PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The future of home building is coming to Oregon, but it’s not coming to Portland, Eugene, Salem, Bend or any other large metropolitan area. It’s coming to John Day.
The small city, located in Eastern Oregon, has had a declining population for 30 years, but City Manager Nick Green is determined to make improvements. He wants to create business opportunities and he wants an adequate housing supply for his residents.
The city usually only sees three to four new homes built in a year. Using 3D-printed home technology, Green hopes to build 100 in the next five years.
“Are we crazy? We are,” he said. “We’ve got to be bold, and we’ve got to recognize that solving this problem is going to mean vision and a lot of work. So we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and do the work.”
To accomplish his vision, Green has enlisted the help of Zachary Mannheimer, founder and CEO of the Iowa-based company Alquist 3D. Mannheimer and his business made headlines in December when they finished constructing the first fully-3D-printed house in the U.S. The house was constructed in Virginia as a Habitat for Humanity project.
Mannheimer said he’d been working with Green previously through his other business, Atlas Community Studios, which does community revitalization and workforce development in rural communities. When Green told Mannheimer his goal to increase available housing, Mannheimer suggested bringing the 3D printing tools to Oregon.
He said he was talking about building homes in Oregon long before the Habitat for Humanity home was finished in Virginia.
John Day isn’t the only Eastern Oregon city looking to build 100 homes in the next five years. Burns and Lakeview want to each build 100 homes and also hope to implement 3D printing technology.
According to Business Oregon’s annual report on distressed areas in the state, Grant County has the worst distressed index rating among all counties in 2021. The number is determined by the following factors: per capita personal income, unemployment rate, payroll change and employment change.
Since John Day provides 50% of the employment opportunities within Grant County, Green said this indicates the dire socioeconomic situations his residents are in and how necessary affordable housing is.
Mannheimer said a 3D-printed, 1,500-square-foot home costs about 10-15% less to build than a stick-built home and he expects that within the next two years, that savings will increase to 20-25%. This means the cost savings can trickle down to residents.
“Fair market rent for us is about $700 a month. And to achieve that target, we’ve got to get really efficient in how we build these things, and very cost-effective,” Green said.
The first 3D housing development coming to John Day will be The Ridge, a neighborhood dedicated to providing housing to veterans. Green and Mannheimer said there will be 12 units available and they believe the homes they build will be duplexes.
Green said the land in John Day is shovel-ready and construction should begin in late spring 2022. He said they still need to obtain permits to build the first 3D homes in Oregon but doesn’t expect any objections, especially since homes like this have already been built in Virginia.
Manheimer said as long as everything goes to plan, his team should have 10-12 homes completed in John Day by the end of 2022.
3D-printed homes use a special printer to squeeze layer upon layer of concrete through a nozzle until it forms walls and a roof. Green said using this technology addresses another issue in John Day – a limited labor pool.
The printer only takes two to four people to operate, Mannheimer said. His company is working to establish certification programs to teach people how to use the equipment near any location where they plan to build. Green said they are working closely with Eastern Oregon University and the Rural Engagement & Vitality Center to discuss training opportunities. He also sees it as something local high school students could get involved with.
“So if we can get this program up and running, and we can create a workforce, we hope that this can become an industry for that part of Oregon over the next few years,” Mannheimer said.
Mannheimer said 3D-printed homes can last 175 years. They’re fire-resistant, likely tornado resistant and they’re currently being tested to see if they’re earthquake resistant.
He said he knows concrete isn’t the most environmentally-friendly building material, but he’s working with a group in Colorado that’s in the process of developing something called hempcrete. He said it would sequester carbon throughout the life of the home and he hopes Alquist 3D can start using it by 2023.
Green said the city has the financial resources to complete the first phase of 3D home construction. He’s already received some grant funding and the city has applied for more. He said building more housing is the number one goal for the cities of John Day, Burns and Lakeview, and he plans to see it through.
“This is really what we see as a public issue, the need for housing, and so we want to make it a community challenge throughout our region to try and solve,” Green said.