What Are 3D Printed Houses & How Are They Made?
3D printed houses might sound like something out of a futuristic science-fiction movie, but it’s actually the reality that we’re all living in today. Does that mean that 3D printed houses are built using giant 3D printers that encompass the entire house? Well, no. At least, not usually (although a small house has been built this way). Instead, they are made by either using certain 3D printing techniques or by just using 3D printed materials.
3D Printing A House
As crazy as this idea may sound — trust us, we know it does — a house can actually be 3D printed. Never mind the small house that was printed inside a giant 3D printer that we mentioned before. But instead, there are two main ways that (portions of) houses can be 3D printed today using the technologies available right now. Or at least the materials to build the house can be printed. Let’s take a quick look at each one.
Robotic Arm Extruder
When you think about how a house might actually be 3D printed, chances are decent that this is the type of thing that comes to mind. Just like how a normal FDM tabletop 3D printer has a robotic arm-type device inside that does the printing, this large-scale robotic extruder arm is similar. The difference is mainly in the size of the arm and the fact that there isn’t the rest of the printer around the house!
But the principle of how it works remains largely the same as a far smaller desktop printer. Using a technology known as contour crafting, the robotic arm moves around on rails and prints the house layer by layer. Just like a normal 3D printer! What’s incredibly interesting about this printer is that it actually prints concrete, something that many people would’ve never thought possible just a few years ago!
This technology is relatively new, and it’ll be incredible to watch how it progresses even further in the next few years and makes 3D printing in construction even easier.
Sand 3D Printing
While the robotic arm above is the most common method of 3D printing large-scale options like a house, a method of printing construction materials is using a sand 3D printer. If you aren’t familiar with how this method works, it is fairly similar in its process to the SLS and Jet Fusion 3D printing techniques that are currently used in industrial 3D printers.
With a sand 3D printer, the large machine begins with a single layer of a sandy powder. Using a binder, the printer then begins to harden the shape of the house materials little by little. While this process might not create the entire house as the robotic arm can, 3D printing construction materials using a sand printer can lead to incredibly fast production times and getting custom pieces that builders would be hard-pressed to find anyplace else.
Speaking of 3D printing the materials to build a home rather than printing the entire home itself, let’s take a look at what construction materials can be 3D printed.
What Home-Building Materials Can Be 3D Printed?
In theory, with the nearly limitless possibilities that come with 3D printing, just about anything can be printed. But it isn’t typical — at least not yet — to actually construct a house made of entirely 3D printed materials. For many items, it just wouldn’t make sense to spend the time and money 3D printing them when they’re so readily available and affordable by other means.
But there are definitely some parts of houses that can be 3D printed to potentially save time and money. One of the most common uses of 3D printing in home-building is the concrete that we mentioned above. With the robotic arm, it’s possible to quickly and efficiently 3D print concrete in just about any shape and location. Curved foundations and walls have never been easier than with a 3D printer, greatly reducing the cost of these attractive features.
Besides concrete, many other typical home-building materials can be printed. One of the easiest things to print is 3D printed planks and/or studs to replace the wooden studs that make up a house’s frame. Especially with the massive increase in lumber costs in 2020 and 2021, using 3D printed materials looks even more promising. These pieces can be printed fast, efficiently, and in large numbers, making them incredibly affordable to use.
What Do 3D Printed Houses Cost?
Just like if you were to ask what any other type of house costs, it’s an incredibly difficult question to answer so simply. Housing costs are largely dependent on the area that the house is located in, the time of year, what comparable homes around it are selling for, how the current real estate market is, and many other factors. But we can look at the cost of 3D printed homes in a general sense to get an idea of what they cost.
Let’s start off by looking at the ridiculous range of costs that can be seen in 3D printed homes. Depending on how it’s built and how much of the home is done using 3D printing, it could cost as little as $5,000 to build a super simple 3D printed home. On the other end of the spectrum, you could also pay millions of dollars for a more lavish home constructed using 3D printing.
But in general, you can expect 3D printing construction to be less than standard home-building. On a square foot basis, 3D printing a home will usually only cost around 30% to 50% of the cost of typical home-building methods. But then keep in mind that far more often than not, normal construction methods will still need to be used to finish the homes in their entirety. Which then of course begins to raise the cost.
In some markets, you can have a home built using 3D printers for around half the price of homes in the area that were built using more conventional means of construction. But most of the time, prices for the homes will be similar to one another. As of today, even if the home is cheaper for the contractor to build, 3D printed houses are a bit of a novelty item and they will then raise the price to match comparable homes nearby.
So if you’re building the house yourself, you can save decent money using 3D printed materials and construction methods. If you’re buying an already-built house, then just expect to pay similar prices whether the house has been 3D printed or built like a normal house.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of 3D Printed Houses?
Like all other things in life, there are both advantages and disadvantages to 3D printing houses and 3D printing construction in general. While this technology is without a doubt full of promise — I know we’re excited! — there are of course some trade-offs to using 3D printing in construction. So let’s take a look at some of the biggest pros and cons of this incredible technology.
- Design capabilities — The true beauty of 3D printing. With the way 3D printing works from the ground up, the design possibilities are almost endless. So feel free to be as creative as you like!
- Cost savings — As you read above, there is some serious potential for saving money by using 3D printing in construction, upwards of 50% or even far more.
- Quick and efficient — 3D printers can work without exhaustion or needing a break. And since they use additive manufacturing, this construction method produces almost no waste — saving more time and money.
- Good for the environment — 3D printers typically use more eco-friendly materials when printing a home and the homes usually generate less CO2 emissions. Both of which are good for the environment.
- Big upfront costs — If you’re looking to 3D print your own home, the massive printer(s) required to do so will almost certainly raise the total cost higher than just buying a normal home in the first place.
- Typically can’t build an entire house — Although it has been done, it isn’t common for an entire home to be 3D printed. Conventional construction techniques will still need to be used.
- Lack of a smooth finish — Since the concrete is printed layer by layer, the finish of the house will have noticeable layers. Some will like this look as it is something different, but others will dislike the rough exterior.
- Takes jobs from laborers — As 3D printers begin to start building homes, then contractors need fewer workers onsite daily to help with the job, forcing people out of work.
With these pros and cons in mind, you’ll need to decide if 3D printing home-building is right for you if you’re considering going this route. In any case, it’s a super exciting technology that has the potential to change the construction industry forever.