Austin is ground zero for the 3-D printed home

The technology could significant reduce costs and construction time, builder says

Icon’s Jason Ballard and the welcome center at Community First Village
Icon’s Jason Ballard and the welcome center at Community First Village

A project in Austin, Texas could prove 3D-printed housing is more than a novel on-paper-only concept.

Austin-based builder Icon is finishing work on the first of six “3D-printed” homes part of a 51-acre development for the chronically homeless in the city called Community First Village, according to the Washington Post. The company also “printed” the structure for a welcome center at the development in 27 hours.

Icon is casting much of the structure of the 400-square-foot homes using what amounts to a supersized 38,000-pound 3D printer that casts objects in a concrete material instead of plastic. The company calls them the first 3D-printed homes of their kind in the country.

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Icon CEO Jason Ballard believes the printing method could significantly reduce construction time and aims to halve the cost of construction. Using the printer means fewer workers, reducing overhead. That’s the same argument made for modular construction methods.

The 11-foot-tall Vulcan II machine doesn’t print the entire structure — it prints the walls of the home. A traditional foundation has to be laid separately and the roof is also built separately. Then there’s electrical and plumbing.

Some skeptics question whether that makes Icon’s model applicable on a wide scale. Washington State University architecture professor Ryan Smith told the Post that while the tech was worthy of investment, it could be four decades before it has a significant impact on the homebuilding industry.

Still, Icon’s model has attracted attention from U.S. government agencies including NASA and the Department of Defense. The company signed a contract to train the U.S. Marines to use the tech and design concepts for military and humanitarian uses. [Washington Post] — Dennis Lynch

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