Affordable house can be 3D printed for $4,000 in less than 24 hours

ICON / New Story
© ICON / New Story

There's a lack of affordable housing worldwide, from the most cosmopolitan of cities, to more remote, rural areas -- affecting an estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide. Tiny houses, micro-apartments, and modular and prefabricated housing are some potential solutions, but others are offering even more radical proposals, such as American startup ICON. They recently unveiled this affordable, 650-square-foot home that was 3D printed out of concrete in under 24 hours using a mobile printer, at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas -- they say it's the first permitted home of its kind in the US that complies with local building standards.

ICON / New Story© ICON / New Story

According to the company, this prototype cost around USD $10,000 to produce, but it estimates that costs will be lowered to around $3,500 or $4,000 for its production run in El Salvador next year, where it plans to print 100 affordable homes, in collaboration with international housing solutions non-profit New Story.

ICON's house is priced about the same but is larger than the 409-square-footer (38 square metres) printed by Russian startup Apis Cor, which also offers a similar kind of house-scale, mobile 3D printing technology. ICON's model has a living room, bathroom, bedroom, and a porch; the only part that was not printed was the roof.

ICON / New Story© ICON / New Story

ICON / New Story© ICON / New Story

ICON / New Story© ICON / New Story

ICON / New Story© ICON / New Story

ICON's durable 3D printer, nicknamed The Vulcan, is built to be easily transported via truck, and is capable of printing a home of up to 800 square feet, or about two to three times the size of a conventional tiny home. The versatile Vulcan uses a mortar that can be sourced from almost anywhere -- the idea here was to develop a technology that could be used in places where there might not be a lot of building resources. As Jason Ballard, cofounder of ICON, tells Fast Company:

The big difference, between a developed world and developing world context is you have a much more limited set of materials to work with. Number one, just because of access, you want to restrict your material mix to things that you could find very ubiquitously around the globe. And you also want to avoid expensive materials.

ICON / New Story© ICON / New Story

ICON / New Story© ICON / New Story

ICON / New Story© ICON / New Story

ICON / New Story© ICON / New Story

These 3D printed structures not only reduce labour costs, construction time and material wastage, they are also quite durable and more disaster-resistant, says Ballard:

There are fundamental problems with conventional stick-building that 3D printing solves, besides affordability. You get a high thermal mass, thermal envelope, which makes it far more energy-efficient. It’s far more resilient.

The team plans to use the 3D printed demonstration model in Austin as an office in the near future, to test and tweak it out further. The aim is to offer the Vulcan at an affordable price internationally, so that it can be adopted on a wider scale, explains New Story CEO Brett Hagler:

Ideally we can move from thousands of people to millions of people around the world by allowing other nonprofits and governments to use this technology. That’s the big goal, because our goal is impacting the most families possible.

ICON / New Story© ICON / New Story

The idea of being able to print an affordable small home legally is a tantalizing one -- not only would it make a big difference in developing nations, it could make a big impact here as well. Of course, the team says that this technology would not only benefit humans on Earth, it could potentially be scaled up to be used to build structures on Mars or on the Moon. To help fund the next phase of development in El Salvador, you can donate here; or find out more via ICON and New Story.

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