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3D-Printed Homes Quietly Gain Traction

Neil Strother
Nov 19, 2019

Smart Home 3

Building houses using 3D printing techniques might sound futuristic, but the actual practice is slowly gaining traction. Tech startup haus.me, for instance, recently opened a new assembly plant in Reno, Nevada where it plans to ship its first models to buyers in Nevada, California, and Arizona.

The haus.me structures feature 3D printing, smart home technologies, zero carbon emissions, and the capability of operating off the grid with their own power, water, and septic systems. The haus.me houses are not necessarily a bargain, as the grid-connected base model is priced at $200,000, though they can be customized for off-grid functionality. Besides the attractive sustainability attributes, the houses can be manufactured in 4 to 7 weeks, according to the company, as compared to traditional onsite home construction using standard materials, which can take months to complete.

Though the practice is nascent, there are other companies pushing the 3D-printed housing market forward. In 2018, ICON claims to have built the first permitted 3D-printed house in the US in Austin, Texas. Since then, the company has launched its Vulcan II printer, which can produce houses measuring up to 2,000 square feet in size.

Apis Cor is another company in the 3D printing space and it plans to build a demonstration house in the US in 2020. In the Netherlands, a consortium of companies has set up a factory with 3D printing machines that use concrete and plans to supply materials for the five homes to be built for Project Milestone in the city of Eindhoven.

Upsides and Downsides of 3D Printed Houses

Using 3D printing techniques for building houses has some upsides. Lower costs can be achieved compared to traditional methods because of a reduction in raw materials and reduced expenditures for labor. Building with 3D printing is also less wasteful; a 3D project generates just 30% of the waste a traditional project produces, according to industry estimates. The use of 3D printing also reduces the time it takes to build, roughly 6 weeks versus 6 months needed for a typical new house. Lastly, 3D printing allows for more creative and affordable design shapes, which can be a welcome aspect for architects and homeowners seeking a different style.

Nonetheless, there are hurdles stalling the adoption of 3D printing of houses. One is the lack of regulations and building codes that define the standards. This hurdle can be overcome, but it takes time for regulators to become familiar with the techniques and then draft the proper rules. There is also a current limit on the types of materials that can be used. For now, the process is limited largely to plastics and concrete, and homes requiring wood or steel (e.g., roofing or other infrastructure) still need to use traditional products. Moreover, there is a lack of 3D specialists; few architects and engineers have designed or built houses using 3D printing processes. This is likely to change, but for now it is a challenge.

Even with the hurdles, 3D printing of houses quietly moves ahead. In another 10 years or so, the 3D process should be much more mature and accepted. Couple advancements with sustainability goals and the notion of less is more, and the market could be primed for a healthy growth spurt.