Will 3D printing solve the affordable housing crisis?

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3D printing’s impact on construction is slowly materializing.

Owning one’s own house—a dream of human beings ever since Cro-Magnons looked out of their caves at the retreating glaciers—has been sometimes more, sometimes less affordable. Currently, we’re in one of the less affordable phases. With construction accounting for almost 60 percent of the cost of a new single-family home, measures that reduce labor and simplify material needs may make the dream more accessible for many.

Cue the 3D-printing evangelists. The 2010s have been ringing with the hosannas of houses extruded from a 3D printer in hours, sometimes many of them per day. The options seem limitless, with made-to-order versions in concrete, like Icon’s tiny house in Austin; ABS plastic and carbon fiber, like Branch Technology’s prototype home in Chattanooga; and recycled materials, like Chinese manufacturer WinSun’s five-story apartment building in Suzhou. By simplifying construction, we’re told, 3D printing can provide affordable shelter to everyone from the working poor to refugees.

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Can 3D printed homes solve the urban housing crisis?

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Building houses is massively wasteful. During the construction process, building projects accumulate giant piles of garbage from off-cuts of lumber and drywall to pallets that carry materials and the packaging they come in. And once operating, homes consume huge amounts of energy.

“It turns out if you triage the world and you ask where are all these ecological health issues coming from, you get a surprising answer,” Jason Ballard, co-founder and president of ICON, says. “It’s not the gas guzzling SUVs and private jets; it’s buildings, especially homes. They are the number one consumer of energy by sector and the number two user of water.”

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U.S. economic uncertainty is the new normal

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Many Americans are focused on bargains and careful to spend money only when they need.

Financial fears of most Americans seem to be adding to the nation’s economic woes.  The recession. The financial crisis. The housing crisis. The persistently high unemployment rate. And now, the debt debacle.  No wonder American’s feel uncertain about the U.S. economy.

 

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