Just a month ago, a 3D printed house went on sale to the public for the first time in the US.
Now a small 3D printed community in Texas is doing the same. Another larger community in California is also in the works.
In other words, 3D printed real estate is taking off in a big way.
That first house that went up for sale has yet to be built. The company, SQ4D, printed a model home on a concrete patio on Long Island, New York, and hosted more than 100 screenings. The new house will be printed on a nearby lot.
ICON, a pioneer in 3D printed houses in the US, has just completed four houses in East Austin, Texas. In partnership with Kansas City-based developer 3Strands, two- to four-bedroom homes are now on the market, starting in the $ 400,000 range.
“The lawsuit has been off the charts, even difficult to manage,” said Gary O’Dell, co-founder and CEO of 3Strands. “The response could not have been more positive.”
The city of Austin, one of the fastest-growing metropolitan markets in the country, has already embraced the concept of 3D-printed homes, so the zoning and permitting process was relatively easy, O’Dell said.
“We built four houses in the configuration that we did because we were able to do it in the existing zoning,” he added.
3D printed home construction by 3Strands and ICON in Austin, Texas.
A year ago, ICON printed seven one-story, 400-square-foot homes in Austin, in collaboration with Mobile Loaves & Fishes, an Austin nonprofit. The houses are part of a community for the homeless. That experience, along with printing a dozen homes on another project in Mexico, gave ICON all the knowledge it needed to quickly move forward on the new, larger homes that are now for sale.
“We are going to graduate from homes by the dozen to homes by the hundreds,” said Jason Ballard, ICON CEO.
How are they made
ICON prints the houses on-site, using its Vulcan construction system, which spits out a “proprietary extrudable concrete,” according to Ballard, adding that this is the fastest, lowest-cost method. It also allows the most flexibility in floor plans.
In the new development, ICON 3D printed the first floor and then built the second floor in a conventional way, but that allowed them to certify the wall system for the two-story construction.
“It’s the quickest path from imagination to building options,” said Ballard. “It can produce things that look very tall and of very high quality, but they are no more expensive to deliver than a straight wall would be.”
3D printed home construction by 3Strands and ICON in Austin, Texas.
Ballard said that home construction is 10% to 30% cheaper and several months faster than conventional construction. This is especially important given the rising costs that builders are seeing for conventional building materials such as steel, aluminum, and especially wood.
“Housing has been a bright economic spot amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but the industry’s potential to move the economy forward is limited as long as building materials remain expensive and in short supply,” the Association researchers wrote. National Home Builders earlier this month. “Builders are doing everything they can to avoid pricing consumers out of their homes while maintaining the competitive prices necessary to operate their businesses.”
There is also an acute labor shortage in the home construction industry. 3D printed houses require very few workers, as the printer does most of the construction.
The ICON community in Texas may be the first, but right on its heels is planning a much larger community in Rancho Mirage, California, by the Mighty Buildings competition.
Together with developer Palari Group, the company just announced that it will install 15 3D printed houses in what it considers “the world’s first planned community of 3D printed houses … focused on integrating technology and sustainability.”
Mighty Builders claims that the 3D printing production process eliminates 99% of construction waste and is 30-40% cheaper than traditional construction. It will also use solar energy.
Mighty Builders started in 2017, inventing a polymer compound that could be compared to synthetic stone. He made the house in panels in a factory and then moved them, but for the Rancho Mirage community, the houses will be printed on site.
Rendering of a 3D printed community of Mighty Buildings and Palari Group in Rancho Mirage, CA.
Source: Mighty Buildings
“This is totally different from concrete because our material is thermally efficient,” said Alex Dubov, COO of Mighty Buildings. “Our goal is to reach a zero net energy standard for each unit. Our material has a lower thermal conductivity. There is no loss of heat or cold between the inside and outside.
Against the elements
Whether made of concrete or polymer, these houses have proven to be much more energy efficient, sustainable and resistant than conventional houses built with wood.
Ask Tim Shea, 70, who lives in one of the ICON houses built for the homeless in Austin. It weathered the recent cold and ice storm there without a problem.
“I didn’t even know there was one until I raised the blinds,” Shea said. “It’s amazing. I can pronounce a lot of adjectives, but it is a fantastic place. It is the most unique place I have ever lived. Houses, apartments, I am like an insect on a carpet in this place.”
ICON homes in Mexico have already weathered a major earthquake without damage. Since the houses are made of concrete, they are resistant to mold, termites, water and rot.
A rendering of a 3D printed home construction by 3Strands and ICON in Austin, Texas.
Mighty Buildings is still evaluating whether its material is strong enough to withstand hurricane force winds as it seeks to expand its geographic footprint.
“We have some interest from Florida and the east coast,” Dubov said. “We are serving customers throughout California, so we are 100% confident that our homes can withstand earthquakes or winds. The only exception is that hurricane testing has not been completed.”
With the demand for 3D printed homes now so strong, the biggest challenge for these companies is how to scale quickly. ICON has four printing systems and is already building more. Ballard, who now employs 40 people, said he expects the company to grow to a workforce of more than 100 this year.
ICON announced a $ 35 million Series A funding round led by Moderne Ventures in August 2020. The investment brings ICON’s total funding since its launch in 2018 to $ 44 million. Investors in the seed round included Oakhouse Partners, Cielo Property Group, the nation’s largest home builder, DR Horton and Emaar, among others.
“The biggest challenge for ICON is that we have limited supply. We have more people asking us to build houses than we know what to do now,” Ballard said. “Every construction system we have is reserved for the next 24 months.” Calls it a “champagne” problem.
“It is the dream of every entrepreneur,” he said.
A rendering of the interior of a house printed in 3D by 3Strands and ICON.