It's no secret that the world struggles with some housing problems. An estimated 1.6 billion people live without adequate housing globally. With a steadily growing population, this crisis could worsen over time, and this is not the only issue facing homeownership.
Courtesy of ICON
As the threat of climate change looms, more and more homeowners are growing concerned about sustainability. From installing solar panels to using eco-friendly building materials, people are trying to find ways to make their houses more sustainable.
A solution to both home affordability and sustainability may come from an unexpected source. Most businesses and people use 3D printing to create small mechanical parts or scale models, but some companies are using it to build homes. Massive versions of the 3D printer in your office can print entire buildings in record time.
How Does It Work?
The 3D printers you're most familiar with use plastics or metals, but these large building printers print in construction materials. They operate like a standard 3D printer, building from the ground up in layers. This allows them to make houses quickly and without traditional support structures like rebar.
The idea of a 3D-printed home may seem like a distant goal, but it's not far-off. It's already a reality across the world.
Austin-based company ICON began construction on a 3D printed community in Mexico in late 2019. ICON's printer, the Vulcan II, uses a quick-hardening, sustainable material called Lavacrete to lay down houses virtually anywhere in as little as 24 hours.
ICON is not the only company printing houses, either. The Italian company WASP has begun printing housing prototypes using several different printers. WASP's printers use locally-sourced earthen materials to create environmentally-friendly homes.
These systems, like your average 3D printer, work mostly on their own. After workers set up the printers and program a blueprint, the machines get to work and can finish the build without any further input. A single printer can complete a job in record time.
Housing printers do have their share of limitations. They can only build a house's foundation and walls, at least with current technology. But by completing house frames on their own in such a short time, they save valuable time and money in the construction process.
Shaping the Future
3D printing creates houses that are both affordable and eco-friendly. These machines allow companies to build homes faster, which saves on costs. Less money spent on construction means that they will cost less to buy or rent.
The speed offered by these printers has another advantage. By putting up homes more quickly, companies can increase the availability of living spaces in areas where they are desperately needed. Many of the houses built by these printers are also resistant to factors like storms and earthquakes, making them even more viable for disadvantaged people in vulnerable areas.
Apart from being cost-effective, housing printers are also environmentally friendly. The printers are electronic, so builders don't need to use gas-powered machinery to put up the houses.
These printers also use sustainable materials like locally-sourced concrete mixtures or clay. By using local, natural elements, they don't require companies to ship material from a distant source. By not relying on shipments, they decrease emissions.
The construction elements used by these machines can also reduce reliance on other, less eco-friendly systems like heating and cooling appliances. Earthen construction is naturally insulating, so residents don't need to rely on air conditioners or heaters. If these houses need to be demolished, the materials are recyclable so that people can use them again.
3D printing houses can pave the way to a more sustainable housing industry. By making eco-friendly construction more viable, these printers may lead to a sustainable housing revolution, while also providing homes for those in need.