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3D-printed homes could be the future of wildfire recovery

3D printing homes
Posted at 11:17 AM, Jan 10, 2023

REDDING, Calif. — A beautiful thing about construction is that each new structure first begins with a vision. In this Redding, California warehouse, the vision behind the work started from a strong love for a community after a devastating loss.

"I remember the feeling inside of, 'Oh my gosh. What am I gonna do?' Like, I'm a builder and I'm thinking, 'Where are we gonna live tomorrow?'" recalled custom home builder Don Ajamian.

In 2018, the Carr fire destroyed more than 1,600 homes, and, like many of the large wildfires we've seen in recent years across the nation, it crippled the local housing supply. Between 2005 and June 2022, wildfires destroyed 97,196 homes across the country, according to the nonprofit research group Headwaters Economics.

For Ajamian, the Carr fire's impact on his community left a lasting impression.

"They were already living in their forever home, and now, they didn't have it anymore," he said.

That feeling has turned into a promising public-private endeavor to quickly and efficiently rebuild homes after wildfires.

Ajamian and founder Matthew Giles lead Emergent 3D, a company that 3D prints cement, fire-resistant homes. The technology can print a house in about 30 hours with a fraction of the supplies and workforce needed to build traditional homes, which are two factors industry organizations say are holding back the creation of housing.

The National Association of Home Builders says 90% of builders report supply shortages, and Associated Builders and Contractors say this year, an additional 590,000 workers will be needed on top of normal hiring in order to meet building demand.

"For every five that are retiring out of the trades, only one is coming in," explained Giles.

These houses in various stages of printing are the result of a partnership between Emergent 3D's tech, the city of Redding, and a few local nonprofits. The goal: help replace the hole the Carr fire left behind in the housing market with 3D printed homes, acting as a model for other communities to follow.

"At the end of the day, it's getting families back into homes," said Giles.

Right now, there are similar projects planned in other parts of the state, and other states impacted by fires have shown interest.

While the company is looking at how to get more houses up to help with wildfire recovery, with the lowered barriers for building that 3D printing represents, they believe this has the potential to address other housing crises plaguing the country.

"I see this technology as touching every one of the pain points in the housing industry. However, it's not gonna solve it. We are a component," said Ajamian.