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Community Technology

Printed Homes Are Now And Inexpensive

concrete white house with chairs on porch

3D printers are now printing all kinds of materials, including concrete. 33-foot long printers are spitting out homes in rural Mexico. The city of Tabasco, which sits at the border of Guatemala, will have 50 printed homes very shortly. By layering a special cement named “lavacrete” to build single piece floor and wall units, strong homes are created at an extremely fast pace. The first two of them were built simultaneously, and took only 24 working hours.

So these are just square boxes, right? Wrong! These are two bed, one bath homes with a kitchen and living room. The need for windows, doors, and plumbing gives work to the locals, too. These are huge upgrades for many. No more indoor flooding when it rains. No leaky roofs and walls, or everyone always being in the same room. It’s a big change that will lead to bigger changes in the community.

This started with the good intentions of New Story. New Story is a charity that has been building low cost homes in places like Haiti and El Salvador, where people hit by natural disasters or persistent poverty have simply needed a safe home. They wanted to get even more efficient while retaining quality, so they partnered with construction tech company Icon, from Austin TX, to develop the Vulcan II printers. It’s been successful so far. Vulcan II can print just over 5.5 feet of a single layer of lavacrete per second, and the printer can have the floorpan adjusted on site. It also reads the atmosphere and automatically adjusts the cement mixture to compensate for moisture in the air. All adjustments can be made from a tablet-based UI.

These 400 square foot homes cost around $6,000 for the printed portion, meaning glass windows, doors, and other elements are added on top of that. New Story and Icon hope to lower that price to somewhere around $4,000! This is a huge shift from the purchasing costs we are used to. Even “tiny homes” cost at least $25,000, if not over $100,000. The low cost stems from using fewer materials, and far fewer man-hours. Only 4-6 people are needed for a build, there isn’t as much heavy equipment to rent, and the printer does most of the physical work. Icon says they can print homes as large as 2000 sq. ft., but those will cost around $20,000. Still an incredible savings.

The Vulcan II starting to print a home

One of the biggest advantages of this tech is that the printer can get to rural places much easier than other machinery. For many, location has been a barrier to building a safe home with modern methods. Perhaps it cost too much to get large trucks, lumber, cranes and more to their location, or unpredictable local weather means vehicles and materials can’t be there for weeks at a time. The Vulcan II solves those problems with it’s fast printing, small footprint, and needing only a couple of trailers to transport.

Soon, they will be printing homes for a planned community in Austin. Homeless will be provided with small homes, about the size of a studio apartment, to get them back on their feet. This tech will also likely be used to provide affordable housing to the middle class. Governments are approaching the two companies to find out how they can scale this to build many more homes very quickly. Look for these homes coming to your community in the next 5-10 years. Hopefully it will lead to more of us becoming homeowners.


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