3D printed houses are here

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In the small community of Procter, in southeastern British Columbia, sits the first 3D printed house in Canada on scenic grounds that overlook the Purcell Mountains. An approximately 300 square foot structure built in 2020, the Fibonacci House – with walls made of a custom concrete mix sprayed from a nozzle and completed in just over a month – is now rentable on Airbnb.

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The company behind the 3D small house, based in the Netherlands Twente additive manufacturing (TAM), has partnered with World Accommodation , a Vancouver-based organization that builds affordable housing around the world, to develop Canada’s first “affordable village” ”Using 3D concrete printing. The project aims to build five two-bedroom homes in Nelson, British Columbia, and World Housing says it is committed to developing other communities in Canada. Their belief is that the use of 3D architecture to build housing will soon be more affordable and faster than traditional residential construction and can be enlisted to house homeless people or those whose price is not on the market. Marlet.

“Two main factors that contribute to housing affordability are the labor costs to assemble the housing and then the materials themselves,” says Ian Comishin, president of TAM, who grew up in the Kootenays. “In these two areas, 3D printing actually has a pretty aggressive impact on reducing those costs. “

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Further east, researchers at the University of Windsor and Habitat for Humanity are also using TAM technologies to build dwelling houses , which will be erected in Windsor-Essex in a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable manner. “Printing will start on site in December, but throughout November we are at the University of Windsor printing what we call pre-fabs,” says Comishin. In Mexico , a 3D printed village was created for the poor residents of the city of Nacajuca, a project in partnership with an American construction technology company, a non-profit organization in San Francisco and a Mexican housing organization social.

Although concrete printed houses have yet to be erected in Toronto, these initiatives can serve as a model for a city seeking solutions to its own housing crisis, especially if current Canadian projects prove to be successful.

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According to Maria anna polak , professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo and expert in 3D printing with concrete, the engineering of 3D architecture is the ease that automation brings to the building. One advantage of using it to build houses, she says, is that you can reuse the machine over and over again and change designs by updating the instructions that the software powers the machines. This means that designs can be changed with the click of a mouse.

When it comes to using technology to solve the country’s housing problems, Polak warns we’re not there yet.

A printer nozzle extrudes a custom concrete mix that builds the walls of the house, creating a hollow structure that can then be filled with insulation.
A printer nozzle extrudes a custom concrete mix that builds the walls of the house, creating a hollow structure that can then be filled with insulation. Photo by Photo courtesy of Twente Additive Manufacturing

One of the current hurdles, she explains, is the cost of printing machines and the fact that it is still a new technology. While large machine parts are being developed for printing on an industrial scale, the equipment is not yet widely available. In addition, it takes skilled workers to design the houses and then operate the 3D machines.

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“I really believe that 3D printing houses have potential,” Polak says. “But whoever thinks it’s gonna be [widely available] next year, that will not happen.

Even still, the architectural impression is gaining momentum. According to a report According to consulting firm Smithers, the 3D printing industry will reach a global value of $ 55.8 billion by 2027.

Comishin himself has seen increased interest in his work. Designing and building the Procter house, he says, was a good learning experience and proved to be an effective way to create a small house, even though the other functional parts of a residence, like electricity and the plumbing, still taking a decent amount of time to complete. Because this skilled labor relies on humans, not machines, he says, it’s important to realize that 3D printing can’t spit out a ready-to-live-in home without the extra work and expertise of humans.

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“We designed, designed, printed and installed it in five weeks, that’s for the printed part,” says Comishin. “Then it took almost a year for the other trades to show up and do the rest of the work. “

Still, says Comishin, 3D printing will be a valuable construction method in the future. It is also seen as a solution to help resolve some skilled labor shortages— a growing problem in North America – and high construction costs.

While 3D printing may be a more affordable option than conventional construction methods, the savings at this point are not huge. Between the cost of the technology, the skills needed to operate the machines, and the cost of labor inside the house, Comishin says that at best, a 3D printed house is currently around $ 15. 25% cheaper than a conventional building. TAM’s robots also use special concrete, which is more expensive than the regular type. There is a misconception that a 3D printed building can be made for around $ 10,000, he says.

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“However, when you use the printing techniques available, you can assemble wall structures that do not require, for example, vinyl siding or facade cladding like bricks, and you can leave the interior walls with the beautiful. printed texture so you don’t need to use drywall, ”he explains.

“So at the end of the day, you can drastically reduce the set of materials installed in the building by reducing the number of ‘ingredients’ needed to build a house. “

Comishin is optimistic that over time and wider adoption, 3D printed homes will become more common and more affordable. The 3D printed British Columbia village will serve as a model to see how technology can work in other communities.

“Like anything else,” he says, “the more people who do it, the lower the costs will be.”

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