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How 3D Printing is Reshaping Home Construction

Jessie Rivest

Jessie started as our Marketing & Listings Coordinator in 2019...

Jessie started as our Marketing & Listings Coordinator in 2019...

Apr 22 7 minutes read

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a frenzy of home buying in Canada.

As we saw buyers chewed through the housing supply, the price of building materials like steel and lumber skyrocketed.

Now the world needs affordable housing like never before.

The good news is 3D printing technology is rising to the occasion. 3D printed homes are inexpensive, easy on the environment, and can be built in a matter of days.

Down in Mexico, Vantage West Realty funded the construction of a single-family home for only $10,000 USD through New Story Charity’s Architect Program.

This piece explores how 3D printing works in construction, and explains the advantages for builders and homeowners. Afterwards, we’ll tour you around the most innovative 3D printed construction projects worldwide.

How 3D Printing Works

If you’ve ever watched a 3D printer work, 3D home printers work exactly the same on a larger scale. They build layer-by-layer by dripping a material like concrete, clay, or peat from a robotic arm attached to a gantry.

In 3D printing, a gantry is the metal structure that supports a 3d printer’s robotic arm.

These robotic arms each come equipped with extruders that deliver the building material into place. Extruders work similar to hot glue guns; they feed building material into position through a heated tube.

3D printers know where to place material based on instructions derived from architectural renderings (CAD files). CAD files are converted into 3D printing instructions using a slicer application.

Image Source: CNN.


The 3D Printing Process

  1. The construction team prepares the site by excavating and grading the land to give the building a strong and level foundation.

  1. Next the team installs the 3D printer into position, loads the slicer file and building material, then starts the 3D printing process.

  1. Once the printer finishes building, the team takes down the machine.

  1. Finally, they attach the roof (sometimes using a crane), then install doors, windows, heating, plumbing, and electrical systems.


Advantages of 3D Printing

Speed

Robots just don’t tire out as fast as humans do. 

We need people to set up, monitor, and disassemble 3D printers, but most of the work happens automatically - and at lightning speed.

We can build some 3D structures in under 24 hours.

The sheer speed of 3D printers makes them a perfect solution for rebuilding communities that have been hit by natural or economic disasters.

Image Source: Architectural Digest


Environmental Impact

When we use the right materials, 3D printing is really good for the environment.

This stunning 3D printed home in Italy was built in under 200 hours using locally sourced clay that eventually biodegrades back to the earth.

Some builders are now mixing peat with oil shale ash (an industrial waste product) to create a strong, economical, and environmentally-friendly building material that behaves a lot like concrete.


Cost

Because they’re fast and highly precise, 3D printing decreases homebuilding costs by as much as 30 to 40 percent.

As we see more 3D printing machines put to use, the overall cost of building should continue to decline.

However, it’s unclear if buyers and sellers will see lower home prices due to 3D printing. If demand stays hot and supply stays low over this next decade, land values may increase to make up the difference in value.


Image Source: Treehugger.com


Operating Efficiency

3D printers can produce wall designs that insulate against heat, cold, and humidity far better than conventionally-shaped building materials.

For example, the wasp’s nest-like structure shown above helps this building maintain a comfortable living environment year round using minimal energy inputs.


Novelty

Human hands would only struggle to produce the extraordinary home designs made possible by 3D printing.

From impossibly intricate sandcastles that wash away overnight to permanent concrete structures - the possibilities with 3D printing are limitless.

Let’s look at some of the most innovative 3D printing construction projects around the world.


3D Printed Construction Projects