Making the World: How a 3D Printed House Could End Homelessness

What’s the biggest project you can think of when using a 3D printer? For some, it might be a simple display case or a replica of a weapon in a movie or video game.

In the case of a 3D printed house, ambitions are much higher. Scientists and philanthropists are considering the idea of using a 3d printed house to potentially end homelessness. It sounds incredible on paper, but given the resources, could it actually happen?

Ow Could a 3D Printed House Potentially Help?

The idea of a 3D printed house as a savior for the masses enduring homelessness started thanks to the cheap cost of materials. Affordable housing across the world is a major concern, and the amount of people without access to a roof over their heads is staggering.

Charity and non-profit organizations are hoping that partnerships could solve the issue of homelessness across the globe. For example, a new working relationship between New Story and ICON hopes to use these kinds of houses to give shelter to those who could never afford it.

New Story is an international organization which is dedicated to building shelters for poor communities. They linked up with ICON, a printing company that has researched methods of designing houses. According to their research, a 3D printer can be used to build a house in less than a day. The cost would average around $4,000.

Building these houses would require anywhere from 600 to 800 square feet. ICON has other prototypes up its sleeve, but they say this is the first one that would be inhabitable by people.

Does Technology Exist to Make 3D Printed Houses a Reality?

Some of the first projects for these kinds of houses began in Central America, where impoverished populations suffer from inhabitable housing on a daily basis. With this solution in place, the scenario could also create an answer to how affordable housing could be completed within the United States.

The technology that is used for printed 3D houses isn’t entirely groundbreaking. In 2017, a company named Apis Cor constructed a bigger house than what New Story and ICON put together. This project was done in one day using mostly the same materials. It placed costs around $10,000, and the advantage of the world’s first mobile 3D printer.

ICON claims that they can move their printer with two people, along with a skeleton crew assisting with construction. With the use of specific materials and patterns, ICON wants to rise above what is expected of comfort and expended energy standards for a house.  

As far back as 2012, the idea of a 3D printed house was introduced in academic research. Entire neighborhoods were proposed through the construction of one 3D printer. This could be done with one single program that replicated the same design for many different homes.

What Kinds of Problems Exist with 3D Printed Houses?

  • This kind of technology has been met with criticism. Even though this idea has existed for years, nothing has come out of it. It’s almost a new decade and 3D printing is still in a stage of infancy, waiting for someone to truly harness the technology to its full potential.
  • Hardware issues have popped up on several occasions. Whether in the house’s construction or the actual 3D printer, nothing has ever resulted in a clear-cut method to produce these homes without fundamental issues.
  • There is also the issue of where to house people while their homes are being built. Ideally, people would be given these homes as a way to reintegrate them back into a society full of homeowners. In a perfect world, people would transition out of their printed house and into a more carefully-constructed and permanent residence.
  • Some see 3D printed homes as a more permanent solution. New Story believes that entire communities can be built and last for generations. Whether this becomes a reality will depend on the advancement of the technology in the upcoming years.

How Does a 3D Printed House Come to Life?

As demonstrated at the SXSW festival in 2018, the partnership between New Story and ICON unveiled their idea of a house entirely constructed by a #D printer. Inside, you can find a living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and a porch with a shaded area.

All of this can be done by the printer known as the Vulcan. It looks like a giant crane, an appropriate image when you consider the idea of constructing a house from scratch. The printer uses a crane to pour a mix of concrete into a predetermined pattern. Rather than constructing one wall at a time, the printer layers the structure from the ground up.

The printer uses an axis on a set track. Potentially, there is no limit to how much space the printer could use when constructing a house or other building.

Where Can a 3D Printer Be Used?

Potentially, there is no spot on the planet where a 3D printer couldn’t be used to make a home. New Story wants to bring housing to countries that include Mexico and Haiti. Their intention is to partner with local communities while keeping purchased materials entirely domestic. This way, they can stimulate local economies without bringing in materials from elsewhere.

With $600,000, ICON wats to put in an entire 3D printed home community in El Salvador. Their goal is to begin printing in 2018, with families potentially moving into the homes by the next year. Anyone who wants to donate can fund a house for $4,000.

With 3D printers, there is potential to create more than just single-family homes. What needs to be considered when thinking greater is the idea of replacing buildings in the poorest areas of the world.  Slums in India, Kenya, and South Africa are in need of homes for people, but simply building more might not be geographically possible.

3D printers are more likely to benefit rural areas where not a lot of existing buildings are in place. With less population density, more areas for development are considered doable with construction and population realignment. There are also considerations being made for 3D printed high rises, but making them affordable is another story.

It will all come down to a matter of time and investment. If it’s already at the point where $4,000 can put together a single-family home, it won’t be long before reasonable options appear for bigger buildings. In the future, we could be looking at corporate headquarters entirely constructed from a printer.

What Could the Future hold for a 3D Printed House?

There is a lot of unpredictability in the future for neighborhoods consisting entirely of printed houses. For starters, this could impact the number of jobs available for construction. Right now, entire teams of contractors, from roofers to floor installers, are used to lay the foundations for homes.

A 3D printer could eliminate many of those people from the equation. Without the need for extra labor, there is the weight of convenience vs. job creation. This could benefit those that are less fortunate and need access to homes, but if they use of 3D printers rises significantly, it could mean the end of traditional construction.

The quality of construction is also up for debate. If fundamental issues still exist in 3D printers, it raises the question of how safe home will be in the future. Can printers be trusted with the same safety standards that human contractors have been aware of since they began following building codes?

Finally, there is also the danger of hacking. Being an electronic device, there is no stopping someone with malicious intent to interfere with a program and change it. This could mean a faulty construction in an entire skyscraper, ruining an entire project late into its construction.

The Goal of 3D Printed Houses and Curing Homelessness

Ridding the world of homelessness is an incredibly lofty endgame, and a 3D printed house can be the starting step. With access to this technology, there is no stopping people from dreaming the impossible and raising awareness of what can be done with this kind of advancement in home design.

There are other factors to consider when thinking about the idea of using 3D printed houses to cure a worldwide epidemic. Introducing a foreign concept like a manufactured home to people who have never seen such a thing might be with resistance.

This also opens up the possibility for more charity work from people who may not have worked in construction before. Computer science students and those in programming might be able to branch into organizations like Habitat for Humanity if they embrace the idea of making homes with a 3D printer.

Ultimately, the cure for homelessness with 3D printed houses is only limited by the people it directly affects. Whether it’s the people designing the home or those who will live in it, the perception of the house will decide it’s a viable option.

There was a time when smartphones were considered crazy, but the world embraced them. Perhaps the same could happen with 3D printed houses.

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