Warning 3D printed homes could fix housing crisis but devastate construction industry

A Kiwi tech expert says 3D printed homes could help to solve New Zealand's housing crisis but warns hundreds of jobs could be lost in the process.

Rush Digital Founder Danu Abeysuriya spoke to The AM Show on Monday about how the technology is being used in other countries.

"Right now throughput is a problem with Kiwibuild and they have a similar problem all around the world. California has one of the biggest problems with housing - they need about 2 million houses... Auckland's bad but that's really bad," he said.

In March, Californian companies Mighty Buildings and Palari announced plans to transform five-acres of land in the city Rancho Mirage into a planned community of 15 3D-printed, eco-friendly homes.

"The technology has been around for ages," Abeysuriya said. "The first patent for a 3D printer was in the 70s, but what this company has done is taken a new approach to it. They've said - 'we are trying to build houses using building techniques which are 200-300 years old. We actually have the technology lying around here and all we need to do is put some focus into it.'"

Mighty Buildings have created 3D printers the size of small garages which they claim can build entire wings of houses in 24 hours, the Guardian reported.

Abeysuriya said California has progressive rules around new technology and they have developed a standard for 3D homes, which Mighty Buildings have taken into its design to make sure it can sustain harsh weather conditions, fires and earthquakes.

The AM Show host Duncan Garner said the technology could be a great way to combat New Zealand's housing shortage, but sports presenter Mark Richardson was concerned it could significantly hurt the construction industry and could "cock things up" in regards to investments in housing.

"I agree," Abeysuriya said. "There's a reason it's called disruptive technology. The reality is - if we do things the same way that we are doing them right now, we are never going to fulfil that backlog."

As well as the speed of the development of 3D houses, they also cost significantly less.

CNN reported the three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes to be built in California, which come with a deck and a swimming pool, will have a starting price of US$595,000 (NZ$832,000). 

However, the average owner-occupied home value in Rancho Mirage is US$825,738 (NZ$1,155,695), according to the city's website, CNN reported.

The 3D home buyers will also be able to add a smaller, two-bedroom, one-bath secondary residence to their property for another US$255,000 (NZ$356,000).

Abeysuriya said the prices are low because the owners don't have to pay for labour to build the homes.

Mighty Buildings told the Guardian up to 80 percent of the construction can be automated, with 95 percent fewer labour hours and 10 times less waste than conventional construction.