As we approach a new decade, one which finally has a distinctive name (bring on the 20’s!), it is appropriate to look toward developing technologies promising major improvements in home construction. While some of these technologies have been buzzwords for several years, they have made great strides in recent months. Others within have resulted from fascinating new innovations in material or manufacturing science. I find them all interesting and look forward to watching their development and positive impact on sustainability, affordability, and lifestyle in the 2020s.
The brilliant concept of computer guided additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has struggled to scale in the housing industry as quickly as many hoped. Nevertheless, a few US companies have progressed toward a 3D printed home reality just in the last year, while others work toward 3D printed design elements. In July 2019, S-Squared printed a 500 sq. ft. home from concrete in Patchogue, NY in less than 12 hours for around $2,000 for the structure. The company has since announced plans to build hundreds of affordable housing units. A Dutch company called Aectual is printing completely custom flooring designs, façade panels, built-in furniture, and textural wall panels. I believe the next decade will see enormous opportunity for 3D printed designs for everything from floor/wall/ceiling panels, to custom light fixtures and trim details.
Thermo-responsive Hydrogel roofing and cladding materials are the most interesting building science products I’ve read about of late. Hydrogel refers to a material that osmotically absorbs water and swells with moisture due to its hydrophilic internal structure. Several companies are exploring thermo-responsive hydrogel coatings on roofing and cladding materials that absorb water when it rains, and “sweat” it out when exposed to hot temperatures. As the perspired water evaporates off the surface, it effectively cools the building with no energy expense. Hydrogels can be naturally derived from cellulose or created with synthetics to achieve desired results. Preliminary studies show that hydrogels can reduce building surface temperatures for up to 3 hours during peak daytime heat.
Carbon Fiber Reinforced Concrete (CFRC) is not a new development, but it’s usage could gain traction in coming years, greatly expanding architectural possibilities due to its strength and reduced weight. Concrete is a hard material that can withstand enormous pressure yet requires reinforcement to achieve flexibility under tension. For over a century steel has been the reinforcement material of choice, even though it’s extremely heavy and corrodes over time. Enter carbon fiber, a lightweight material that is strong, noncorrosive, and less taxing on the environment to produce and transport. Although it’s currently prohibitively expensive (as with many disruptive products) costs will decrease as competition enters the market and the benefits of lighter, stronger, and more durable concrete are realized. CFRC is more commonly used in Europe than North America but could increasingly make its way across the pond.
Bost Custom Homes has a proven history of utilizing innovative building products and techniques. From designing and installing rainwater harvesting and reuse systems, masonry framing, whole home automation systems, to state of the art music studios with acoustical wall and ceiling panels, we have and continue to pursue innovation in residential construction excellence. We are prepared and excited to advise on and deliver innovative products and techniques for our clients.