3D printing could help build homes with unique designs at a lower cost, advocates say

The Fibonacci House in Proctor, BC has spectacular views of the nearby mountains, but that’s not what makes the Little House a one-of-a-kind vacation rental.

It is the first 3D printed house in Canada – a spiral structure with a remarkable feature: the curved walls. (It was inspired by – and named after – the mathematical Fibonacci sequence.)

Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is a process in which an object is constructed using layers of materials in accordance with a digital design.

While the 3D printed construction is still considered in its infancy, advocates say that in the future, the technology could be used to build homes with unique designs quickly and cheaply, with less need for scarce skilled labor.

Ian Comishin is the president of Twente Additive Manufacturing, the company behind the Fibonacci house, listed on Airbnb. He said 3D printing allows builders to build intricate, curved walls for the same price as a straight wall.

“So now architectural features that are exciting or add aesthetics can be achieved for virtually no cost comparison,” he said.

How it works

To build such a house, the building is first designed digitally. Designers determine which aspects of the house can be 3D printed; Usually, these are parts like concrete foundations and walls, a material that lends itself well to 3D printing. The instructions are then sent to a robotic printer, which can either build the items on the job site or elsewhere, such as in a factory.

The walls of the Fibonacci house were printed offsite in 11 days, then brought to the construction site for workers to assemble.

It is the house seen from the inside. The concrete parts were printed off site using a 3D printer and then assembled on site. It is inspired by the famous mathematical Fibonacci sequence. (Additive Manufacturing Twente)

“The robot itself has a hose and a nozzle,” Comishin said.

A mixture of mortar and concrete is pumped out of the pipe and it is formulated so that each layer can be stacked on top of the next, creating the structure layer by layer. It’s a bit like a baker’s tip putting icing on a cake.

There is a cottage industry of people who use much smaller 3D printers at home, sometimes making and selling various knick-knacks. Some libraries and creative spaces also offer members access to 3D printers in their facilities.

But the real promise of the technology is how it will change the creation of bigger products, from airplanes to buildings.

A solution for roaming?

Don McQuaid is the CEO of World Housing, an international agency focused on solving homelessness, which has helped fund a 3D printed community of 50 homes in Tabasco, Mexico.

“Our belief is that technology is going to be the solution to homelessness, and we believe everyone deserves a home,” he said.

Now, the non-profit organization is partnering with Trente Additive Manufacturing on an ambitious project here in Canada. Called Sakura Place, it will be a community of five 3D printed homes in Nelson, British Columbia, for families struggling to find housing. Each house will be 700 square feet with two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom.

The community could one day be a proof of concept for using 3D printing technology to build affordable housing elsewhere in Canada, as many continue to express their frustration with the country’s expensive real estate market.

In September, the average price of homes in Canada was $ 604,000, up more than 17% from the previous year. And according to a Scotiabank report, Canada has the lowest housing supply per 1,000 population among the G7 countries.

3D printing could also address some of the challenges posed by the short construction season in some remote communities across Canada, McQuaid said.

“It could be a solution for us to be able to come in, pilot the [3D-printing] machine and use local materials and local people to help and build in a narrow window, ”he said.

How it cuts costs – but not dramatically

Comishin is also seeing technology respond to a skills shortage in the construction industry.

“This type of technology is something that adapts very easily to someone who… comes from any type of computer background,” he said. “This allows job sites to have access to precision and repeatability that are sometimes not achievable by human processes alone.”

That predictability can lower costs, he said, before warning that while 3D printed homes are cheaper than traditional constructions, it is a reduced cost – not a fraction. Cost.

“People are really excited about the technology. And then they call us, and they think they can build a house for $ 6,000, or $ 10,000,” he said.

WATCH | A 3D printer is used by a Chinese construction company to build houses:

Chinese construction company says it’s using 3D printer to build cheap houses 1:10

Many parts of the house, including windows, toilets, and fixtures, cannot be 3D printed, Comshin said.

“The cost of these things is not changing,” he said. “So from that point of view, we can still do affordable housing, but there are some pretty unrealistic expectations. [around] what this technology can do from a cost perspective. “

A number of studies and projects have estimated the cost savings to be range of 10 To 50 percent, compared to conventional construction.

Another challenge is that while a 3D printer can build concrete structures relatively cheaply, that doesn’t include the cost of the 3D printer itself, which can range from $ 49,000 for small models to. base, over $ 125,000 for larger models, according to 3Drific, an internet publication focused on 3D printing.

However, at least one jurisdiction aims to greatly accelerate 3D construction. Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is aiming for 30% of new constructions in the city-state to be 3D printed by 2030.


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