Faculty members at Iowa State University are hoping to find solutions for affordable housing in rural areas of the state with 3D technology.

The ISU College of Design’s 3D Affordable Innovative Technologies Housing Project has received a $1.4 million Strategic Infrastructure Program grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority for research and development that can lead to construction of affordable housing in rural Iowa.

According to a story on the ISU website, the goal of the project is to find faster, cheaper solutions to affordable housing with 3D-printed homes.

The project is in response to high housing demand in rural communities caused by migration out of metro areas, the growing acceptance of remote work, and rising costs of housing in metropolitan communities.

Despite the increased demand, there is a lack of quality, affordable housing in rural communities, the ISU story reports.

“Since about 2008, there has been a shortage in the residential housing market,” said Peter Evans, assistant professor of industrial design. “That’s part of why, for the past couple of years, we have seen a massive surge in pricing and demand for housing. That shortage is something that we have to figure out a way to overcome to be able to attract and support a workforce. If we have any desire to maintain and grow our communities, housing is a large piece of that.”

Evans has been working with Julie Robison, program manager for the Institute for Design Research and Outreach, and Kevin Kane, associate dean for research and outreach in the College of Design. They have been working with IEDA on funding the project for the past two years. When fully funded, the project is proposed to be $2.14 million, including the SIP grant.

According to the ISU story, housing technologies haven’t evolved much in the last century and materials that have been used have shown not to be resilient against extreme weather conditions, such as the 2020 derecho or annual flooding.

The ISU researchers will work with Brunow Contracting on a demonstration build as part of a 40-unit development in Hamburg, in southwest Iowa, in 2022, as part of that community’s recovery from 2019 flooding.

The project will help researchers better understand design, affordability, zoning and building codes.

Evans said the use of advanced 3D technology to print housing can lower construction costs, reduce waste, allow for faster response to natural disasters, and provide affordable, resilient and sustainable housing.

The $1.4 million SIP grant will fund equipment and materials, including a 3D construction printer, 3D concrete construction printing materials and components, on-site robotics, mobile CNC machining, web technologies, and virtual and extended reality.

Future funding will help develop a curriculum to train workers in advanced home construction in partnership with Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge; help conduct research on materials, zoning, building codes and project management; and help engage companies at demonstration sites or through ISU Extension and Outreach.

Luis Rico-Gutierrez, dean of the College of Design, said rural housing issues are central to the university’s priorities as a land-grant institution.

“This funding allows us to address all aspects of the process, from planning to developing new building codes through construction and the impact on the quality of our lives,” he said.

Robison, who will serve as project manager, will also lead the Iowa Affordable Housing Survey to compare costs of the demonstration builds with other housing initiatives.

“Affordable housing is a crucial issue across the state of Iowa — both in rural and urban areas — and this work will aim to help the industry and funders understand how to provide housing in the most affordable and most efficient manner, especially when dealing with disaster recovery,” she said.