Have you ever wondered whether you can 3D print a house?
Yes, you can!
This technology has just started to be incorporated into schools and workplaces, but there’s one industry that has started to adopt it with a frenzy: residential construction.
Below, we’ll discuss what the process of building 3D printed houses entails and what you need to know about certain printing techniques you could see more of in the future.
1. What is a 3D printed house?
A 3D printed house is one that’s made by using certain 3D printing techniques or 3D printed materials.
There are two ways that this can be done, and they’ll be covered in the next section.
2. How are 3D printed houses made?
Based on their name, you may expect a 3D printed house to be built using a giant 3D printer.
However, this isn’t the case.
The houses are built using 3D printing technologies like a robotic arm extruder or sand printing.
Using 3D printing in construction offers numerous advantages over traditional construction.
Here are the two different ways you can “print” houses.
First, a 3D printed house can be made with a robotic arm extruder.
A normal FDM tabletop 3D printer has a robotic arm-type device inside that does the printing.
The robotic arm extruder is similar — except that it’s much larger.
The 3D printed house uses a technology known as contour crafting where the robotic arm moves around on rails and prints the house layer by layer.
Instead of using plastic like a traditional 3D printer, the robotic arm extruder prints concrete.
While the technology associated with the 3D printed house is relatively new, it’s broken barriers that people wouldn’t have thought possible just a few years ago.
It’ll be interesting to see how far construction can go with this new technology.
The robotic arm extruder is the most common method of large-scale 3D printing.
However, there is a second method that can be used called Sand 3D Printing.
Sand 3D printing occurs when a large machine begins with a single layer of a sandy powder.
The printer then uses a binder to harden the shape of the house materials slowly.
Unlike the robotic arm, and 3D printing cannot create the entire house.
However, it can help to speed up production and create custom pieces that builders may not be able to find anywhere else.
3. What home-building materials can be 3D printed?
So, what materials do we commonly see used in 3D printed houses?
Concrete, for the most part, because you can use it in the robotic arm.
With a 3D printer, curved foundations and walls have never been easier to create.
These are attractive features that were once much more expensive to install.
Other examples of printed materials include 3D printed planks and/or studs that replace the wooden studs that make up a house’s frame.
The use of 3D printed materials is rising because of the increase in lumber costs.
Printing these pieces is quick, efficient, and affordable.
What’s not to love?
4. Are 3D printed houses safe?
This is a common question that people ask after learning that 3D printed houses exist.
If you’ve ever held a plastic 3D printed creation, you’re probably right to be skeptical about a house printed of the same material.
That said, 3D printed homes are similar to traditionally built concrete houses in a variety of ways.
For this reason, you can rest easy.
Concrete is a sound building material, and it’s been used in architecture for centuries.
You can trust your 3D printed concrete to withstand the following:
Plus, 3D printed houses still need to meet local state laws and regulations.
If all else fails, you can feel confident about the fact that a 3D printed house must still pass the same inspection a conventional house would.
5. Which is safer: 3D printed concrete walls or wood?
Wood is probably the first building material you think of when you consider the process of building a house.
While wood has been a standard in residential construction for years, it’s weaker than most concrete mixes and easily damaged.
Here’s why you can feel more confident about concrete than wood if you decide to go the 3D printed route.
6. How much do 3D printed houses cost?
To put the question in perspective, how much do other houses cost?
There’s no specific answer.
Housing costs are largely dependent on the local market, the time of year, etc.
Here’s an idea of what a 3D printed house could cost when compared to a traditional equivalent.
In 2022, it cost $155,000 to $416,000 to build an average sized 3-bedroom house with traditional building methods.
Using 3D printing technology, it costs 20 to 40 percent less to build this same house.
So, you’re looking at roughly $140,000 to $240,000.
That said, most construction 3D printers will not build or print foundations.
It will also not add any cost-saving benefits when it comes to roofing the house.
As a result, fixtures like windows, doors, electrical wiring, paint, and finishing are priced the same as a conventional house because they fall outside the scope of what a 3D printer is capable of.
7. What are the advantages of 3D printed houses?
You may consider 3D printed houses a passing fad.
However, there are a lot of benefits that this construction model provides.
Here’s what you should consider.
Did you know that a small 3D printed house can be built in under 24 hours?
While the start-to-finish build normally requires more time, it is possible for the process to go this quickly if necessary.
The cost of using 3D printed materials in a home is around $10,000, and leaders in the industry are hoping to reduce the cost to $4,000.
While you’re likely to see a final price closer to traditional homes (albeit at a steep discount), there’s no denying that this is an inexpensive alternative.
With the way the current real estate market is going, this is a welcome one!
