When it comes to industries, you’d have to place Rehoboth Beach real estate into the “stolid” category. The rules are set and agreed-upon. Everything having to do with real estate is entirely “real”—the opposite of “imaginary.” Certainly not frivolous, fleeting, or mercurial.
Major changes don’t come about often or quickly. It is true that one facet of the way real estate business is conducted has undergone a noticeable change due to the web. But that is actually only a shift in how clients find and qualify properties they might be interested in. They still overwhelmingly rely on real estate professionals to take responsibility for the consequential details of buying and selling.
A new technology suddenly presents the possibility of making a substantial difference when it comes to new homes—one that might come to pass pretty quickly. It promises to shave as much as 30% off the total cost of constructing new Rehoboth Beach homes. If and when that gets real, it’s hard not to envision widespread repercussions .
The technology involved is 3-D printing—up until now, a technology that has been confined to a ‘gee whiz’ futuristic corner of the residential construction industry. But if Texas startup Icon, Inc. is to be believed, by the end of this year, it will be producing printers that can create up to 2,000 square foot bungalows in a matter of days. That’s 80% of today’s average-size home.
Their Vulcan II is a machine that can print concrete walls as wide as 28 feet and 8 ½ feet high—in any number of patterns. An automatic mixer pumps concrete into the printer, which pours it into place (actually, it squeezes it out “like icing on a cake”). Following the programmed blueprint, it leaves precise voids for electrical wiring, plumbing, windows, and doors, all of which are conventionally installed. Material wastage is all but eliminated. Today as much as a third of conventional materials typically end up in the trash.
This might seem more sci-fi than reality, but the photos of the printer in action that accompanied the Wall Street Journal’s writeup make that unlikely. To be sure, technical barriers will have to be overcome before we’re likely to see 3-D printed new homes in Rehoboth Beach—but the effect of a substantial reverse in the skyrocketing costs of new construction could well make affordable housing more than a political rallying cry. HUD secretary Ben Carson calls it “a game changer.”