Possibility: A solid state, one piece, maintenance free house

Sat, 09/28/2013 - 13:12 -- webmaster

Ever since I read Ayn Rand's novella Anthem, I have been thinking about the house that Prometheus finds. From my memory, it had been abandoned for a few hundred years yet it was still fully functional. Having owned a few houses and lived in more, I have been dreaming and investigating ways to reduce the need for maintenance, with my goal being the creation of a house for myself that needs so little maintenance that hundreds or even thousands of years after I'm gone it can still provide a comfortable home for someone.

Having spent a couple years in Germany, I am familiar with wood houses that have held up for hundreds of years. And while I am certain that they have seen their fair share of maintenance labor, the fact that many of them have lasted for more than 500 years tells me that my goal is attainable.

The last house I owned was pretty good. For example, the siding was nearly maintenance free - only needing to be painted after 15 years. I had also installed a generator that could power most of the house, as long as there was propane in the tank. I dreamed of adding solar panels and batteries to further enhance its ability to stand alone. But for the most part it was a traditional wood framed house, with all the wear, tear, and maintenance needs that go along with that.

But of course we can do better. Modern materials and techniques should allow the creation of buildings designed to last indefinitely. Better still, science fiction has pointed us to one exciting possibility, one we are already somewhat familiar with. I am speaking, of course, of the buildings in the Stargate universe.

In the Stargate stories, it is posited that the pyramids - some of the oldest still standing man-made structures - were actually built by aliens with advanced technology. Constructed from stone yet capable of handling not only space travel but the stress and heat of atmospheric re-entry, these monuments to science have convinced me that buildings can be one-piece and solid state.

Recent advances in existing technology seem to be moving in that direction. A few organizations are working on 3D printing houses. While the current attempts are crude and rough, the two camps (large monolithic printers and swarms of small autonomous print robots) are intriguing. So far though they are still, like most 3D printers, using single materials.

In the not too distant future 3D printers should be capable of using multiple materials. My thinking is that the print head should be capable of properly mixing multiple inputs to create whatever compound is needed at that precise location. Imagine if a silicon emitting print head could generate quartz, glass, sand, aerogel, and various forms of silicone as well as silicon based semiconductors. That would mean that the 3D house printer would be capable of creating not only floors, walls, and ceilings but windows, built-in lighting (LEDs), radiant heating elements, and even touch based controls. Almost the entire house, including many of the usual appliances, can be built as a single solid-state unit. The plumbing could also be built in, as plumbing is really just hollow tubes which would be easy to build in by just leaving blank spaces in the construction.

As well as plumbing, the walls could be built with internal batteries made of the same semiconductors used for the electical circuitry. This would allow a maximum amount of batteries for the house while using virtually no floor space. Even three-prong outlets that work with existing power cords could be part of the built-in printing process. Instead of siding and roofing, the exterior could be printed semiconductor based solar cells.

Very few moving parts would need to be attached in such a building. Door kits would probably be needed, and with special designs they could be more secure than existing door systems while being easily replaceable. Valves and spigots for plumbing would be obvious, as would connections to the outside world such as a cable or phone line. As a backup to the solar cell exterior, you might want a built-in fuel cell generator; in which case you would likely need a port for the tank to pour in more ethanol or whatever fuel your generator uses. You might even want to connect to the power grid. In any case, the few non-integrated parts would likely be easy to attach and remove, making any needed maintenance a snap. And if all the non-integrated parts can themselves be printed on a small 3D printer, then the building can be almost completely self-maintaining.

Imagine you could have such a house on a property of a few acres. Picture a garden growing most of the fruit and vegetables your family would need, plus a section of potatoes to turn into vodka to keep the fuel cell going. Perhaps there's some chickens roaming the property providing eggs and elminating ticks. With a smart permaculture setup there'd be a significantly reduced amount of gardening needed. The walls of the house would be mostly made of a silicon based stone-like material with the surfaces being silicone; no more hurting yourself on corners! The switches and other controls would all be touch based, and display screens could allow detailed information about that room's settings. And I just realized that most of this material would be fire resistant, so a house like this should be much safer from fire as well as things like earthquakes (being a single solid state item). And if the house was built with swarm print robots, it could even be built in a wooded area without needing to chop down a bunch of trees and level the ground - the foundation could be printed to match the existing terrain and the house design could be molded to fit the available space.

These are just the ideas of one person. What can your imagination add to this? How incredible might this become if some really smart entrepreneurs took this idea and ran with it? How cheap (and safe) might modern housing become if smart house printers were mass produced?

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