British Columbia

Merritt, B.C., aims to 3D-print homes to replace those damaged by flooding

The City of Merritt is considering an unconventional solution to replace some of the homes that were lost in last November's floods: 3D printing.

City teaming up with UBC Okanagan in project to create 640-sq. ft. homes that can be built in around 48 hours

A rendering shows what the proposed 3D-printed homes in Merritt would look like. (Submitted/Twente Additive Manufacturing)

The City of Merritt is considering an unconventional solution to replace some of the homes that were lost in last November's floods: 3D printing.

More than 400 homes and three schools were damaged in the southern B.C. Interior city due to catastrophic flooding, which forced the entire community to be evacuated.

The city estimates that 600 people are still out of their homes

Now it is looking at options that could help replace some of those homes as soon as possible.

"Nothing was off the table when we started exploring how we could get housing back in Merritt," said Andrew Nielsen, the city's housing manager.

He said they considered many types of modular builds, including storage containers, tiny homes and foldable homes, before homing in on 3D-printed homes.

Nielsen said the advantage of 3D printing is that, compared to traditional construction, there isn't as much need to hire tradesmen and supplies, which can be difficult to get in Merritt.

Andrew Nielsen stands in front of the proposed site for the 3D printed houses. (Submitted/ Andrew Nielsen)

48-hour build time

The homes are created using an oversized printer that sits on the back of a trailer. Instead of using a plastic to print, it uses a mortar composite that hardens into a concrete structure. 

The homes are permanent, so they are printed directly onto a foundation. Openings are cut out of the concrete for the windows and doors. A conventional roof is installed afterwards.

The city is eyeing a model that would print a 640-square foot home in around 48 hours.

It's identified a location for the new homes beside the public works yard on Quilchena Avenue, near one of the areas worst affected by the flooding.

WATCH | The City of Merritt's promotional video about 3D-printed homes:

However, the city does need to raise more money before these homes become a reality.

The printer it's hoping to use sells for a minimum of $450,000, depending on the size of the home to be built.

The city has teamed up with the University of B.C.'s Okanagan campus (UBCO) in an effort to split costs.

Nielsen said the university has already put in a grant to look at 3D-printed buildings with the aim of getting a printer installed in a new building in the Okanagan. 

An illustration of the mobile 3D printer used for home building. (Submitted/Twente Additive Manufacturing Inc.)

Both the city and the university are still applying for grants and hoping for community donations through events like Hell or High Water.

"We're very optimistic at this point," said Nielsen.

Field research in Merritt would look at greener approaches to building this style of home. 

These would include looking at reducing the amount of concrete used by adding rocks or another kind of additive and making the homes more energy efficient, said Shahria Alam, a UBCO professor in the school of engineering who is working with the city.

"As researchers, we have some form of obligation — like, whatever we are doing, we are benefiting others," Alam said.

"As soon as Merritt get something to secure the printer, we will start working with them rather than waiting for those funds to be approved," he said.

Nielsen says the city hopes to start printing some test homes this summer.

The 3D printed structures are created by layering mortar composite repeatedly, building up the height of the wall. (Submitted/Twente Additive Manufacturing)

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