3-D house printing (Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine photo)

As soon as spring arrives, an eastern Iowa community will launch an ambitious home-building effort with plans to construct ten houses using 3-D printers.

Charla Schafer, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine, says they’re eager to get started as the Mississippi River town needs more homes — and residents — but there simply aren’t enough contractors and supplies to make it happen. Schafer says the ten houses will be modest in size.

“The first one we print will be probably around 1,300-square-foot on slab, with attached or detached garage, depending on the lot,” Schafer says. “As we get into infill lots within neighborhoods where maybe something’s been torn down, based on the sizing, we may need to go to a two-bedroom, but the intent for most part is to do three bedrooms.”

The foundation and both the exterior and interior walls can be 3-D printed. And once they get started, the ten houses should go up rapidly, especially when compared to traditional construction, which often takes a month.

“3-D printing is much quicker to create the home. You can have a home printed in as short as 28 hours,” Schafer says. “We also know that the cost, right now, they’re looking could be about 15% less and they believe over time, they’ll be able to hold that down even a little bit more, which will allow homeowners to maybe get into a home a little quicker than they could in the past.”

That lower cost is key, she says, since real estate prices have been bounding the past several years. Schafer says 3-D printing is far more economical than the traditional route.

“Typically, you can drive down labor to about three to four people on site to do the home printing, because the machine is printing it in just layers of cement as it goes around, so you have some cost there,” Schafer says. “And then you also have some savings by using a crete mix versus a typical construction stick build.”

Another potential price cutter will be the ingredients the 3-D printers use, including a time-tested all-natural product that’s being grown on plots at Muscatine Community College.

“They have the only hemp program in the state and hemp is the leading additive that’s being researched to add into the crete mix,” Schafer says. “They’ll be doing a research component alongside of this as well to see how hemp may fit in and what that does is, it makes it more environmentally friendly as you print.”

Due to the housing shortage, she says about 11-thousand people drive to Muscatine County to work daily, including a quarter of the school district’s teachers.