Startups Building 3D Printed Homes Aim for Large-Scale Success

Photo by eMotion Tech on Unsplash

A new property development in Austin, Texas plans to become the largest 3D printed housing development in the US. The neighborhood will feature 100 single-story 3D printed homes. Construction is slated to finish in 2022.

This ambitious housing development is being spearheaded by startups Lennar and ICON. Jason Ballard is the co-founder and CEO of ICON. He describes the Austin project as a “watershed moment in the history of community-scale development.”

Using concrete-based building materials, the 3D printed homes will be “printed” on-site. Construction will use advanced robotic methods. The 3D printed homes will feature rooftops covered in solar cells. According to Lennar and ICON, each 3,000 square foot home takes approximately one week to build.

Each startup has a discrete role in the 3D printed housing collaboration. ICON will construct the main foundation and core elements of the 3D printed homes. Lennar, meanwhile, will install the roofs, windows, doors, and finishes.

Benefits of 3D Printed Homes

The homes are relatively efficient to build. In addition, their sustainable features and ability to reduce waste during construction are highly appealing. Martin Voelkle is a partner at Bjarke Ingels Group. He noted that 3D printed homes including features like solar roofs are “significant steps toward reducing waste in the construction process, as well as towards making our homes more resilient, sustainable, and energy self-sufficient.”

Another benefit of 3D printed homes is the reduction in labor costs. The houses combine a reduction of overall construction time with relative reliance on technology. This means 3D printed home building is less susceptible to labor shortage delays.

3D Printed Homes Neighborhood
Photo by Patrick Schreiber on Unsplash

Environmental advocates note that 3D printers reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A study in Singapore studied the relative carbon dioxide emissions from construction. It compared building a bathroom unit using 3D printing methods with traditional building methods. The study found that 3D printing produced almost 86% less CO2 emissions than the traditional method. In addition, the 3D printed bathroom cost 25% less to build. One contributing factor is that 3D printers can construct buildings without formwork. Formwork is the concrete mold into which workers pour cement.

Despite its benefits, some have struck a more cautious tone about 3D printed housing technology. Some believe there is insufficient evidence that 3D printed concrete homes are as structurally safe and stable as traditionally built homes.

A Potential Solution to the U.S. Housing Crisis

The large-scale success of 3D printed homes could provide a long-term solution to the housing supply shortage in the United States. “I think 2022 is going to be a year where we are going to see a renewed emphasis on innovation,” said Robert Dietz, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders. “Any productivity gain, any innovation, will help add that additional supply.”

“Construction-scale 3D printing not only delivers higher-quality homes faster and more affordably, but fleets of printers can change the way that entire communities are built for the better,” ICON CEO Jason Ballard said. “The United States faces a deficit of approximately 5 million new homes, so there is a profound need to swiftly increase supply without compromising quality, beauty, or sustainability, and that is exactly the strength of our technology.”

Looking Beyond Austin

Beyond the Austin housing development, which has received significant buzz, ICON has other projects in the works. Since 2018, ICON has been building subsidized housing using 3D printing in Mexico and Texas. The company also has partnered with NASA to 3D print materials from moon dust. Their long-term goal is to construct a lunar base for NASA.

Neither startup has publicly revealed the total costs involved in the Austin project or the prices of the homes in the neighborhood. However, prices of 3D printed homes in other regions of the United States have been relatively affordable. For example, a 3D printed housing development near Palm Springs, California lists 3-bedroom homes for sale starting at around $595,000. The speed and affordability of 3D printed home construction could be particularly helpful for low-income families or in disaster relief situations.

The next test will be to determine whether 3D printing housing startups like ICON and Lennar can replicate their success in other neighborhoods. If these efforts can be duplicated on a large-scale, 3D printed homes could prove quite beneficial to society and the environment.

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