It’s almost inconceivable – a computer-programmed spout, attached to a 3D printer set on tracks, extruding concrete that hardens as it builds a house (or the shell of it, minus the roof) in under 24 hours, for less than US$4000 (AU$5078).
That’s the goal for not-for-profit called New Story, which is working together with construction technologies company ICON to mass produce 3D-printed homes that can be used as affordable housing solutions.
This week the companies revealed a prototype of their product in Austin, Texas, which they’re calling the US’s “first permitted 3D-printed home”, and which cost about US$10,000 (AU$12,697) to construct.
The 56-74 square metre homes are constructed with near zero waste, with workers coming in to add doors, windows, roofing, wiring and plumbing to the shell.
The aim is to take the product international, and do no less than end homelessness, or, as New Story puts it, “to create a world where no human being lives in survival mode.”
ICON says it’s the future of homebuilding, with 3D printing used to make major advancements in affordability, building performance, safety, speed of construction, sustainability and customisability.
Called the Vulcan, the printer can work under constraints common in places like Haiti and rural El Salvador, where power can be unpredictable, potable water not assured and technical assistance limited.
New Story chief executive Brett Hagler said the 3D printer would allow the organisation to provide more families with the best possible solutions, faster.
ICON co-founder Jason Ballard said conventional construction methods, with all their drawbacks, had been around for so long that it had become hard to imagine any alternative.
“With 3D printing, you not only have a continuous thermal envelope, high thermal mass and near zero-waste, but speed, a much broader design palette, next-level resiliency, and the possibility of a quantum leap in affordability. This isn’t 10 per cent better; it’s 10 times better.”
New Story’s goal is to print the first community of homes in El Salvador in the coming 18 months. The organisation currently works in Mexico, Haiti, El Salvador and Bolivia, and in three years has funded more than 1400 homes, completing more than 850 at a cost of US$6500 (AU$8247) each.
R&D is covered by private donors such as Y Combinator, prominent venture capitalists, and other leading executives. Each donation is paired directly with a family so donors can see their impact.
Cost savings are mainly on labour: each house can be put together by two to four workers.
For New Story, which has used construction as a way to provide local jobs in the past, that was “something we had to wrestle with a little bit”, Mr Hagler said.
“But we have to be true to our primary mission, which is to work with families that are living in the worst conditions without safe shelter and changing that.”
They also realised that if they can hit their target cost, they can double or triple the number of homes they build, and even though each house will require less individual labour, the process will still supply jobs.