This 3D-printed house can go from nothing to occupied in 24 hours

Despite the impact digital technology has made on our communities, the literal bricks and mortar of our homes have remained relatively unchanged for generations. That could soon change, with low-cost 3D printing offering a new way to put roofs over our heads and fight housing shortages.  

Last week at SXSW, Austin-based housing nonprofit New Story unveiled the fruits of a collaboration with construction tech startup ICON, based around printing affordable homes for families living in slums across the globe. As an example, the companies created a single-story model house complete with living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and porch area, all built in 24 hours for only $10,000 (£7,162).

The eventually aim, the companies claim, is to get this cost down to $4,000 (£2,863) per build, paving the way for a community of 100 homes in El Salvador next year. That number only grazes the problem of housing, however. According to a report from last year by the World Resource Institute, 1.2 billion people across the globe live without affordable and secure homes.  

“We feel it’s our responsibility to challenge traditional methods,” said Brett Hagler, CEO of New Story. “Linear methods will never reach the billion [plus] people who need safe homes. Challenging our assumptions, iterating based on data, and taking calculated risks on innovative ideas will allow us to reach more families with the best possible solutions, exponentially faster.”

ICON isn’t the first company to pursue building-scale 3D printing. As Alphr has previously reported, a number of firms in Russia, Dubai and the UK have been developing techniques for printing large structures using everything from thermoplastic composites to concrete. ICON’s approach uses the latter, with a printer dubbed the “Vulcan” squeezing out enough material for a 600×800 square foot home within one day.     

“Conventional construction methods have many baked-in drawbacks and problems that we’ve taken for granted for so long that we forgot how to imagine any alternative,” said Jason Ballard, co-founder of ICON.

“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. This isn’t 10% better, it’s ten times better.”

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(A rendering of the Vulcan in action. Credit: ICON/New Story)

The promise of reduced labour costs may bring the price down from a construction perspective, but it’s also sure to ripple into disputes around the roles of human workers in the construction industry. All the same, New Story’s focus on putting this technology to use amongst the world’s poorest communities is an encouraging step; one that suggests there may be real social good in 3D printing of this kind. ICON also emphasises that its designs are safe and durable, built to the International Building Code (IBC) structural code standard.

“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.

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