Montana becomes first state to give broad approval for 3D printing in construction
MELBOURNE, Fla. and HELENA, Mont — Building code regulators at the state level in Montana made history as the first to approve 3D-printed walls as an equal replacement for walls made with concrete masonry units (CMUs), or a standard cored concrete block.
The approval was granted to Tim Stark, a contractor based in Billings, Montana, after filing documents, specifications and testing reports developed by Apis Cor, the Florida-based construction technology company that holds the Guiness World Record for the largest (volume) 3D-printed building globally.
Apis Cor is the only construction company that has designed 3D-printed walls that comply with international building codes. Their 3D-printed walls and material have been tested by an independent, third-party lab in Boston, Massachusetts, and at the Civil and Environmental Engineering School of the University of Connecticut. The resulting specification was published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
The company has completed multiple pilot homes in the United States and in the United Arab Emirates.
General Contractor Tim Stark sought to get permission to use Apis Cor's 3D-printing process and equipment for a housing development project in Billings and in other areas of Montana, leveraging automation and materials to lower the cost of production. The cost of a finished home printed with an Apis Cor printer can be up to 30% less than traditionally built concrete block or wood-framed houses. In addition to cost reduction, developers who lease Apis Cor's portable, mobile 3D-printing equipment will dramatically increase their speed of production, to boost supply at a faster rate.
While housing prices nationwide have risen dramatically over the past few years, Montana was more affected than most interior states as residents left coastal cities seeking a higher quality of life and affordable living. Statewide, Montana's average home price increase was 23.8% in 2021 compared to the national average of 17.4%, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Billings was in the Top 10 of the WSJ/Realtor.com Emerging Housing Markets Index and has seen a 32% increase in home prices from 2020 as demand outstrips supply.
Housing developers are eager to make up for two decades of underproduction that led to the housing crisis by increasing their output, but in many cases, red tape, excessive fees and exclusionary zoning policies can artificially cap the supply of housing. In the case of Montana, regulators are doing the opposite.
"In so many states, regulations are getting in the way of building more homes," said Tim Stark. "I'm proud of my home state of Montana for being so forward-thinking and leading the way with this approval of 3D printing as a modern construction method on par to CMU block construction, which opens the door instead of closing it."
The approval applies not just to single-family dwellings, like the kind that Stark has planned, but also for all types of construction that must follow the state building code. The code includes requirements for construction and construction materials to be consistent with accepted standards of design, engineering, and fire prevention practices, and to use technology that reduces cost of construction and promotes efficient use of energy use but still complies with health and safety standards.
"The need for safe, quality affordable housing is significant across Montana, and this approval puts Montana at the forefront of innovative housing construction technologies nationwide," said Commissioner of Labor & Industry Laurie Esau. "The Department will continue to work to ensure that our standards and regulations are keeping pace with the innovation taking place in the industry to help facilitate new construction for Montana's workers and families."
"This is exciting news for all home builders and of course the 3D-printed homes industry," said Apis Cor co-founder and CEO Anna Cheniuntai. "Having this clear support from the state of Montana paves the way for faster decisions at the county level, which will make it easier for developers to move forward on their 3D-printed housing projects. While the path is open in all states, Montana is taking a stand in advocating for the smooth approval process, thus opening up massive opportunities for efficiently produced housing."