A 3D PRINTED HOUSE
Could your next home be a 3D printed house? Well, in the not-so-distant past, that concept would have been just that, a concept. However, today 3D printed houses are cropping up globally, and some may be in your own back yard.
WHAT IS 3D PRINTING?
And if you haven’t seen the movie; then picture a popcorn machine sized contraption with a mechanical arm holding a glue gun. As the arm moves, the “glue gun” head dispenses a stream of resin material resembling a string of toothpaste. It carefully builds layer upon layer, to create a physical 3D object; like a vase, or a shoe for instance. How is it done? From a “blueprint” loaded into the operating system that’s connected to the printing machine.
But 3D printing isn’t new news. The first 3D printer was patented back in the 1980s. And since then, the technology has advanced to create more complex applications. So, today the possibilities on what can be formed using the 3D printing method are endless. For instance, the medical industry can design a custom joint or hip for replacement. And scientists are working with 3D printing to create bioengineered body parts from actual human tissue with hopes of one day building a viable human heart.
LARGE SCALE PROJECTS
In early 2000, some folks tried merging existing 3D printing techniques with basic building supplies and components for construction applications. And over the next decade, companies worldwide began patenting the machinery and materials needed to fabricate full size buildings. The result? Well, 2014 seems to mark the beginning of the large-scale structure printing surge.
- 2014: 10 houses printed in 24 hours by WinSun, China (source: bbc.com)
- 2015: 3D printed residential home in Yaroslavi, Russia (source: Wikipedia)
- 2015: 6 story apartment building in Suzhou China (source: cnet.com)
- 2016: 2700 SF office building in Dubai (source: cnet.com)
- 2018: 2 low-income houses in rural Mexico (source: cnn.com)
Although the number of “printed” homes that began dotting the global landscape during this period was small, they opened the door to broad scale possibilities.
3D PRINTED HOUSES | FASTER, MORE COST EFFECTIVE
We fast forward to 2021 and construction of 3D printed homes starts to take hold in the US. Builders realize that there’s not only a need for more affordable building options, as the current boom is pricing customers out of the market. But because of challenges in getting traditional building materials, 3D printing could deliver a home faster.
HOW FAST CAN THEY BE BUILT? | HOW MUCH COULD YOU SAVE?
How fast can you build a 3D house? Well, that depends on who you ask. But the consensus is, really fast. Since automated 3D printing robots don’t sleep, they can build non-stop, so construction time is measured in hours.
ICON, a Texas based company, was one of the first to build 3D in the US. Their website details their progress on several projects including the Chicon House, a 350 SF home which they printed in about 47 hours. Although, their initial venture into printing homes actually began in Tabasco, Mexico, where they printed homes for low-income residents in partnership with New Story, a nonprofit group. The 500 SF structures were printed in 24 hours at a cost of roughly $10,000 according to businessinsider.com.
MIGHTY BUILDINGS, a California builder, has several designs featured on their website with prices currently listed from $221,750 for a move-in ready contemporary 1BR home (not including a building lot) in the bay area and throughout California per their FAQ page. The Mighty Buildings website also details information on Ranch Mirage, a project they are building in partnership with the Palari Group in Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, California. They claim this will be the first 3D printed net zero energy community.
SQ4D, a Long Island NY builder, recently listed their first 3D printed 1407 SF home on Zillow for $299,999 (currently pending). Their website claims a 48 hour build time; and quotes by CNN, ABC & NBC have SQ4Ds home costs at “about half the price of a comparable newly built home in the area and 10x faster”.
PRECISION BUILDING & RENOVATING, a Tampa Florida builder, was featured in a news article this weekend. The printing began on Thursday and was expected to finish on Friday according to the Tallahassee Democrat in their July 19th, 2021 piece.
How the structures are built vary among builders. Some homes are constructed right onsite; the builder sets up the 3D printer and the structure rises from the ground. While others print their building components in a controlled environment and ship the parts to be assembled at the building site.
Although printing methods vary, the common thread is that 3D printing builds a strong house. Much of it stems from the fact that most 3D structures are built from concrete. But not just concrete, the concrete-based mixture must be able to flow and at the same time keep its shape. So, the game changer is a mix of proprietary additives incorporated to add structure to the concrete so that it stands up and sets quickly when poured.
But, in addition to being strong, the builders of the 3D printed homes also say that the structures resist fire, insects, wind, and some claim to be able to withstand an 8.0 scale earthquake.
Another common theme in the 3D house printing community is that the process reduces carbon emissions and produces less waste. The technology uses just the amount of material needed to print the structure, interior walls and in some cases the roof as well. So it reduces scrap wood, drywall, metal and other construction debris that’s usually dumped into landfills.
Mighty Buildings take it one step farther, using a polymer composite material which reduces the amount of cement needed. Making a lighter synthetic stone panel that meets California’s zero net energy standards.
ROBOTS TAKING THE PLACE OF WORKERS?
Is an automated home building future going to eliminate jobs? That question was brought up by several news outlets to 3D builders and 3D house printing proponents, and the overwhelming response was, NO. In our April 7th, 2021 article Kramer Engineers reported on the lumber shortage due to the housing boom. Well the shortage is not just limited to lumber. The housing demand has also put pressure on the skilled labor force. There aren’t enough skilled workers to meet building demand. So, 3D robotics helps fill that gap.