This cheap 3D-printed home is a start for the 1 billion who lack shelter

Photo: ICON

Food, water, and shelter are basic human needs, but 1.2 billion people in the world live without adequate housing, according to a report by the World Resources Institute’s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. Today at SXSW, an Austin-based startup will unveil its approach to combat that deficiency by using low-cost 3D printing as a potential solution.

ICON has developed a method for printing a single-story 650-square-foot house out of cement in only 12 to 24 hours, a fraction of the time it takes for new construction. If all goes according to plan, a community made up of about 100 homes will be constructed for residents in El Salvador next year. The company has partnered with New Story, a nonprofit that is vested in international housing solutions. “We have been building homes for communities in Haiti, El Salvador, and Bolivia,” Alexandria Lafci, co-founder of New Story, tells The Verge.

The first model, scheduled to be unveiled in Austin today, is a step toward providing shelter to those in underserved communities. Jason Ballard, one of ICON’s three founders, says he is going to trial the model as an office to test out their practical use. “We are going to install air quality monitors. How does it look, and how does it smell?” Ballard also runs Treehouse, a company that focuses on sustainable home upgrades.

Using the Vulcan printer, ICON can print an entire home for $10,000 and plans to bring costs down to $4,000 per house. “It’s much cheaper than the typical American home,” Ballard says. It’s capable of printing a home that’s 800 square feet, a significantly bigger structure than properties pushed by the tiny home movement, which top out at about 400 square feet. In contrast, the average New York apartment is about 866 square feet.

Inside the 3D-printed home.
Photo: ICON

The model has a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and a curved porch. “There are a few other companies that have printed homes and structures,” Ballard says. “But they are printed in a warehouse, or they look like Yoda huts. For this venture to succeed, they have to be the best houses.” The use of cement as a common material will help normalize the process for potential tenants that question the sturdiness of the structure. “I think if we were printing in plastic we would encounter some issues.”

Once ICON completes material testing and tweaking of the design, the company will move the Vulcan printer to El Salvador to begin construction. ICON says its 3D-printed houses will create minimal waste and labor costs are significantly reduced. The company also intends to build homes in the US eventually. It’s a compelling solution to solving housing shortages but one that could be contentious among labor unions that represent workers.

It’s almost cliché that tech innovations happen in the high-end, for-profit segment long before they filter down to the masses, where innovation could serve the greatest social good. ICON and New Story are challenging that premise. Lafci uses the example of latency in cellphone availability to reach the African continent as the reason she believes in the endeavor. “(ICON) believes, as do I, that 3D printing is going to be a method for all kinds of housing,” she says.

But the company is already looking past the global housing crises to think about communities that will one day live off-planet. “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.”

Comments

I’d live in one. Especially if I could link two together.

So you wouldn’t live in one.

I’ll take 3

I’m not sure you know what "especially" means…

Note – no insulation, no plumbing, no electrical, no rebar for earthquake or storm resilience; owner installed roof, windows and doors.

Still want to live in one?

So then, a few well-placed holes for water and electrical access, then 2×4 interior walls to allow for pipes, conduits, and insulation. still far cheaper and sturdier than a stick-built home.

You probably wouldn’t even need 2×4′s, since the walls should provide pretty good thermals already. Assuming they don’t leave internal chimney’s like older concrete-block houses. 2×2 furring and spray foam should be plenty.

Foam concrete would be much better insulation-wise.

I wonder if foam concrete could be viscous enough for this 3d printing technique. Avoiding forms seems to be the whole benefit here.

So then, a few well-placed holes for water and electrical access, then 2×4 interior walls to allow for pipes, conduits, and insulation. still far cheaper and sturdier than a stick-built home.

None of that stuff you mention is cheap.

Yeah, how can people afford holes these days?

the video above clearly shows them running electricity to power the indoor lights so I’m guessing they managed to figure out how to do wiring and plumbing there.

If it is 3D printed you’d just leave channels for running electrical and plumbing, it would be simple and a no-brainer …….

