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3D-printed homes could bring affordable housing to rural America

Posted at 6:45 PM, Jan 28, 2022

STANTON, Iowa — Small towns are often known for their charm and community spirit.

Jenna Ramsey is the community development director of Stanton. It's a small town located in southwest Iowa.

“Stanton is a small but mighty community with Swedish heritage," Ramsey said. "Our population is 689. Wherever you go, you know people. There’s no stoplights. You can run in and get a cup of coffee.”

While she says Stanton is a very affordable place to live compared to a larger city, it still lacks affordable housing for young families.

“We just know that all the costs of everything seem to be going up right now, so that is what makes the affordable housing challenging,” Ramsey said.

Small towns all over rural Iowa are facing the same issue. To keep the communities growing and thriving, they’re turning to innovative solutions like 3D-printed homes.

“We are building the first prototype 3D-printed home here in Hamburg, Iowa,” said Tamara Brunow, founder and president of Brunow Contracting.

Brunow is a key partner in the 3D Affordable Housing Project.

“I'm very passionate about affordable housing because I needed affordable housing at one point in my life," Brunow said. "I was a single mom for 13 years and I had the luxury of having a house that was fairly affordable to me. What we're seeing right now in the housing industry, the starting point, the entry point is so cost-prohibitive to young families and a lot of areas, they're just not going there.”

On an empty patch of land in Hamburg, the hope is to build 25 to 35 residential units that will be for sale to future homeowners. The 3D Affordable Housing Project is a collaboration between Brunow Contracting, Iowa Economic Development Authority, and Iowa State University.

Julie Robisonworks in the college of design at Iowa State University. She says it will be a learning process to find out whether 3D-printed homes will actually save money.

“Part of our work is going to be to actually answer that question, what are the benefits of 3D printing?" Robison said. "We think that you can reduce the amount of time that it takes to actually construct homes, that you can seriously reduce the amount of time and labor hours to put up walls.”

Brunow says they will be testing materials, design, and energy efficiency to confirm if using 3D-printing technology will be a sustainable solution for affordable housing in rural Iowa.

“The places 3D-printed homes have been implemented right now, are in the South," Brunow said. "They don't have the swing and temperature difference that we do up here in the Midwest. So we deal with a lot of freeze-thaw. We have wind loads, snow loads. So all of that engineering has to kind of go back to the basics.”

If it does work out, they hope to expand into other small towns around Iowa, potentially serving as a national model for the entire Midwest. Robison says the project will also allow the university to develop a curriculum for workforce training to help educate the next generation.

“Our mission is transformation and research and technology-driven outcomes that can then change the economy and change lives,” Robison said.

Even though technology will be what draws people to the small towns, it’s the human connection that will keep them there.

“Especially since the pandemic, people want that sense of community, they want to know who their neighbors are," Brunow said. "They want to be a part of something.”