Homebuilt Makes DIY Homes an Affordable Future: Maker Faire Moment #1

Dennis Michaud founded Homebuilt on four principals: People can and want to do things for themselves and their neighbors; they simply need the means. Doing things for ourselves and our neighbors makes us at once proud and humble, independent and neighborly. Making something of quality that will outlive you by generations is a way we can all have a positive impact on people we’ll never get the chance to meet. And helping others is more important than helping ourselves. To which Not Impossible says, "Amen."
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Dennis Michaud founded Homebuilt on four principals: People can and want to do things for themselves and their neighbors; they simply need the means. Doing things for ourselves and our neighbors makes us at once proud and humble, independent and neighborly. Making something of quality that will outlive you by generations is a way we can all have a positive impact on people we’ll never get the chance to meet. And helping others is more important than helping ourselves. To which Not Impossible says, "Amen."

NIN: Dennis, can you give us some background to you and your new company?

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Dennis Michaud: So, my name is Dennis Michaud. And the company name is Homebuilt, it's a company that I founded. I've been using robotics to make buildings for about 10-12 years now. Most of the work has been geared towards really beautiful design, but affordability hasn't been the focus. So, about six months ago, I founded Homebuilt in order to be laser focused on affordability. So, the goal of Homebuilt is that all of the parts are cut using a robotic fabrication device. It's actually a ShopBot CNC machine.

All of the pieces have connection features such that they snap into place. For example, a stud snaps into the beam above it, all of the pieces are pre-numbered using the ShopBot CNC, and all the holes are pre-drilled. So what that allows is for a family to put a home together themselves or a group like Habitat for Humanity, which is one of my partners, to build them for families in need throughout the country.

What was the catalyst that made you start thinking about transitioning from these kind of artistically inclined or design inclined structures to, uh, being a more inclusive project?

OK. Well, affordability has always been my goal but it's been something difficult to achieve. It's particularly difficult to achieve because the logistics of having something get built by a professional can be very expensive. So, a lot of what I was doing in previous ventures is completing the manufacturing in a factory.  I then realized that same kind of efficiency of manufacturing in a factory can actually be moved to the site and can include non-professionals, because  factory production is a lot about standardized labor; it's a lot about non-specialized labor.

Yeah. And what was the first time you used it to actually build a home for someone who couldn't otherwise afford it?

OK, so in this case, so the company's very new. So, we've been starting small, like five hundred square feet Is the largest we've done so far and we built one in Massachusetts a few weeks ago for a family. And that was the first time the build was geared towards a particular family that had bought it for affordability.

What was their reaction to the process and the result?

Well, the greatest thing is that it was actually Habitat [for Humanity] that was building it. And the goal wasn't to have the homeowners (or, the people who would be using the house) actually build it, but they came out and they really wanted to help.

And, by the end of it, they were doing the majority of the work. Which is really cool because there's different kinds of ownership. There's ownership, like, "I've bought the house but I have a mortgage that I'm paying for forty years." There's ownership like, "I bought the house and I paid off the mortgage." And there's ownership like, "I own this and I made it." And that kind of ownership, for me, goes well beyond anything financial, it's a kind of empowerment that people can make their own houses and take care of themselves if the technology is used to allow them to do it.

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Seeing that come to fruition for that family on that occasion, how'd that make you feel?

Oh, it's awesome. I mean, honestly, anytime you're building a building or building a house for someone, it's amazing.

No matter what their situation, the more that you can be helpful, the more that they feel as though you've provided something that would be very difficult for them to have otherwise, the better.

There seems to be a lot of small home solutions finding favor at the moment. It almost feels like a movement – whether it's shipping containers or 3D fabrication or prefabbed houses. How real do you think the application of “small” is gonna be in the next ten years?

I personally think it's a very real thing. I think that, historically, for the past twenty years in America, it's been sort of a bubble of housing sizes. The average size home in America in the fifties was a thousand square feet or less. And it was very common for people to be more around the eight hundred square foot area. Right now, the average is, like, two thousand something square feet and, you know, that's weird. It's not weird in the context of history, it's weird in the context of the world. We have the biggest homes of anyone. And the reason is because it's kind of a push market - developers make homes that are two thousand, three thousand square feet, and that's all you can buy because that's what's there.

And banks have been willing to lend money to people on the false assumption that values will go up. They would prefer to lend $500,000 than $200,000 because it's more interest. Well, now the reality is setting in that a home is a home, it's not an investment, it's a home. And, maybe, if a $100,000 home is the right thing for a family, that's what they should have. You're going to start to see alternatives to an industry that was based on "bigger makes more money."

Awesome. And if there was another issue going on globally, locally, or personally, perhaps, whether it's curing cancer, or solving the climate crisis, or whatever it is that is considered to be impossible that you could tackle, what would it be?

Oh. Wow. I have to pick one issue?

(Laughs) Yeah. What would be that core issue, that, that maybe you think about more often than others?

Um, economical equality and what the ramifications are of societies that are so successful but are so incredibly stratified economically or polarized economically. 

In the United States we have, in my opinion, two countries. Other places have that, too, where there's, you know, the very wealthy and then there's the majority of people. And I think that's very dangerous for a country politically, and it's not good for a democracy; I mean, it's not democracy at that point.

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How did Habitat for Humanity become a partner in this?

So, Habitat is the builder of affordable housing, right? It was such an obvious thing for me that it would be amazing for them to be involved. From their point of view, they're doing this every day, they're working with volunteers, people of various skill levels, building homes for people in need. 

To use technology to  make that process faster and more efficient, to greater empower the volunteers themselves to be able to do all aspects of the build, is something that's really exciting both for the future homeowners and for the volunteers themselves.

Very cool. Thanks, mate. Appreciate that.