Companies aim to solve housing affordability crisis with 3D printing

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A developer in Austin is planning on using a 3D printer to print and build affordable homes in the City of Austin. 

On Monday, local 3D printing company ICON introduced “Vulcan II.” The company says it is the next generation of its revolutionary technology: capable of building more affordable, more beautiful and more resilient homes.

Compared to the printer they introduced last year, ICON’s CEO and Co-Founder Jason Ballard said, Vulcan II can print four times larger houses two and a half times faster.

“If you went and hired a builder to build you a 2,000 sq. ft. house, you’re talking on the order of, magnitude of months, if not over a year to get that house built,” he said. “With 3D printing, the time frame is down into the days.”

Cielo Property Group, a real estate development company, will be commissioning one of the printers to create affordable housing. 

“We envision families living in these homes in Austin in places where they could not have afforded before,” said Cielo’s Co-CEO Bobby Dillard. 

Dillard explained, Austin right now is dealing with high material costs, expensive land, labor shortage, as well as a limited supply of homes.

He believes 3D printing can help alleviate those issues.

“One of the biggest issues we have with real estate in general is we’re always projecting months and months ahead,” Dillard said. “But if you can go print something and be ready, print something in a day or two days, you can bring something to somebody they want much faster.” 

Ballard said the 3D printer uses lavacrete, which a cement-like material. 

Commercial buildings use concrete, so Dillard said, using lavacrete will make homes more durable. 

“To take homes and add 70 years, we’ll also lower the cost of maintenance for homes,” he said. 

“Right now, we think on a head to head test, apples to apples, conventionally built home, the same house printed, you’re talking about probably 30% cheaper,” Ballard said. 

When ICON showcased a smaller home in 2018 during South by Southwest, Ballard told KXAN they had to submit extra documents to the city to prove the home was safe. 

“There was compression testing, sheer testing, three point bend testing, a lot of scientific and engineering tests that we had to pass a certain bar,” he explained.

The City of Austin said it doesn’t have a separate permit process for 3D printed homes. Developers just need to follow the regulations established for a traditional home.

Now, the challenge for Cielo is finding public or private land for 3D printed homes.

Dillard said, “It could be the city. It could be the local land owners. It could be big developers that have land. We’ll even entertain buying land ourselves.”

They hope to start printing this year. 

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