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Can Mega 3-D Printer Be the Solution to Affordable Housing?

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Around the country, but particularly in cities that are hubs of technology and innovation, skyrocketing house prices have put home ownership well out of reach for many middle-class families. In Seattle, home to Microsoft and Amazon, median home prices have topped $800,000. San Francisco’s prices have risen steadily for years due to the influx of tech money from Silicon Valley, and last year, the median price in the city hit an eye-popping $1.6 million.

Another trendy urban center whose housing market is heading in the same direction is Austin. However, Austin-based construction tech company, ICON recently unveiled what it hopes to make a meaningful contribution towards ending the affordable housing shortage.

The Printer Bringing Us into the Future

The company launched the Vulcan II printer just last month; the printer can produce up to a 2,000 square-foot, fully permitted home in 24 hours at half the cost, according to Silicon Hills News.

“It’s four times as big, it’s twice as fast, and it’s going to start shipping to customers next month,” Jason Ballard, CEO and co-founder of ICON told Silicon Hills News.

This is not science fiction, it’s science fact. The world you all have been waiting for is about to arrive. – Jason Ballard

Last year, ICON partnered up with Silicon Valley housing nonprofit New Story to build the first-ever fully permitted 3D printed home in Austin, a 350 square-foot home at a cost of around $10,000 in materials. It served as a proof-of-concept for techniques required to reproduce similar homes in parts of the world affected by natural disasters or extreme poverty, such as Haiti and El Salvador.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

2018 was a big year for ICON. The company generated big buzz at 2018’s South by Southwest festival, building an entire 3D-printed home from scratch during the week-long event. The company went on to win the South by Southwest Accelerator pitch competition. That same year, Popular Mechanics included ICON in its top 100 Greatest Innovations list.

Photos courtesy ICON.

3D printing has many advantages over traditional construction methods. First, also most obvious, the work can be done in a fraction of the time with a much smaller work crew. Silicon Hills News writes that the Vulcan II can produce a livable home of up to 2,000 square feet in size in just 24 hours.

Sustainability is Key

Another advantage is that 3D printing produces little-to-no waste. The printer extrudes exactly the amount of material needed for construction and not a dab more. In the case of the Vulcan II, the material in question is called “Lavacrete.” It is structurally sound and safe for human occupancy proprietary mortar material created by ICON.

The city hopes producing affordable homes using the Vulcan II will slow the exodus of creative Austin residents being priced out of the housing market and will preserve the diverse character that makes Austin so unique.

“Our most significant challenge in this city is affordability, we are losing community,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said last month at an ICON promotional event in South Austin. “Austin is a city that creates art. We create art because we are a diverse and creative community.”

For the Masses

Eventually, entire communities could be created using 3D printers like the Vulcan II. It can help provide a roof over the heads of people in the developing world as well as control surging home prices in popular American metro areas. It seems fully 3D printed homes for sale could be popping up sooner than you might think.

“I believe in the next couple of years, you will see a 3D printed house with a for sale sign in front of it here in Austin, Texas, for sale for half price,” ICON’s Ballard said.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBookswebinars, and case studies you may enjoy:

Print and They Will Come

Bringing Tech to the Field

Cullison Wright Study


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One thought on “Can Mega 3-D Printer Be the Solution to Affordable Housing?

  1. Please tell Mr. Ballard that those of us in construction have not been “waiting” for 3D printers to take our jobs. I believe we all thought it was possible, but we certainly haven’t been “waiting” for it. I for one have not been waiting to make a career change and join the Millennial generation behind a desk. That said, it is exciting to think a possible answer to the affordable housing shortage is presenting itself. Thank you.

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