Your next home could be built by a giant robot
Hugo and Erica Briones, like thousands of other homebuyers in North Texas, are waiting patiently for their new home to be built — but their home is different.
Unlike most of the 48,000-plus new homes that began construction in Dallas-Fort Worth last year, the Briones’ 1,700-squarefoot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house is one of only a few in the region built using a new method of construction, concrete 3D printing.
A handful of builders across Texas, large and small, are using giant automated machines to “print” homes, layer by layer, within weeks if not days. The “3D printers” control nozzles spouting concrete mix based on programmed coordinates, similar to a desktop 3D printer but at a much larger scale. They only require a small crew to operate.
“We decided to look around and compare prices, and we figured out that a conventional house is way more expensive than doing it this way,” Erica said.
Builders and other experts in the local housing market say the technology could help avert labor shortages and supply issues and provide more affordable homes than traditionally built homes.
“In the race to satisfy the demand [for affordable housing], the quality of construction is going down,” said Sebin Joseph, chief technology officer and co-founder of Dallas startup Von Perry, which is printing a home for the Brioneses. “The only way you can remedy that situation is by implementing automatic construction, which is far faster and superior than conventional construction.”
Phil Crone, executive director of the Dallas Builders Association, said he could see 3D-printed homes become a much more substantial part of the market in 15 to 20 years as technology advances and labor issues continue.
“There’s every market incentive in the world for the built environment to find less labor-intensive options that don’t involve just a traditional stick-frame, lumber-centric framing process that we’ve done for hundreds of years,” Crone said. “It’s not surprising to see 3D printing jump into that arena.”
The space is rapidly evolving. In Houston, Germany-based Peri 3D Construction and Houston-based engineering firm Cive are building what is believed to be the country’s first 3D-printed home with two floors, NPR reported.
Still, 3D home printing is far from ready to be deployed at a scale that would rival lumber-built homes. Very few printers are available for builders to use and the process itself has not yet been perfected.
“It’s certainly got a ways to go before it can build at the intricacy needed for most of today’s modern home plans,” Crone said. “I don’t foresee it being the majority of homes anytime soon, but it is definitely a technology to watch.” Cutting costs
The Brioneses sold their house in Plano about two years ago hoping to build a new home for the first time. They already had a spot in mind next to Erica’s parents’ home in the small town of Nevada in Collin County, which they saw as a quieter, calmer place to raise their family.
The family looked around for traditional builders to compare costs, but they found them to be too expensive.
Then, about a year ago, Erica’s brother Gerardo Alvarez, an architectural student at the University of Texas at Arlington, introduced them to a young entrepreneur he works as a designer who had a solution.
Treyvon Perry, 22, had dropped out of UT Arlington at the end of 2021 to focus on Von Perry, a company he started when he was just 17 years old. The company originally centered around designing homes using different types of sustainable materials, but later realized the cost to actually build those homes would be too high.
In 2020, Perry started researching 3D printing and decided to fully adopt the technology to build homes while also exploring the use of sustainable materials in the process.
“When people think of Von Perry, they think of us just as a 3D-printing company,” Perry said. “Well, no, that’s not really our mission. Our goal is to produce sustainable infrastructure and bring it to the mass market at an affordable price.”
The Briones family started talking to Perry about how much more affordable, efficient and resistant to the Texas weather the home would be. For the Brioneses, the 3D-printed home cost about $200,000, while a smaller traditionally built home would have cost more than $300,000. The family also looked at mobile homes, but decided the concrete-printed home would be a much better deal.
Printing kicked off in November. Hugo, a machine operator in McKinney, said he has been telling his coworkers about the home, and that they are already interested in visiting the house and even wanting to submit an application to build their own. The Brioneses’ home will be fully complete in March.
“All the people that I talk to about the home, they like the idea and the price and everything,” he said.