April Stringfield dreamed for years of owning a home with a yard large enough for her son to romp around with his puppy and play with his friends.
The single mom and hotel housekeeper was the recipient of Habitat for Humanity’s first 3-D-printed home in Williamsburg, Va., last month. She and her son, Azayveon Stringfield, 13, spent their first night in the three-bedroom, two-bath house on Dec. 27.
“It really was the best gift ever to wake up in a house and know that it’s ours,” she said. “I’m really happy that I was finally able to do this for Azayveon.”
The walls of Stringfield’s 1,200-square-foot home were built over 28 hours last August as a tube-shaped printer nozzle traveled along a circuit to lay down 167 one-inch layers of concrete, said Janet V. Green, CEO for Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg.
Habitat for Humanity volunteers then used traditional construction methods to build a roof and complete the interior.
A similar project is now almost finished in Tempe, Ariz., and 3-D homes soon won’t be considered a novelty, Green said.
“This could be a game-changer — it’s another tool in the toolbox of building affordable homes,” she said, noting that homeownership is now out of reach for most Americans.
Home prices swing widely across the country, but the average home in America costs in the range of $316,000, according to Zillow.
Stringfield’s 3-D-printed home cost 15 percent less to build than a home with a wooden frame, added Green, and construction took about three months — a month less to complete than a wooden home.
The average Habitat for Humanity house costs about $110,000 to construct using mostly volunteer labor, she said, adding that they sometimes hire contractors for jobs like installing air conditioning.
Stringfield purchased her home directly from Habitat for Humanity in Williamsburg, so she will send the organization her monthly mortgage payment, Green said.
“Then we will use her payments toward building other Habitat homes locally so that somebody else can benefit,” she said.
Stringfield’s new home was a collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and Alquist 3D — an Iowa-based company.
“Our goal is to help solve the housing crisis in America,” said Alquist 3D founder Zack Mannheimer. “April is the first to move into a home like this, but this is just the beginning. There will be many more.”
Vaughn Poller, neighborhood development administrator for James City County, said the 3-D house came to be because of a focus on housing affordability.
“Ms. Stringfield and her son are getting a gorgeous, safe and affordable home,” he said.
Stringfield said a mortgage would have remained out of her reach without help from the Habitat for Humanity home buyer program.
The organization uses volunteer labor and donated goods and materials to reduce the cost of renovating old homes or building new ones for home buyers who have an income between 45 and 80 percent of their community’s median income, noted Green.
Stringfield also received help in organizing her finances before her application was approved, she said. And she had to complete 300 hours of “sweat equity” by working on her own home and another Habitat for Humanity home before she and her son could move in.
About 30 percent of her income will go toward paying her no-interest Habitat for Humanity mortgage, she said.
“It will be nice not to have to move whenever a landlord raises the rent,” said Stringfield, who has lived in various apartments along the Virginia Peninsula with her son.
“It’s hard to describe what it feels like to finally have a place all our own,” she added. “We’re still settling in, but we feel more secure. It’s a lot different from apartment life — we have a backyard for the first time, and a lot more space.”
Stringfield was immediately intrigued when she was told last year that Habitat for Humanity was planning to build its first 3-D-printed house in Williamsburg.
“They asked if I’d be interested because it would be a concrete home,” she said. “But to me, it seemed like a perfect fit. I grew up in my great-grandmother’s concrete home in Wakefield, Virginia.”
Concrete walls help to keep a house cool in the summer and retain heat in the winter, noted Stringfield.
“I have fond memories of concrete,” she said. “So I decided, ‘Why not give a 3-D-printed home a try?’ ”
She and Azayveon were there for the groundbreaking last July, then watched with excitement as a giant 3-D printer put down its first neat layer of concrete on Aug. 17.
“It was really cool to see the concrete come out of the nozzle,” Stringfield said.
Green was equally fascinated.
“As the concrete came out, it followed a computer-generated design of the home’s shape again and again,” she said. “It even left spaces for the windows and doors. And even when it rained lightly, the 3-D printer worked just fine.”
After the house was painted, Stringfield was presented with a personal 3-D printer so that she can create everything from switch plate covers to doorknobs in the future.
“We haven’t had time to try it yet, but my son is really excited about it,” she said.
She said she wept when she was handed the keys to her new home at a dedication ceremony last month.
“To realize that this isn’t a dream any more is such a relief,” she said. “I have the backyard I always wanted, and now I can teach my son how to mow grass and plant vegetables and flowers. It’s a lesson to him that anything is possible.”
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