I know, I know, I know!!! Tesla needs to finish the Gigafactory and ramp up Model 3 production. Then, Tesla has to start production of Model Y, the Tesla Semi, and a Tesla pickup. However, my ADD mind cannot stop thinking about Tesla homes (and commercial buildings), and I just got a flicker of hope that this may come true!!!
For a long time, I have thought that Tesla will eventually have to start building state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly buildings for the simple reason that no one else has begun to do so at significant scale. I have been seeing 3D-printed homes for years along with all kinds of other sustainable building methods. Nevertheless, I am not sure where to find a builder let alone buy one already built. Eventually, I think building homes will be an itch that Tesla cannot help having to scratch.
Perhaps I am wrong and it would be one too many projects to start. However, let’s explore how it could easily fit into a Tesla Master Plan Part 3 (maybe a decade from now).
To begin, what finally gives me the hope that Tesla will eventually build homes has been recents reports that The Boring Company, founded by Elon Musk, will begin selling earthen, lego-like building blocks. These bricks will be manufactured from the leftover earth created by boring tunnels. Earth is an excellent insulator, and when constructed properly, earthen homes can last hundreds of years if not over a thousand.
About a decade ago, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to travel to Rome to see the Coliseum, the Vatican, and the Sistine Chapel. However, my most memorable experience was seeing the Pantheon. The Pantheon was built of ancient concrete and brick. It has been standing for over 2000 years. The building has a domed roof with a diameter of a breathtaking 43 meters. Many western countries have stopped building with earth and a renaissance is long, long overdue.
After the trip, I felt inspired and took a one week course in building superadobe homes at CalEarth (calearth.org) in the high desert of Southern California. It had been on my bucket list for a few years. The first SuperAbode prototypes were built close to the San Andreas fault in a county with stringent building codes. Nader Khalili, the designer, wanted to prove to the world how safe it was to build with earth. He often quote Rumi, saying, “Earth turns to gold in hands of the wise.”
The simplest way I can describe SuperAbode is building igloos with sandbags. Well, you actually use sandbag tubes. They come in rolls hundreds of feet long. Inside the bags, you put in moist earth mixed with 5–10% cement, or even better, lime. The lime is
fairly close to being carbon neutral. The bag is then compacted and the structure is built up layer by layer with barbed wire in between layers to provide tension (earthquake resistance).
These structures, if maintained (water proofed), can last well beyond 500 years. The material cost to build them is ridiculously cheap, but the process is labor intensive. Thus, they are best suited for developing countries. They have been built all over the world but not to any significant scale. Without going too much more into detail, let me explain why I have brought up this experience. It has been almost 10 years since I took the apprenticeship course, and I have not seen a major development even though the option is making progress.
I never thought this type of building would go mainstream, but I felt it would progress more than it has. I myself gave up on the idea of building one, because my back gave out unrelated to my earth building hobbies. I also like adobe homes, strawbale homes,
cob homes, earthship homes, compressed earth block, and a few others. However, none of these buildings have seen significant growth — at least, in western countries.
Building codes are just so restrictive. The industry really has a stranglehold on building departments. Also, there are some valid safety concerns. These homes require specific maintenance, and quality control is another concern.
Disrupting the construction industry is going to be extremely difficult. It may be even more difficult than disrupting the automobile industry. I think it is going to take a brand as powerful as Tesla to do it.
Currently, Tesla offers two car models, an SUV, a solar panel system, battery storage, a solar roof that is guaranteed to last longer than your home. Tesla is involved in building microgrid communities in Australia. You can even buy a SpaceX flamethrower to protect all your Tesla products. So, isn’t the next simple progression that you be able to buy or rent a Tesla home or condo?
[Editor’s note: I actually wrote an article about new #TeslaCities for April 1 last year and it absolutely blew up, becoming one of our top articles in history. I thought it was clearly an April 1 joke, but it apparently stoked people’s imagination enough that it went viral. Additionally, I’ll say that I do think Tesla should go that route and has tremendous potential in that arena. I’ve also spoken with a top sustainable community developer and he said the same — unsolicited by me.]
To me, it is clear as day that Tesla will find some way to enter the construction industry. There is just too much room for disruption in this industry. In particular, most homes currently built only last around a century, maybe two at the most.
Elon Musk always talks about doing a first principles analysis. It is clear we cannot hope to create a sustainable civilization while continuing to build large, unsustainable homes that last roughly a century. Additionally, there is a huge built-up demand for smaller homes. Currently, home builders can only make substantial profits when they build large two-story homes because infrastructure costs are so high.
If you tour any new home tract, you will be hard pressed to find more than a handful of starter homes. It seems evident to me the only reason they build a few starter homes is so they can put a lower sticker price on their signs and websites in order to draw more traffic to their larger model homes.
Within the environmental community, there is a recognition that consuming as little as possible is the best way forward. Having a smaller home is not only about the home’s environmental footprint; it is about consuming less and having a simpler life. Having a smaller home means having to work fewer years, leaving time for a variety of avocations.
There has to be some middle path between tiny homes and giant suburban homes with closets and bathrooms the same size as my childhood bedroom. I just do not think homebuilders can see this new paradigm developing. In fact, they will fight tooth and nail to stop it. We need a company like Tesla to force them on this path.
Notably, standing in that way of smaller homes is often a human’s desire to “Keep up with the Joneses.” This is where the Tesla brand would be invaluable. Though this would not be the only path forward, I imagine smaller homes built with more glass to make them feel bigger. Additionally, technology can make the home more prestigious. Top it all off with a higher resale value because the home will last centuries.
Smaller, more well designed homes with integrated technology can quickly become all the new rage. Imagine going online to the Tesla website for a one-stop shop experience. Transportation, energy, and shelter (maybe even a rain catchment system and robot-tended permaculture garden, but I won’t digress on these points for now).
Another key reason why Tesla should enter the construction business: In 2016, US new automobile value was about $621 billion, while US construction value was $899 billion (residential and non-residential).
If I am wrong and this is a distraction that Tesla cannot afford, maybe Tesla could at least write another white paper and kick off sustainable building like it did the hyperloop. We certainly need homes and buildings worthy of Tesla Solar Roofs.
I would love to hear your thoughts and desires about living in a sustainable home. Please share any interesting links in the comment section. Also, soon I will be writing an article about my experience residing in two intentional living communities which focused on sustainable living.
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