ISU project hopes to create a new solution for the state’s affordable housing crisis


By Catherine Wheeler, Iowa Public Radio


Iowa State University


The ISU project is working on purchasing the 3D printer.

A project from Iowa State University is working on solutions for the affordable housing crisis. The Iowa Economic Development Authority is granting $1.4 million to help fund the technology for the project.

The ISU College of Design’s 3D Affordable Innovative Technologies (3D AIT) Housing Project will be 3D printing the vertical framing for homes, said Pete Evans, assistant professor of industrial design at ISU.

“It’s used today mostly for the vertical walls, and that will continue to evolve as the technology gets more sophisticated and develops,” he said. “But at the moment, any of the, call it the vertical framing, or enclosure of the house, minus the glass, windows and the doors, you would be able to complete with this technology.”

Evans said this is still an emerging technology, but exists in other parts of the country, like the coasts and Texas.

Here in Iowa, Evans said this could be used wherever affordable housing is needed, whether that’s urban, rural or suburban parts of the state.


“The challenge we’re trying to address is this shortage for affordable housing, and being able to automate some of that function, because we have a workforce shortage, that is part of the housing shortage, also the speed of construction. Those two factors allow us to try to really impact that immediate need,” he said.


Some claim it can be two to three times faster to build a house this way, Evans said.

With additional challenges like the workforce shortage and supply chain issues, Evans said the project is looking at holistic solutions. That includes working with Iowa Central Community College to create a technical curriculum so future workers can be prepared for coming jobs.

Evans said they are working with contractors, the ISU College of Engineering, architects, and planners.

“This is definitely not trying to just look at one aspect of this. But really, now that we’re here, and we talk about industry 4.0 or 21st century solutions that we can really try to reimagine what housing might be,” he said.

While the 3D printing part of the project is the most flashy, Evans said the project is also looking at other ways technology can help, especially in scaling up.

“We can start to upgrade or understand how to utilize advanced web technologies, virtual reality, telepresence, being able to automate some of the safety code, energy, other aspects up front, to be able to really help kickstart and compress and make this process efficient,” he said.

Evans said now they are working on finding the right machine that will be able to print a one-story house. The ISU team is working with Brunow Contracting on the demonstration project in the southwest Iowa city of Hamburg as the area continues to recover from flooding in 2019.

“This build will help the team to understand design, affordability, zoning and building codes, community engagement, and training as the project moves forward,” reads a press release from ISU.

Evans said if all goes to plan and they can get the printer soon, they’ll be able hopefully start on housing in the fall. In total, the project is slated to cost $2.14 million.

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