Tech of the Week #5: 3D printed houses that are fresh off the press

You can buy a lot of things with $10,000; a family trip to Florida, a 1970s Volkswagen Beetle, and the wedding every girl dreams of. Usually, a house is not an option to buy for so little, especially not 3D printed houses that can be built in 12 to 24 hours. However, Austin-based startup ICON is making this idea a reality.

Eventually, we could see this come to Britain – potentially helping our housing shortages and help revive and revolutionise the manufacturing sector.

ICON, New Story and their 3D printed houses project

[clickToTweet tweet=”The Austin-based startup, #ICON, has successfully used a #3DPrinter and cement to construct a house in 12 to 24 hours. #Housing #3DPrinting #tech #technology #TechOfTheWeek” quote=”The Austin-based startup, ICON, has successfully used a 3D printer and cement to construct a house in 12 to 24 hours.”]

First unveiled at SXSW early this year comes one company’s attempt to help solve the housing problems faced by over a billion worldwide. The Austin-based startup, ICON, has successfully used a 3D printer and cement to construct a house in 12 to 24 hours. This is opposed to the typical 6 to 12 months it takes to build a house using current methods. Whilst 3D printing being used in building fabrication is nothing new, printing on-site in the manner proposed definitely is.

The first area they’re looking to test out this technology on a grand scale is El Salvador, with a project of 200 3D printed houses to be built next year. ICON has partnered with a company called New Story, who are a not-for-profit housing company that have already been building homes for communities in El Salvador, as well as Haiti and Bolivia. Eventually, the company aims to build 3D printed houses in the US too. Jason Ballard, one of the three ICON founders, is already looking to the future and our potential colonisation of other planets. “One of the big challenges is how are we going to create habitats in space,” Ballard says. “You’re not going to open a two by four and open screws. It’s one of the more promising potential habitat technologies.”

The printer and costs

The printer is called Vulcan and it’s pretty big… As you may know, 3D printers are metal frames that use a material (like plastic) to print an object in layers. This requires the printer to be bigger than the object it’s printing. In the case of a house, the printer is going to be rather large. The concept image below shows the equipment on rail sliders, allowing for rapid construction by sliding it to the next plot. Time is saved by not having to disassemble and reassemble anything.

Tech of the Week #5: 3D printed houses that are fresh off the press

Vulcan is reported to cost less than $100,000 and can be packed up for transportation purposes. Operations will require between 2 and four workers to use and manage the printer.

Your home and future office

Coming in a lot cheaper than the average American home of about $200,000, these 3D printed houses cost $10,000 to build. ICON is hoping that, with improvements over time, they can bring the cost down to $4,000 per house. So what do you get for your investment? Sizes seem to range from 600 to 800 square feet and models come with 3-4 rooms: 1-2 bedrooms, a bathroom and a living room. It even comes with a porch so you can rest on your terrace on those long summer nights.

The printer will provide the concrete structure, however other installations such as the electrics and plumbing won’t be printed or installed by the machine.

As previously mentioned, the idea was unveiled at SXSW – well, the model showcased is planned to be tested as office space. ICON wishes to install air quality monitors to see how it performs. Presumably, the reason for this is to assess impact to a worker’s routine, health and safety and other health problems that can arise from being office-bound.

The need for human labour

Due to restraints around the un-printable electrics and plumbing, there will always be a need for human labour (at least for the time being). This is also true from the fact the machine doesn’t print the roof, windows and any other mechanicals that can’t be “poured”. A key to a good home is the foundations it’s built on, and as Vulcan only prints, and doesn’t excavate, humans will be required for that stage too.

However, the process will require significantly less human labour as the need for bricklayers, etc will be eliminated. This is likely in part to how the houses can be built for such little cost to the consumer but could face a backlash from labour unions. Cement is cheap and in abundance, but it’s also strong and should help ease potential worries around the sturdiness and durability of the structure.

Natural disasters

In areas like El Salvador, where natural disasters aren’t uncommon, these concrete structures could help to provide some extra safety. For example, a hurricane is going to have a harder time against the toughness of concrete than against some of their wooden constructs. By providing those that lack the safety of a house a place to take refuge there is also the greatly increased chance of saving many lives. In conclusion, this is perhaps an ambitious project to some, but overall it sounds like one with far-reaching, positive implications. If the technology and idea were to come to England, we could see it have a positive impact on our manufacturing sector. Particularly in the north where, historically, a lot of manufacturing took place.


Next in the series, Wednesday 18th April 2018…

Tech of the Week #6: vGIS – A utility being utilised for the utility industry

Augmented Reality has been finding its place in the world more and more over the last year. One company has found a way to couple the AR platform with a new geographic information system (GIS) visualisation platform, dubbed vGIS. This could benefit not only the utility industry but us as consumers, too…


If you want to talk tech or housing, and for more great content, follow me on Twitter @JoshuaOsborn16.


Cover image: New Story

I work for Compare the Cloud as programme manager. I enjoy cybersecurity, fintech and, on the less boring side of things, photography, trains (I said less boring, right?) and, like everyone else, music.

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