April 6, 2021

All the house fit to print

The first listed home created by a 3-D printer recently went on sale in Riverhead, a town on Long Island in New York. The asking price is $299,000.

At 1,400 square feet, the footings, foundation, slab, and walls were created line by line on a printer, rather than with traditional construction methods. The roof and windows were not printed.

In the early 1990s, center-aisle kiosks at many American malls featured something different. Using your photograph, a little machine would “print’ a little figurine that looked a little bit like you. Great for Christmas ornaments and such.

Most people did not know this was called “stereolithography,” and was one of the earliest mainstream applications of 3-D printing. Just 25 years later, the technology is practically commonplace – used for printing clothing, machinery and even edibles.

A 3-D printed house does not even seem like much of a challenge.

The New York homes feature three bedrooms and two bathrooms and a detached two-car garage. The custom-made printer follows the floor plan around the home on each pass, constantly building up.

Actual print time for the walls was about 48 hours, part of an overall eight-day process, significantly faster - and around 30% cheaper - than standard methods.

Materials costs are skyrocketing among traditional home-builders. Already facing upward pressure from tariffs, lumber prices have tripled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, driven by new demand and delivery delays. The total price of a new home of building a new home went up an average of $26,000.

Builders must pass that cost on to customers, at a time when prices are already rising. Prices rose nearly 15% between spring 2020 and spring 2021, with no letup in sight.

That doesn't appear to be as much an issue for the 3-D print builders. Printed extruding a plastic polymers or special concrete, materials cost about half as much, and builders say the homes are twice as strong. They save on labor, too.

Projects around the world have used this rapidly evolving process over the last decade, from residential “hives” in Italy, to low-cost housing in Mexico, Texas, and California, to a large warehouse in Dubai. But the builders say this is the first listing.

As well as enabling a rapid, cost-effective construction process, the use of 3D printing also reportedly cuts waste.