As 3D house construction becomes reality, early indications are these houses might be built in half the time and for half the cost. The 3D-printed housing industry is still very early in its development. Although new 3D houses are coming on the market and being sold, you should expect a lot of future experimenting with new techniques, materials, methods, and hardware. But even in its earliest stages of development, this innovative technology is promising big changes for the industry.
3D printing is not new, but it is new at the scale that it takes to build homes. Basic 3D printing took off shortly after the digital revolution of the 1980s. Its earliest uses were in laboratories with expansion into prototype part designs for all kinds of small fabricated parts that ranged from aerospace to trinkets. Early development was mostly used for proofs-of-concept rather than consumer products. Some of the early housing industry proofs-of-concept were in architectural designs. But 35 years later, the technology has evolved to the point that full-size 3D houses can be printed for people to live in.
Currently, the 3D material of choice to print houses favors concrete although other materials are being tried such as foams and polymer powder bonding. Concrete has been used to manufacture homes for centuries and can currently meet many local ordinances as a construction material. As this new industry matures, it’s important to remember that 3D printed houses must meet local state laws and regulations. Concrete walls are safer than most other common building materials currently on the market. If you're planning to use concrete in your home construction, you may get in touch with ready mix concrete suppliers and compare their prices.
The basic technology is for very large 3D printers to extrude a proprietary concrete mixture at a specific consistency that cures at a controllable rate. It looks like a large support-frame with a massive spout squeezing out concrete toothpaste in long lines. The two principal factors are concrete that flows smoothly, and that it can continuously be stacked in layers that are dimensionally accurate.
Concrete is much stronger and durable than the wood that most houses are built from today. In fact, the Roman Pantheon is over 1,800 years old and was built with concrete. Concrete is resistant to fire, pests, as well as aging problems like rot and mold.
Most early trials with 3D house construction have been on a smaller scale. Tiny houses on the scale of 350 square feet have been produced in 48 hours at a cost to the contractor of about $10,000. The concrete machines are not yet being run at full speed and it is believed they can complete tiny houses in 24 hours at full speed at a cost of about $4,000.
The early adaption was also used to make additions to houses and small guest houses. Full-scale construction is now happening with 900 to 1,200 square foot houses. A lot of testing was done before bringing it up to full scale. Today, 3D printing is used to construct the foundation, interior/exterior walls, and utility conduits for these smaller homes in just two days. The pricing has not yet been set in concrete, but these initial houses are being sold for slightly less than $300,000 in New York. That is about half the price of similar-sized houses using conventional materials and labor.
The cost of labor is minimal with two skilled laborers able to run the machine in most cases. The computing power needed to power the machines is also nothing exceptional. However, the computers do need sophisticated computer programs that need to be configured to each house design. Although a basic laptop can run the concrete spewing machine, the cost of the concrete machine isn’t so cheap. Currently, a few machines on the market cost between $500,000 and $700,000. These massive machines look somewhat like an oversized carwash and weigh several tons. Transporting the machines from one worksite to the next requires more labor and time than it does to operate the machine once it is set up.
These machines build the foundation, interior/exterior walls, and leave accurate openings for windows, doors, and utilities. However, even after the walls are up, conventional materials and labor are needed to complete the roof, windows, doors, and utilities. All of which are costs that continue going up rather than down.
Still, 3D homes are cutting labor costs and adding substantial durability. The standard wood frames and sheet rock are being replaced by wind-resistant and water-impermeable concrete. Concrete should stand up much better in disaster-prone areas such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, even wildfires, and be less expensive to maintain.
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