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3D-printed houses: the solution to the housing crisis?

3D-printed houses are building up momentum around the world. This innovative technology may just be the solution to the global housing crisis. Read on for the lowdown on this exciting technology and how it’s being put to best use.

The history of 3D printers

Although most of us are just starting to see common use of 3D printers, the truth is that the concept of 3D printing was first described in 1945 by Murray Leinster, according to Wikipedia. The first 3D printing patent came a little bit later, in 1984, by American entrepreneur Bill Masters. In 1992, the company Stratasys marketed the first fused deposition modelling (FDM) machine.

FDM is the most common type of 3D printer even nowadays, which is based on plastic extrusion. When the patent for FDM expired in 2009, other companies started investing in and developing such processes. Currently, 3D printers have reached a level of quality and price that makes them accessible to most people. Hence why we are starting to see so many 3D-printed figures around!

The first one-piece 3D-printed house in Belgium

But visionaries are taking this technology far beyond small action figures. In fact, 3D printers are now being used to 3D print houses. The process is very similar to how a small 3D printer prints small figures. The main difference is that the 3D printer is larger, generally mounted on a crane or structure, and uses a concrete mix instead of plastic.

A centre for sustainability and innovation in construction named Kamp C built what they claim to be the first 3D-printed house, printed in one piece in Belgium. This 3D-printed house was finished in December last year. It was produced using the largest 3D concrete printer in Europe. With two floors, it was fully built on-site in just three weeks.

Assembling the 3D concrete printer on-site took just one day, and another day to replace it at the end. The centre reckons that in the future they could build a 3D-printed house in just two days. They could also be taller than 2 storeys. Another advantage of 3D printing in one piece is the cost-saving associated with reduced mistakes. Since the design has already been produced in a BIM environment with a Common Data Environment, design issues are resolved early on.

Efficient, disaster-proof 3D-printed houses

A desert in California will soon see a community of 3D-printed houses too. Located in Coachella Valley, these houses will become the first 3D-printed neighbourhood in the US. Mighty Buildings, a construction technology company, will be in charge of construction. They specialise in off-site construction. Using massive 3D printers in their warehouse, they can build a small house in less than 24hours. They claim to have 80% of the construction process automated, with 10 times less waste than traditional construction and 95% fewer labour hours. The price of the houses will start at $595,000 for a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house.

In Texas, construction technology company ICON has built 3D-printed houses designed to cope with extreme weather. According to the company, the houses can withstand fire, flood, wind and other natural disasters better than conventionally built homes. ICON built seven of these 3D-printed houses for people who were formerly homeless. It took between just five to seven days to print each of them. In June 2020, the community withstood a 7.4 magnitude earthquake with no visible damage.

At the end of 2018, an Italian company built a 3D-printed house made with biodegradable materials. The company WASP built this house to showcase the capabilities of their 3D-printing crane. The house has walls with a natural mud mixture made from soil and waste materials from rice production. This innovative use of sustainable materials can be a game-changer for impoverished communities around the world.

A game-changer for developing countries and communities

In fact, 3D-printed houses and schools are already being built in Malawi, Africa. This is part of Africa’s innovative 3D printing programme which will expand to Kenya and Zimbabwe in the near future too. The programme is led by 14Trees, a joint venture between LafargeHolcim, a Swiss-based building material manufacturer, and CDC Group, the UK’s development finance institution.

The first prototype house, printed in Malawi’s capital of Lilongwe, took only 12 hours to build. This represents a small fraction of the four days it would have taken a conventional building crew. Similarly, a school in Salima took just 18 hours to build. With its high speed of construction and optimised material use, this technology reduces the carbon footprint of new homes by up to 70%.

UNICEF estimates a shortage of some 36,000 classrooms in Malawi. With conventional construction methods, it would take 70 years to build them. According to 14Trees, this gap could be bridged in just 10 years using 3D printing methods. An innovative solution that could massively impact the lives of thousands, or even millions, of children worldwide.

Do you think that 3D-printed houses are the solution to the global housing crisis? Let us know in the comments below!

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