The larger problem is cement is Energy Intensive to make and uses a lot of natural gas or coal to create the extremely high temperature needed

Portland cement is by far the most common type of cement in general use around the world. This cement is made by heating limestone (calcium carbonate) with other materials (such as clay) to 1450 °C in a kiln, in a process known as calcination, whereby a molecule of carbon dioxide is liberated from the calcium carbonate to form calcium oxide, or quicklime, which then chemically combines with the other materials that have been included in the mix to form calcium silicates and other cementitious compounds. The resulting hard substance, called ‘clinker’, is then ground with a small amount of gypsum into a powder to make ‘ordinary Portland cement’, the most commonly used type

whereby a molecule of carbon dioxide is liberated from the calcium carbonate

This is the key problem with using so much cement. It releases an astronomical amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.

As long as the exhaust is free of dangerous impurities (like you get when burning coal), the CO2 can be piped to glasshouses to accelerate crop growth.

I was wondering about the exhaust of my house’s gas-based heating system – it should be pretty safe for, at least, our flowers.

It also re-absorbs up to 50% of that CO2. The difficult part is the energy sources for heating the stuff, but we’ve been getting better and better about mixing concrete with less Portland cement (the bad stuff) and making new cements that can be manufactured at lower temperatures.

Plus there’s no siding to replace, and they’re cheaper to heat/cool, which is one of the biggest environmental price-tags.

They must have hired a holey engineer

The walls would be the insulation. Taking in heat in the day, release during the night. El savador can be a bit hot.

Depends on the density and internal structure. COnrete-block houses are open enough inside the walls, and use a permeable concrete mixture, which makes them quite bad at heating/cooling effectively. Now that’s a lot different from a poured concrete wall, which has excellent thermal properties, since it pretty much sits at the same internal temperature as the ground it’s set on. Also heavy concrete walls prevent the need for short-cycling your HVAC system.

It’s probably a good material for El Salvador, but it would be a terrible material for somewhere like the northeast United States, where the temperature can sit at anywhere from 0 degrees F to 90 degrees F for days or weeks at a time. In those cases, thermal retention is exactly what you don’t want, and it’s why you have thermal blocking insulation, so the interior walls retain the heat of the interior, not the exterior. Otherwise the walls would keep houses boiling hot at night in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, necessitating way more climate control and being extremely wasteful.

Anyone who has a concrete basement, as many houses do, knows the basics of this, although concrete basements usually sit below ground, so they’re not affected by the sun in summer and the temperature is a little better regulated than it otherwise would be. But just imagine putting your hand up to a freezing cold interior wall in winter; a good portion of the heat you’re pumping into the house to keep warm would be going simply to heating the walls. That’s just very inefficient.

The walls are mostly hollow and it’d be easy to fill the cavities with foam or other good thermal insulation. If the printer had two printing heads, it could do it on a single pass, using the foam to support the concrete structures between the walls and further reducing heat conduction. A lot of the temperature control in this design can be done with the windows near the roof – allowing hot air from inside the house to be replaced with colder air closer to the ground. It’s a fairly common pattern in hot countries.

If the printer had two printing heads, it could do it on a single pass, using the foam to support the concrete structures between the walls and further reducing heat conduction

.

Or print this stuff:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foam_concrete

Good in earthquakes also — that is, it’s much lighter when it falls in your head.

it would be a terrible material for somewhere like the northeast United States

ICF construction, very effective in the NE. It would be easy to do something like that with this machine, just add a second head using sprayfoam, to insulate the inside and outside of the wall as you build. Or just give the thing a pass with a normal spray-foam gun.

The thermal benefits of concrete in cold climates is that the concrete changes temperature very slowly, so you can use a much smaller HVAC system with a constant output, as it doesn’t have to shave the peaks as much. Smaller constant systems are more efficient/cheaper than bigger systems that have to turn on and off constantly.

If it comes to San Francisco, yes, that’s not too far off from my current situation.

It would not be as cheap, for sure, as they would need far more to be resistant to earthquakes and up to california code.

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