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3D-Printed homes: How 3D printers are building affordable housing

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3D-printed homes are revolutionizing the construction industry by making home builds faster, cheaper and more sustainable. In less than 24 hours, 3D printers can print the foundation and walls for a small home at a fraction of the cost of typical construction. 

This cutting edge construction technology could revolutionize the idea of a home for many. 3D-printed homes have the potential to reduce homelessness and make the dream of becoming a homeowner more accessible to all. 

Read on to discover how 3D-printed homes are built and their benefits, as well as learn about some 3D-printed home feats around the world (and the galaxy!) You can also jump to our infographic to learn how construction 3D-printers work. 

How 3D-printed homes are built

While it may seem far-fetched to squeeze a home out through a printer, 3D-printing technology has made it possible. Below we explain how the process works, from the blueprint to the finishing touches.

1. Create a blueprint

As with traditionally built houses, the first step in the 3D-home building process involves creating a blueprint. The house blueprint is designed through a modeling software program, where it can be easily customized to meet the homeowner’s needs.

2. Send design to printer

Once the blueprint is approved, the home builder sends the design to the 3D printer. This step in the process is known as preparation. Once the printer has processed the digital file, it’s time to prepare the build platform and fill the raw materials to get the project ready for execution.

3. Print materials layer by layer

Before printing begins, rails are installed around the building site to direct the robotic arm where to lay the paste-like build mixture–concrete is the most popular material used in 3D construction today. Once you press “print,” the printer works automatically to begin building.

3D printers use additive manufacturing to print materials layer by layer. Material extrusion is the process where the printing material is heated and then squeezed out through the nozzle. A concrete dryer allows for the building material to solidify quickly, and then another layer is added.

4. Install additional construction

Today, the printing process described above only takes care of the home’s foundation and walls. Additional construction and human labor are still needed to finish the project.

Once the home has been printed and post-processing steps such as removing rails from the job site are completed, it’s time to add additional home features. Workers come to the construction site to install other pieces such as windows, doors, plumbing and electrical wiring to finish the project.

Benefits of 3D-printed homes

3D-printed construction may be a recent fad but it has tons of benefits that could solve home affordability around the world for years to come.

Here are some of the main benefits of 3D home construction:

  • Speed: Often, it doesn’t even take 24 hours to build a small 3D-printed home, although this build-out is typically done in waves rather than all at once. 
  • Cost: 3D-printed homes are surprisingly cheap to create, running around $10,000 on average today. 3D-printed home leader ICON hopes these homes are even more affordable in the future, with a projected goal of reducing builds down to $4,000. Once plumbing, electrical and other additional construction is added, the final housing cost is around $140,000 to $160,000 on average today. 
  • Versatility: Rather than having to enlist the help of an architect, homebuyers can use 3D technology to customize their home shape and build in the blueprint phase without a hefty price tag. 
  • Sustainability: 3D-home construction boasts a shorter supply chain and less waste due to over-engineering. This reduction in process and waste makes 3D-printed homes more eco-friendly.  

3D-printed homes could help reduce homelessness


Because of the cheap costs and scalability of 3D-printed homes, nonprofit organizations and other companies are teaming up to address homelessness in low-income communities with this new technology.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has toured Texas startup ICON’s facilities to determine whether these homes are a viable option for housing affordability in low-income communities across the country.

3D-printed home feats around the world

The buzz around 3D-printed homes has been growing over the last three years, as more and more countries embrace the technology.

The first fully 3D-printed home in the U.S. was unveiled at Austin’s South by Southwest conference in 2018. The 650 square-foot home made of concrete was printed onsite, and cost approximately $10,000 to build.

Since then, a 3D-printed neighborhood construction project has been underway in Southern Mexico to bring 50 homes to a poverty-stricken area that is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding. The idea is that the 3D-printed structures will help the community withstand the extreme weather conditions.

Dubai is currently home to the world’s largest 3D-printed building, a two-story office space that is 31 feet tall and 6,900 square feet. Dubai is also striving to have 25% of its new buildings constructed through 3D printing by 2030.

NASA hopes to bring 3D printed colonies to space

Earth isn’t the only planet in the solar system that may benefit from 3D technology. NASA, through its 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, accepted commissions for colony designs in a competition that wrapped in 2019. The idea is that one day, these colony designs could be printed on the moon or Mars.

While the idea of 3D printed homes may seem out of this world, this construction process is already revolutionizing the idea of home for many. Low costs make the dream of owning a home in reach for many, as cheaper builds allow them to use additional cash for other housing costs such as homeowners insurance, utilities and furniture.

To learn more about how 3D-printed homes are built and how they are making homeownership more accessible, check out our visual below!

Infographic

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