The giant robot moves relentlessly, like a machine in a “Terminator” movie. Its nozzle-tipped arm tracks back and forth with geometric precision, squeezing out layer upon layer of brownish liquid concrete sprouting first, a foundation, then a network of two-inch-thick walls, rising like a flower in a stop-action video.
The result in less than 48 hours: A solid, weatherproof house that the owners of a Patchogue company’s 3D printer say is set to transform real estate on Long Island, and the rest of the nation.
A listing on realtor.com calls it “the world’s first 3D printed home for sale” made by SQ4D Inc. “using their patent-pending ARCS Technology” — a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with 1,407 square feet of living space, to be built on a quarter-acre lot in Riverhead, that some say could be the first in the next generation of affordable domiciles. The price: $299,999.
SQ4D expects to begin, and end, construction at the lot, at 34 Millbrook Lane, over a few days — when the spring thaw softens the ground, probably in late March or early April, said the listing agent, Stephen King, of Realty Connect USA. “The machine gets put on the lot and prints the house out right there,” King said.
When complete and given a certificate of occupancy, it will be the nation’s first 3D-printed home to be sold on the open market, King said.
‘Impervious to fire, storms’
Homebuyers are enthusiastic about it, said Town of Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who is a licensed real estate agent for Coach Realtors in Smithtown. She said her clients have been “excited” about the prospect of buying a 3D-printed home and such houses cost “approximately 50% less than your average home,” and “rate very high in hurricanes.”
Kevin M. Paul, an executive at Melville-based H2M architects + engineers, which ensured SQ4D’s home design was up to code, said, “Given that this house is made of concrete, it makes it impervious to fire, storms, floods and a range of other elements.”
The model home, on display in Calverton, has been attracting attention far and wide.
David Van Arsdale, 47, a professor of sociology at upstate Onondaga Community College, recently toured the home. He and his wife, Wakenda Tyler, 45, an orthopedic surgeon, who have two children and live in a four-bedroom Colonial in Syracuse, are interested in buying the Riverhead home as a vacation property.
“We really like different modalities of environmental housing, and this is a pretty passive house. It doesn’t take much to heat it and cool it,” Van Arsdale said, adding, “We’re interested in doing radiant heating and solar, so it would be an efficient home.”
3D-printed homes are just what the market needs today, says Kirk Andersen, director of operations at SQ4D. Affordable 3D-printed housing “couldn’t come at a better time” with the major exodus of New York City residents looking to relocate to Long Island, Andersen said.
“The home is carefully developed to exceed all energy efficiency codes and lower energy costs,” Andersen said. “SQ4D provides a stronger build than traditional concrete structures while utilizing a more sustainable building process.” The company’s patent-pending ARCS technology involves mainly how the 3D printer extrudes the concrete.
“What we’re doing is going to change how people look at housing,” said Andersen, a Patchogue native. “We’re going to meet a global demand to produce affordable and sustainable homes.”
That’s a good thing, some Long Island real estate and construction experts say.
They believe 3D-printed houses could help assuage the affordable housing crisis, which has only worsened as bidding wars drive prices through the roof. They say machine-made houses are cheaper, greener and faster to build than traditional sticks and bricks, and could become the biggest real estate innovation here since Levittown rose from a potato field — if there’s land to build them.
Homebuyers could benefit
Robot-printed homes could benefit homebuyers in their 30s and 40s who are living in apartments and struggling to come up with the hefty down payment required nowadays, said Peter J. Elkowitz Jr., president and CEO of The Long Island Housing Partnership, which provides down payment assistance and other services to first-time homebuyers.
“It would give them the opportunity to own a piece of land and the house,” Elkowitz said, adding, “It really is exciting to see people thinking out of the box to … build affordable housing … for the people who need it.”
The advent of 3D-printed housing “is a tremendous milestone in the history of the country and particularly in the housing industry,” said Andrew Schnissel, 32, of Long Beach, a partner in Richmond Hill, Queens-based private lender We Lend LLC. Schnissel was among dozens of prospective buyers who attended an open house at the 1,900 square-foot model home in Calverton, which SQ4D says is the largest 3D-printed house in the nation.
Schnissel said the company is interested in purchasing the Riverhead house as a rental investment and to learn about the new technology. He’s also interested in the home’s historic value. It’s like “buying the first house in Levittown,” he said. “There’s only going to be one.”
To allow this new type of construction, Elkowitz said municipalities may need to review and change their building codes because “they probably don’t have a code for 3D” houses.
Aguiar said Town of Riverhead code already covers such construction.
“There is no need to create or adjust any town codes” for 3D-printing because “whether the structure of a home is built by wood or concrete is not a zoning concern as long as it has the structure to support the home,” Aguiar said.
Humans vs. robots
Some, however, see a downside.
“Laborers have been getting knocked out of the box by more and more mechanization,” said Steve Flanagan, business manager and secretary treasurer of Laborers Local 66, which represents about 1,000 construction site union workers in Nassau and Suffolk counties. In addition to driving skilled workers into lower-paying minimum wage jobs, Flanagan said, “I think it’s going to hurt society to have robots taking over people’s jobs,” causing an increase in depression, alcoholism and drug addiction.
Others see a silver lining. Although some construction jobs might be lost to the robot printer, other jobs will be created, said Benjamin Jackson, chairman of government affairs for the New York National Association of the Remodeling Industry in Islandia.
“I’m not a fan of putting people out of work, and that has to be taken into consideration,” said Jackson, president of Ben’s General Contracting Corp. in Freeport, which is building and remodeling homes in Freeport and Long Beach, areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy. However, Jackson said that roofs, ceilings, drywall, windows, doors, molding and plumbing will still have to be installed by human workers.
Jackson, who called the 3D-printed home “a good end product,” said, “Any time you can make something easier or more efficient, it’s a good thing.”
Finding open or affordable land for that product will be a challenge, especially in Nassau County and western Suffolk. On the East End, Aguiar said there’s “plenty” of industrial and farm land available for new home construction. In addition, she said existing properties could be subdivided.
Andersen said that 3D-printed construction has the potential to change what he called “antiquated construction practices, which are slow, labor-intensive and unsafe.”
“You are talking about the Levittown of the future, a better Levittown,” he said. “If we have the land, we can build it.”
Other 3D-printed homes
Long Island’s 3D-printed home is not the first of its kind.
The COVID epidemic forced AI SpaceFactory, a New York-based architecture and technology company, to postpone construction of its robot-built, egg-shaped house in Garrison, Westchester County, said CEO David Malott.
In an email, Malott said he expects construction to resume next year, using an improved robot that 3D prints with recycled plastic waste instead of concrete.
In the last two years, New Story, a San Francisco, California-based nonprofit focusing on housing, has been partnering with ICON, a construction technologies company in Austin, Texas, to build thousands of 3D-printed houses for families living in extreme poverty in Mexico, Haiti and other developing nations.
Positive and negatives
On the plus side, 3D-printed houses:
- Cost about half the price of a traditional single-family house.
- Can be built in 48 hours or less of printer time.
- Are built by a method of concrete construction that is steady, durable and can withstand hurricane winds
On the minus side:
- There’s a shortage of land on Long Island for new home construction
- Robots might take over some construction jobs.