In November, the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center 3D-printed a bio-based tiny home.
The modular and prefab one-bedroom house was printed using recyclable pellets.
I toured the unit and was surprised to see it looked like any traditionally built home.
One overcast April afternoon, I traveled from New York to Bangor, Maine to visit one of the quiet college city's newest tiny homes, the BioHome3D.
Hoping on a nearly two-hour flight just to tour a 600-square-foot home may be unreasonable, but this isn't any typical unit.
The home was created by the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC).
And its floor, ceiling, and walls were 3D-printed using durable bio-based recyclable materials.
Much to my surprise, this sustainable home didn't look like a futuristic attempt at housing.
Instead, it was cozy, traditional, and a sign that a shift towards 3D printed homebuilding doesn't have to clash with our understanding of what houses should look like.
The last complete 3D-printed home I stayed in was Icon's 2,000-square-foot luxury home, House Zero.
When I visited in early 2022, I was astounded by what a 3D printer could accomplish.
The home's curved walls — with a layered look and a trendy concrete aesthetic — were one of the most unique architectural features I had ever seen.
And it set the bar high for future 3D-printed home viewings. Luckily, the University of Maine's new tiny home didn't let me down.
It was no House Zero: The BioHome3D doesn't serve as a designer show home.
Instead, it's a prototype for ASCC, a project that allowed the center to test its proprietary printing material, the printer, and printing techniques.
The home was unveiled in November 2022.
And the sensor-lined unit is still undergoing testing to see what should be changed in future printing projects.
As is the printing material: ASCC is now testing the material's ability to be recycled five times over.
Environmentally conscious alternatives don't always have the best reputation for durability (I'm thinking of paper straws that disintegrate before you start drinking).
But so far, this project has been a success. The home successfully survived Maine's snowy, rainy, frigid, and windy winters.
And unlike House Zero, it isn't lined with concrete walls.
Instead, it was printed using pellets made of wood waste and a plastic binder, creating a fully recyclable printing material and subsequently, home.
When a spokesperson for ASCC showed me the pellets, they looked akin to bird food.
ASCC's printer — the world's largest polymer printer — then uses these pellets as ink, creating what could be one of the most environmentally friendly homes I've ever been in.
"Our number one priority is to alleviate the societal problems [like housing and sustainable construction] we are facing right now," Habib Dagher, the founding executive director of the center and principal investigator of this project, told me when I visited.
"There's an opportunity here to harness these biomaterials and help solve these problems," he said.
When I picture a 600-square-foot abode, I think of a "large" New York City apartment.
But when I first walked into BioHome3D, the tiny home felt larger than I expected.
The home had three separate rooms: a bathroom, bedroom, and open-concept living room and kitchen. All three rooms had plenty of windows, opening up the interior.
The bedroom felt surprisingly spacious.
There was plenty of room to maneuver around the bed, storage (including built-in closets), and a desk under the air conditioning unit.
With the right furniture, it looked like a typical trendy California bedroom complete with art on the walls and a faux plant on the dresser.
The walls were also printed at an angle, creating a slanted pattern that curved seamlessly into the ceiling.
It was the first time I had ever seen a 3D-printed ceiling in person. Most companies only print the walls on-site.
But ASCC printed the walls, ceiling, and floor inside its manufacturing site just a stone's throw from this home.
And it was all built in a modular prefab style.
Instead of printing and moving a full home, ASCC printed four insulated and pre-wired 200-square-foot modules.
These modules were then transported to the final site on a flatbed truck and installed onto a concrete foundation, a half-day task.
And after an electrician connected the home in two hours, the BioHome3D was ready to go in under a day.
However, it's not connected to plumbing, the center told Insider in January.
Looking at the home, it's nearly impossible to tell that it was built in four modules. All of the rooms flowed seamlessly together.
And besides the walls that curved into the ceiling and the unique layered texture, this bedroom looked like any typical room.
Onto the next room. The bathroom had all of the typical amenities finished with modern matte black detailing reminiscent of the farmhouse aesthetic.
The living room and kitchen across the way were similarly finished.
The stainless steel appliances, clean white cabinets with black matte finishes, and open shelves made for a kitchen that looked like ones I've seen inside traditionally built homes.
And the attached breakfast bar added some much-needed counter space.
The dining table, TV, and leisure seating area were across from the kitchen and comfortably spaced apart from the rest of the room.
Like the bedroom, the biggest focal point of this space was the large wall that curved into the ceiling.
But unlike the previous room, this layered wall looked more parallel, the result of a different printing technique.
Besides the unique wall, the living room looked average and livable.
Overall, the home wasn't trying to be excessively flashy.
Instead, it looked like any typical appropriately furnished home. Nothing was ostentatious.
While it wasn't as showy as Icon's House Zero (there was no designer soap in the BioHome 3D), the University of Maine's ASCC has proved that 3D-printed homes can be just as livable as a traditionally built home.
The texture of the layered walls, the primary indication of the construction tech, was subtle while still being visually enticing.
Unlike other 3D-printed homes with cold concrete walls, the walls and ceiling of this tiny home were a familiar warm wood-toned brown.
It looked more like a stack of ropes. And with help from the natural light, these brown walls didn't feel suffocating and stuffy.
"[It's not] just the engineering of the home but the livability aspects," Dagher said, adding that visitors have "loved" features like the curve of the walls.
"Those kinds of livability and ergonomic aspects of the house are very interesting to us and we now have the tools to do it cost-effectively," he said.
The walls weren't perfectly smoothed — I still noticed a few bumps. But it wasn't a cause of concern for me.
This is ASCC's first home, after all. And it won't be its last.
Next year, it'll break ground on an extension of its current manufacturing site.
When complete, its first project will be a planet-friendly neighborhood of nine homes.
And if these future homes look anything like this BioHome3D, future residents can expect a traditional home with a unique backstory and a promising future.
Read the original article on Business Insider