Homebuyers have 3D printing technology at their fingertips to help customize their home shape.
You don’t necessarily need an architect (or lots of cash) to create a one-of-a-kind home just for you!
With 3D printed houses, we avoid some of the crises in the supply chain and reduce waste due to over-engineering.
This makes these homes eco-friendlier than a conventional build.
The inexpensive and sustainable nature of 3D printed houses have attracted the attention of nonprofits and other companies hoping to address homelessness.
This housing option could be the solution all low-income communities across the country need.
8. What are the disadvantages?
Why might someone not want a 3D printed house?
Here are some of the drawbacks that you’ll want to consider before investing your time and energy.
The materials that can be delivered from the printer head are pretty much limited to concrete and plastics.
If you need a different material like wood or stone, you’ll need to rely on more traditional methods to install it.
There are no set regulations or processes to get 3D printed buildings approved for either residential or commercial use.
This can make it much more difficult to build a house in the area you already live in.
You may love the idea of having a 3D printed house, but it’s more complicated in practice.
Everyone loves the idea of a cheaper home, but why is it cheaper?
At least in part it’s cheaper because it eliminates the need for human labor during a segment of the process.
If 3D printed houses take hold, we’ll see a reduction in jobs in the construction industry.
Some printers have lower tolerances than others.
This means that the final products may differ from the original design.
While this can be fixed in post processing, it’s likely to further increase the time and cost of production.
9. Where do you buy 3D printed houses?
In most cases, consumers cannot commission a 3D printed home directly.
Local construction companies often cannot afford to purchase an expensive 3D printer (starting at $39,000 for small basic models and costing upwards of $100,000 for larger models).
In addition to the cost of equipment and materials, another barrier to 3D home construction is how few companies have a construction permit for that type of home.
They’re often distributed only in select areas for experimental cases.
If you’re interested in building a 3D printed house, then contacting a large local construction company is often the best step.
If you don’t have any success with that route, consider contacting the 3D printer companies themselves to see if they have any contacts.
Here are some companies that currently provide construction 3D printing services.
10. How are 3D printed houses built?
Here’s the step-by-step process that you would undergo if you wanted to build a 3D printed house.
All homes require a blueprint before they can be built — 3D printed houses are no different.
This blueprint is designed through modeling software.
During this process, you’ll be able to customize the house to meet your specific needs.
The home builder who oversees the printer will need to review and submit your blueprint to the local jurisdiction for approval to make sure it is in compliance with all local codes.
Once approved, the home builder will send the design to the printer to digitally process the file.
During this time, they’ll also build the platform and prepare the raw materials for execution.
Before the printer can start, rails must be installed around the building site to direct the robotic arm.
The printer will most likely lay concrete as it moves around the rails to build your house layer by layer.
The printer uses a process called material extrusion — heating and squeezing out liquid through a nozzle.
A concrete dryer is also used to help the building material solidify quickly.
The process most often used in 3D printed houses (described above) only covers the home’s foundation and walls.
To complete the project, you’ll need human labor for additional construction to install pieces like windows, doors, plumbing, electrical wiring, etc.
The rails that the 3D printer used should also be removed.
11. What are some great examples?
Countries have rapidly embraced 3D printing in construction over the past several years.
Here are some of the best examples around the world, which may inspire you on your 3D printed house journey.
The U.S.’s first fully 3D-printed home was revealed at Austin’s South by Southwest 2018 Conference.
This house is 650 square feet.
It’s made of concrete and costs approximately $10,000 to build.
You can visit here to see pictures.
Dubai has the world’s largest 3D printed building.
It’s a two-story office space 31 feet tall and 6,900 square feet.
The city’s goal is to have 25 percent of its new buildings constructed through 3D printing by 2030.
Visit here to see pictures of the largest 3D printed building.
Southern Mexico has also been using 3D printing for good.
They’ve been busy building 50 homes for a poverty-stricken area that’s prone to natural disasters like earthquakes and floods.
The hope is that the sturdy 3D printed houses will help the community withstand extreme weather conditions.
Visit here to see pictures of the neighborhood construction project.
And as if having 3D printed houses and buildings around the Earth wasn’t enough, NASA is working on a 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.
It accepted commissions for colony designs which wrapped up in 2019.
The goal for this challenge was to collect ideas for designs that could be printed on either the moon or Mars one day.
So, what do you think?
Are you for or against 3D printed houses?
This quick and sustainable option could help with the housing shortage and competitive real estate market.
However, there are some barriers to building, like building codes and lack of permits.
Hopefully, the rise in popularity prompts municipalities to adjust their policies accordingly!
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.