ICON's Vulcan II printer in action

Print Your Own Home

As affordable housing inventory continues to be a problem around the world, this new technology may hold the key to home ownership

According to BBC News, ‘an estimated 8.4 million people in England are living in an unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable home, according to the National Housing Federation’. And the 2020 National Housing Forecast from Realtor.com shows that housing inventory in America is expected to ‘struggle to grow and could instead reach a historic low level’.

This is especially true for first-time buyers who often can’t afford to get onto the property ladder.

The problem is even more challenging in developing countries.

A recent report by RICS and Knight Frank shows that by 2030 more than 40% of the Indian population will live in urban India, creating a demand of 25 million additional affordable housing units.

Kenya is short two million homes while Nigeria needs 17 million new homes according to the International Finance Corporation.

Lack of affordable housing stock, old stock that needs to be retrofitted, lack of labourers to build homes – the challenges are real.

Fortunately, innovations in 3D printing at scale could help solve the problem.

According to All3DP, a 3D printing magazine, the benefits of 3D printing buildings can be significant: you can use environmentally friendly material, it’s cheaper than traditional construction costs, it’s faster than traditional methods and you can modify the printed shapes to fit any space.

If you need a break from your daily routine, take a few minutes to geek out over the 33 examples of 3D printed houses in the article – they’re inspiring!

Here’s a look at 3D technology in action

ICON is an Austin-based startup that built the first permitted 3D house in America. They are working with Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a local non-profit helping the homeless community to supply a series of 3D printed homes for the Community First! Village. The one bedroom, one bathroom homes are 400 square feet and have a full kitchen and living room as well as a front porch.

ICON's Vulcan II printer in action
ICON’s Vulcan II printer in action at the Community First! Village in Austin, TX

‘ICON at its heart is innovation for a better future. We’re going to have to take some risks if we want a better world for ourselves, and the team at Mobile Loaves & Fishes shares a similar vision in their efforts to empower the community around them into a lifestyle of service with the homeless.

We need a radical rethinking in the way that we approach solving vexing issues in our society like homelessness. At the end of the day, this is all about people and the dignity of human beings.’

Jason Ballard, Co-Founder and CEO of ICON

ICON is doing the same thing in Mexico with another non-profit partner, New Story, a charity dedicated to ending global homelessness. Together they are creating the world’s first 3D printed neighbourhood. The final community will have 50 homes, with two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bath in 500 square feet.

The New Story development in Mexico. Credit Joshua Perez.
The New Story development in Mexico. Credit Joshua Perez.

‘I think it’s important to remember what makes this project different, what makes it matter: we’re not an R&D company just for the sake of innovation, and we’re not here to turn a profit.

These homes are for real people, with real needs, and everything we do is for them, and includes them in the process.’

Alexandria Lafci, COO, New Story

While ICON uses a proprietary concrete mix and doesn’t talk about its impact on the planet, cement (the key component of concrete) contributes 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions each year according to think tank Chatham House. It’s important for brands and organisations working in this space to extend their innovation to the material they’re using for printing.

That’s what WASP, a 3D printing firm in Italy, showcased in their home Gaia last year, which was built in just 10 days.

WASP's crane 3D printer in action
The house was built with the company’s Crane Wasp printer, a modular 3D-printer made to print homes

Dezeen reports that it was ‘printed using a natural mud mixture made from soil taken from the surrounding site, as well as waste materials from rice production such as chopped straw and rice husks’.

The straw and husks are used in the walls for insulation as well as a bio-plaster for the internal walls. It’s also biodegradable and will return to soil if it isn’t maintained.

WASP told Dezeen that ‘Gaia is a highly performing structure in terms of energy, with almost no environmental impact’. And the exciting thing is that they believe the material they need to build the new structure can be sourced from each of the sites where they’re building. ‘We could even use demolition waste from pre-existing buildings’, they said.

That’s great news if you think about the infrastructure and buildings made from traditional concrete that will need to be retrofitted in the coming years.

It’s this kind of innovation and helping hand that keeps hope for a better future alive.

‘We feel it’s our responsibility to challenge traditional methods. Linear methods will never reach the billion+ 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.’

Brett Hagler, CEO, New Story
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