Construction technologies startup ICON and housing nonprofit New Story unveiled their version of a 3D printed house earlier this month at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
The 650-square-foot model is a one-bedroom, one-bath with a living room, kitchen, and shaded porch. Completed from start to finish in under 24 hours, it cost less than $10,000. Equivalent homes built in developing countries will reportedly cost about $4,000 each.
This isn’t the first 3D printed house to spring up, but it’s the first permitted 3D printed home to go up in the US. Structures have been created with similar technology in Russia, Dubai, Amsterdam, and elsewhere. ICON’s crane-like printer is called the Vulcan, and it pours a concrete mix into a software-dictated pattern; instead of one wall going up at a time, one layer is put down at a time, the whole structure “growing” from the ground up. The printer consists of an axis set on a track, giving it a flexible and theoretically unlimited print area (see photo).
“With 3D printing, you not only have a continuous thermal envelope, high thermal mass, and near zero-waste, but you also have speed, a much broader design palette, next-level resiliency, and the possibility of a quantum leap in affordability,” said Jason Ballard, ICON’s co-founder. “This isn’t 10% better, it’s 10 times better.”
The house has a greater purpose than just wowing techies, though. ICON and New Story’s vision is that 3D printed houses would act as a safe, affordable housing alternative for people in need. New Story has already built over 800 homes in Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Mexico, partnering with the communities they serve to hire local labor and purchase local materials rather than shipping everything in from abroad.
New Story is in the process of raising $600,000 to fund a planned 100-home community in El Salvador. It will be the first-ever community of 3D printed homes. Printing will begin later this year, and the goal is for families to be moving in by the third quarter of 2019.
While 650 square feet may not sound like much space for more than one to two people, but it’s a huge step up from the lean-tos and shacks that make up the slums where millions of people live. ICON and New Story hope the Salvadorian community will serve as a scalable model that can be exported to developing countries around the world, providing a quality housing option for people who lack one.
“Instead of waiting for profit motivation to bring construction advances to the global south, we are fast-tracking innovations like 3D home printing that can be a powerful tool toward ending homelessness,” said Alexandria Lafci, COO of New Story.
The homes are built to the International Building Code structural standard and are expected to last as long or longer than standard concrete masonry unit homes. However, there are some limitations before considering them a solution to global housing shortages.
The biggest need for affordable, safe housing in the developing world is in or near big cities. Building homes in these locations with printed houses may prove difficult simply due to space constraints. 3D printed communities are far more practical in rural areas where there’s less population density, and may not be a truly scalable solution in urban areas until the communities get vertical. 3D printed high-rises are already in the works, though not yet for the purpose of affordable housing.
“People have been making homes the same way for the last 50 years,” New Story CEO Brett Hagler told Inman in an interview. “The only way to make a larger dent is by ushering in new technology to expedite time, decrease cost and improve the quality of the homes at the same time.”
Ballard co-founded ICON with Evan Loomis and Alex Le Roux. Before that, Ballard co-founded the home construction and design startup TreeHouse where he still works, while Loomis runs the venture firm Saturn Five. Le Roux, who has a technical background, works for ICON full-time. The company is getting support from University of Texas regarding developing materials and from Pump Studios, a product development engineering consulting firm in Austin.
A few other companies are working on similar technology. USC developed 3-D printing for buildings, a Russian company called Apis Cor is working on similar technology and the Chinese company Winsun has 3-D-printed homes.