3D Printed Homes Guide: What to Know About Their Pros & Cons & Future
As the world's population grows, so does the demand for affordable housing. New technologies, such as 3D printing, may provide a solution to this problem. When most people think of 3D printing, they tend to think about small objects like trinkets or figurines. But what if we told you that 3D printing technology has the potential to revolutionize the affordable housing crisis? Believe it or not, there are a growing number of companies and startups experimenting with 3D-printed homes. Read on to learn about what 3D printed houses are and what questions you should ask.
How Can 3D Printed Homes Help the Housing Crisis?
Fixing the affordable housing crisis means producing more homes and ensuring they're affordable. 3D printed homes can help with both of those things. They cost less to produce (around $150,000 total), and they're built faster (some can be made in 24 hours). This could mean more people can have access to affordable housing sooner.
Of course, just building a home or two at a time won't do much. That's why some companies are already wondering if 3D-printed communities could work. For example, Ontario will be home to Canada's first 3D-printed residential project. Even though there will only be four homes, it's still a big step in seeing how viable these communities could be.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing is the process of creating three-dimensional objects from a digital file made with computer-aided (CAD) design software. The printer then creates objects by layer-by-layer deposition of materials, such as plastic, carbon fibre, wood filament, and more.
How You Can Print a Home
It's relatively easy to see how to 3D print small objects like decorations, but what about full-sized homes? Homes are printed in the same way, just on a larger scale. A blueprint of the house is made first, then digitally sent to the printer. The printer takes care of the home's main structure, and humans will come in later to add plumbing, wiring, windows, etc.
What Materials Are in a 3D Printed Home?
The most common primary substance in building a 3D home is concrete with added fibres and other materials mixed in to help adhesion. Other building materials include mortar, special polymers, and even soil.
3D-printed homes can also be made from recycled material. While traditional homes can make use of something like recycled glass as part of sustainable construction trends, 3D homes can take it a step further. Companies building 3D-printed homes often use plastic bottles and other types of plastic waste to make their homes. So, if you're looking for an exceptionally eco-friendly option, a 3D printed house made from recycled materials is a good choice.
Regardless of the material, 3D-printed homes are more sustainable than traditional homes. The process reduces waste since the printer knows how much material to use. Additionally, the carbon emissions are lowered (especially if the house doesn't use much concrete) thanks to a lesser need for transporting materials.
Living in a 3D-Printed House
3D homes have been popping up in countries including the United States, France, and Canada. There's no doubt homes can be 3D printed, but what would it be like to live in one? These houses have pros and cons like any other, but they're undoubtedly unique.
Pros of 3D-Printed Housing
As mentioned above, 3D-printed homes are more environmentally-friendly and cheaper than traditional homes. While the printed homes still have to use labour to put in the finishing touches, which will add to the home's base cost, the 3D-printed home is generally still cheaper. It will have a significant advantage in sustainability since the printers are more flexible in what materials they can use.
In addition to the materials, 3D-printed homes are also flexible in their designs. Creating the blueprint from the ground up means more room for creativity.
"Thanks to the texturing process and absolute precision afforded by 3D home printers, architects or builders have a lot of design versatility," said Tiffany Payne, Director of Marketing at Orangeries UK. "They can also construct complicated geometric forms and buildings that would be impossible (especially at scale) to achieve using standard construction methods."
Cons of 3D-Printed Housing
Despite the promising benefits, 3D-printed housing is still a relatively new process, which leads to several drawbacks. For one thing, the technology isn't widely available, and some architects aren't interested, so finding someone to print your home is challenging. And if you did find a builder, you'll have to be okay with the possibility that your home will be smaller than most traditional ones.
Another potential drawback is that, since the technology is still new, we don't yet know the long-term stories of these houses. Will the homes be just as durable as traditional homes? How will regulation work in the future? Only time will tell.
Buying a 3D Printed House
Just like with a traditional home, potential buyers should be sure to ask plenty of questions before buying a 3D house. Some of these questions include:
- What materials are used?
- How long will it take to print the home?
- How much will printing the home cost?
- How much will additional labour to finish construction cost?
- Does the company offer a warranty and/or have insurance?
Questions about details related to utilities are also a good idea. You don't want to find out that wiring or pipes weren't included in early design plans because it could add delays to the project. Similarly, you'll want to ensure the home has the same insulation you'd expect from a traditional home.
Looking at a 3D Printed Future
As with any emerging technology, there is room for improvement in the world of 3D-printed homes. Its future primarily depends on if builders and consumers come to embrace the change and how the technology itself expands. For 3D-printed housing to take off, the printers will need to become more available and less expensive.
The Bipartisan Policy Center included 3D housing in its list of promising advances in construction. Arica Young, the associate director for the BPC's Terwilliger Center for Housing, pointed out that 3D printing isn't yet widely used in residential construction.
"Broader dissemination of these materials and technologies will depend on greater awareness and education in all stages of construction, including among building and land use regulators," Young said.
Education aside, there's also an opportunity for growth in aspects like design and materials. At present, materials like wood can't be 3D printed, so labourers have to be brought in—the printers can't yet print an entire home. When it comes to design, while there are opportunities to do something different with the structure, many 3D homes are relatively standard and don't have as much space as traditional homes.
Are 3D Homes the Solution?
3D-printed homes are still in the developmental stages, but they could provide a solution to the affordable housing crisis. They are cheaper, faster, and more sustainable to build than traditional homes. Still, many questions still need to be answered about these homes.
Questions aside, it is an exciting time for this technology. Ontario's residential project is a great testing ground for the future of housing, and staying up-to-date on the stories of 3D-printed housing will give people a leg up if this technology becomes more accessible and mainstream.