure. It’s fundamental in every sense.

All that is about to change, in the same way your cell-phone has changed how you live; when your phone had a cord, you were more free than you are now. If you could, would you go back to a dial phone? Nope, your world has changed, better or not, you cannot go back. And so, how your ancestors lived and built homes is about to be revolutionized to the same degree.

First I have to explain 3D printers. 2D printers, like the one you use to print letters or signs, lay down a layer of ink on a sheet of paper. Two-axis 3D printers are similar in that they lay down a slightly thicker material layer, layer upon layer, building up a 3D printed object. Three-axis 3D printers do the same thing but they can rotate the printed object to allow inner cavities, occlusions and additions. Think of it like this: 3-axis 3D printers can print a lightbulb from the inside out, filament and all. It doesn’t matter what the print substance is, start with metal, change to glass… these printers have different nozzles for different substances.

So, here’s the kicker: In Texas a start up company, ICON, is currently building 3D printed homes. What do their nozzles print out? Lavacrete, a sort-of concrete substance  that squirts out, layer upon layer. Alquist is building them too and research shows their homes are net zero when it comes to the environment. All these printed homes have cavity walls (later pumped with insulation), wiring and plumbing chases printed right in, and the printing machines are truck portable. Arrive on site, set up on concrete slab and within 24-48 hours you have a house ready for roof trusses and roofing. If you want a printed roof, they can do that too.

Cost? It’s early days, like electric cars, 30-50% more than stick-built homes. But think of this: You can draw your ideal home on a napkin, they put it on the computer, you do the prep (concrete slab, etc.), they show up and 24-48 hours later you have a house you designed. What’s the time saving worth to you?

The estimate is that within two years there will be as many as 50 companies loaning out hundreds of machines, each machine making a few houses a week. No factory construction (pre-fab), or pre-cut house kits can offer that turn-around time.

So, thinking of going into the building trade? Make sure you also learn in step with this revolution in fundamentals of house construction, because like the cellphone and the dial phone, once they start building houses this way, there’s no turning back.

Now, think of Earth orbit… Amazon is already funding and prototyping a 3-axis 3-D printer to be placed in orbit to build the habitats needed in space for exploration and research… as well as satellite construction. Construction is fundamental to all human activity and it’s in the process of fundamentally changing.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

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