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3D printed homes: cheap, fast and strong

In just a few weeks, the first legally-permitted, MLS-listed, 3D printed home to hit U.S. market will start being squirted into existence (think of toothpaste exiting a toothpaste tube) by a giant autonomous robotic device named the Vulcan.

The first model, located in Long Island, is relatively inexpensive, far quicker to construct than a traditional homes and eco-friendly. Plus, builders say the construction process chops down growing construction costs—by a lot. Since the technology and process is brand new, it will take time for permitting standards to catch up, but these homes could be at least part of the answer to the U.S.’s affordable housing shortage.

SQ4D

The first permitted 3D printed house is under construction in Riverhead, New York. Listing agent Stephen King from Realty Connect USA said utilities, sewer and water lines are going in now. Once printing starts, the house will be complete in a few weeks, with. a total printing time of about 48 hours spread over those weeks.

SQ4D uses automated building methods (i.e., 3D printing) to build homes and other structures. Kirk Andersen, director of operations at SQ4D Inc., says that 3D printed homes are the homes of the future, and that SQ4D prints homes that are “fast, cheap and strong.” The Riverhead house is environmentally friendly and built to withstand intense weather and natural disasters. It’s also affordable, compared to similarly sized new construction homes in the area—listed for $300,000 for a 1,400-square-foot single-family home in Riverhead, New York. That’s more than $100,000 cheaper than the median-priced home in the area.

The Riverhead home will have three bedrooms, two baths and a 2.5-car detached garage. It was the first 3D printed home to receive a certificate of occupancy in the United States, according to the company. The company can set up the Vulcan at a build site in six to eight hours. It then lays concrete layer by layer, first creating the footings, then the foundation and the interior and exterior walls.

“The most difficult thing was finding a municipality that was willing to work with us to adapt the permitting process since usually inspectors visit the site every few weeks,” King explained. “Since that’s not possible, we’re going to leave a camera running to film the whole thing so inspectors will be able to see exactly where every conduit and outlet is.”

Andersen called it “a radical change for job sites,” and said people shouldn’t be wary of automation. Though the process is vastly different, the end result is a sturdy home that looks much like a traditionally built home, meets all building codes and should last at least 50 to 60 years—and as many as 100 by some estimates. 

“The cost of construction is 50% cheaper than the cost of comparable newly constructed homes, and 10 times faster,” King said. “We have H2M, a well-respected engineering firm, that has certified all our plans, and our company is issuing a 50-year warranty.”

King said he’s had a record number of landowners 

ICON and 2Strands

In the Austin, Texas, area, a development company named 3Strands from Kansas City used existing technology invented by construction technology company ICON to churn out four homes (so far). 

The homes are each between 1,000 and 2,000 square feet, and took between five and seven days to print. The ICON/3Strands homes are created via a combination of techniques: The first floor is 3D printed, while the upper floors are made from traditional construction materials. These homes aren’t quite as affordable as SQ4D’s, with prices starting at $450,000 (the current median price for Austin homes). 

While ICON’s homes in the Austin area are priced for the market, they don’t have to be in order for the company to turn a profit. The model the company showcased in 2018 at South by Southwest festival could be printed in less than 24 hours and cost less than $10,000. That ICON printed home was 650 square feet, comprising a living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and covered porch. 

SQ4D is also equipped to tackle big issues with their 3D printed homes. Andersen said the company plans to “use the technology to tackle homelessness, and aid in disaster relief in an eco-friendly way.”

Fast and cheap

The current listing inventory shortage goes far deeper than the pandemic making sellers delay listing their existing homes. Slow development after the recession plus a glut of Millennial first-time buyers means the U.S. needs a significant amount of new builds to catch up to demand

Proponents of 3D printed homes say the speed of construction and overall cost reduction makes these a viable candidate for increasing the country’s inventory of affordable housing. Instead of eight to 10 months for traditional construction, the Vulcan (ICON’s printer’s name) spits out a “Lavacrete” home in a few days. According to ICON founder Jason Ballard, cheaper materials and labor cut overall construction costs by as much as 30%.

Lumber shortages were among the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while suppliers of many other products have bounced back, lumber is still scarce. Because of that scarcity, prices have skyrocketed by more than 200% since April of last year. Processed lumber is sold by the “board foot,” and prices are at $1,100 per 1,000 board feet, up from less than $500 in June 2020. To put that in more relatable terms: Last spring a two-by-four sold for $3.39. Today it’ll cost you $8.79.

ICON has already worked with a couple of community development groups to build six homes in Central Texas and an entire community in rural Mexico. These projects were specifically for low-income families struggling to afford housing. 

ICON and SQ4D aren’t the only outfits touting 3D printed homes’ affordability and eco-friendliness. DUS Architects constructed a 250-square-foot cabin out of a sustainable bio-plastic, which can be shredded and recycled later, or even used to print a new house, for example. And a group of Czech Republic engineers designed and developed a home that takes 48 hours to print, reduces carbon emissions by 20% and lasts up to 100 years. 

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