A US startup can 3D-print tiny homes in 24 hours for a fraction of traditional building costs — here's how it could revolutionise affordable housing
- Icon is an US startup that designs 3D-printing technology capable of building tiny homes in about a day for a fraction of the cost of traditional construction methods.
- Icon cofounder Evan Loomis told Business Insider that pinpointing an exact cost estimate is tricky, but the company successfully printed a 33-square-metre proof-of-concept home for R150,000 in 24 hours in 2018.
- The company isn't the first to design 3D printing technology for home building, but its unique customisation and on-site construction could be revolutionary.
- Icon's latest 3D printer, the Vulcan ll, is available for purchase and is already being put to use.
- "Our hope is that this isn't a novelty, but this is actually the new way of construction for the future," Loomis said.
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The team at American startup company Icon set out to reimagine how a home could be constructed from the ground up and developed a 3D printer capable of building a home up to 185 square metres in under three days. Smaller homes can be built in 24 hours.
And while Loomis said it's difficult to give an exact estimate of how much it costs Icon to print a home, the company's goal is to cut costs by 30% to 50%.
"We're not quite there yet, but that future isn't science fiction," Loomis said.
In 2018, Icon built a 33-square-metre home in East Austin that cost R150,000 to print, with the overall project's cost clocking in at R660,000. Icon claims that the home is the US' first permitted 3D-printed home.
For the home to secure a building permit, civil engineers with the city of Austin had to declare the unit suitable for humans to live in, which Loomis said is "a pretty tough designation" to receive. It's being used as an office currently.
Icon isn't the first to develop 3D printing technology for home building, but the company's unique on-site printing could be revolutionary as traditional construction costs continue to rise, Loomis said.
Usually, with prefab or mobile homes, units are manufactured in an off-site factory and then shipped to their final location, Loomis said.
But with Icon, its printers are shipped to where the unit is slated to be located and then is constructed on the spot using a device with few human crew members needed.
The Vulcan ll — the latest iteration of its printing technology — is also fully automated, including the mixing and the pumping of the proprietary concrete used to build to the actual building of the unit, Loomis said.
"We're taking concrete, putting it into our printer, and a house is coming out the other end," Loomis said.
Icon's Vulcan ll printer is currently available for purchase, and the company already has customers putting its technology to good use.
Different units in a complex can all look different, and that customisation is another aspect of Icon's technology that makes it stand out, Loomis said.
"You can upload a design file of what you want your house to look like, and the printer prints it," Loomis said.
For one project the Vulcan ll printer was commissioned to construct affordable homes in the Austin area.
Source: Austin Curbed
The printed East Austin home was built with its partnership with New Story, a nonprofit organisation, in mind. There's another Vulcan ll printer in Latin America building a community of 50 homes for families in need.
And Icon recently won fourth place in a NASA 3D-Printed Habitat Competition for its technology, meaning there could be a future for the company creating sustainable shelters for humans in space.
But for now, Loomis said the team is focused on solving housing issues at a global level.
"It's kind of on us to begin to scale that technology so that we're not just doing one or two or six at Community First, but then we're delivering on the millions and millions of homes that need to be built to solve this critical issue," Loomis said.
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