Can 3D Printing Provide Affordable Housing?

3D Printing

Early signals of 3D printing technology have shown the potential to provide affordable housing on a large scale. But, to fulfill its potential of building houses that thousands of people needing homes can live in, the costs of 3D printing must be kept down while ensuring that the homes are of high quality and safety remain optimal.

3D printing technology can provide mass housing in an affordable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly way. The construction of 3D-printed homes affords enormous cost savings, partly due to reduced project timelines, wastage, and significantly reduced labor requirements.

Depending on the specific method employed, a variety of raw materials are typically utilized. A standard construction schedule for a 3D-printed house follows a timeline different from traditional construction methods.

Those investigating the potential of 3D printing housing should be aware of potential disadvantages, as 3D printing houses may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to address the issue of housing shortages.

The 3D printing of houses offers countless potential advantages over traditional construction. One of these has the potential to help solve housing shortages worldwide. However, using 3D printing to construct homes also presents several potential downfalls during the building process, which we will explore in this article.

Can 3D Printing Provide Affordable Housing On A Mass Scale?

Can 3D Printing Provide Affordable Housing On A Mass Scale?
Image Credit: homebuilding

The idea of 3D printing a house may seem like something out of a science fiction novel, but it is becoming a reality. The first house built by this method was constructed in China in 2016, with each square foot built in just 24 hours and costing only $5,000 to produce.

Interesting Facts

Since the advent of 3D printing, the practice has moved beyond small-scale desk operations toward more large-scale production. What started as a way to create small objects for use in the home or various other applications has progressed towards multiple other applications that can enormously impact the world as we know it.

Since the first 3D-printed home was born, the idea of using this technology to provide housing on a larger scale has become increasingly ubiquitous. One of the significant issues with providing affordable housing is budget pressure. Providing affordable housing that upholds quality is a challenging task.

Thankfully, 3D printing construction shows the potential to alleviate the abovementioned pressures to a large degree. In the construction industry, especially, time is money. The longer a building project takes to complete, the higher the cost implications 3D printing promises to save enormous amounts of time on construction projects, primarily due to the cost of labor to finish projects and the time taken away from other projects that would otherwise generate revenue.

Because 3D printing construction is quicker than conventional construction, it can alleviate affordable housing budget pressures to an enormous extent.

Nation’s Affordable Housing Crisis

According to a recent study, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the United States is now $1,200 per month, and the median home price is over $200,000. For many people, these prices are simply unaffordable.

As a result, many live in substandard housing or spend an increasingly large portion of their income on housing costs. This growing affordability crisis is one of our country’s most pressing issues today.

Families and people in low-income communities have been forced to choose between rent and necessities like food and healthcare. And this can lead to increased financial strain and even homelessness. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many low-income households are also ineligible for government assistance.

While there are no easy solutions to the global affordable housing crisis, there are several ways that communities can work to address the issue. One approach is to create more incentives for developers to build low-cost housing units. Another is to provide more support for existing affordable housing initiatives, with the idea of 3D-printed homes being another possible solution that is gaining increasing support.

3D Printing Can create More affordable housing

3D Printing Can create More affordable housing
Image Credit: statesman

In Malawi, for example, affordable housing provider 14Trees built an entire school in a single day. Once they had completed their school project, the team quickly moved on to sustainable housing.

Thanks to 3D printing technology, 14Trees could construct a small home for around $10,000 instead of the usual cost of approximately $19,000 for a standard home.

The time and labor efficiency of 3D-printing construction is incredibly beneficial for building projects where volume is crucial. And a high-volume project consisting of a large number of buildings must be completed within a short space of time.

Conventional building methods can be tremendously time-consuming, extending project timelines and increasing labor requirements and building materials.

While 3D printing construction holds enormous promise for the future of constructing affordable housing on a mass scale, much innovation is required to ensure the practice is fully sustainable, viable, and environmentally friendly.

As technology develops, 3D-printed houses are proving to be a brilliant solution to housing issues worldwide. With an enormous shortage of affordable housing and a need to construct homes in large numbers, this type of construction promises to be highly effective in the future.

It’s important to remember that 3D printing houses only affect the actual building cost. Other factors remain the same, such as the cost of land, job site costs, the costs associated with the design of the buildings, and planning costs.

Other costs that remain the same irrespective of the building method are the potential infrastructural costs and any potential statutory costs.

Benefits Of 3D Printing For Affordable Housing

There are several potential benefits to 3D printing a house. These benefits have proven to be great, whether at the individual house’s scale or at a larger scale, such as an entire housing development.

The potential cost reductions from 3D printing a house are significant. Cost savings can be between 10% and 50% compared to conventional house construction.

Cost implications aside, a 3D-printed home can create enormous energy savings for homeowners. Most load-bearing 3D-printed walls consist of two skins with a thermal break. This results in more comfortable temperatures inside the house throughout the year. As a result, there is also a significantly reduced need for cooling and heating.

3D-printed houses are usually printed using concrete, and as a result, the construction and inherent strength of the material make this type of house extremely resistant to natural disasters. 3D-printed houses are generally considered highly resistant to tornadoes and hurricanes. In addition, these homes are highly fire-resistant.

Although 3D-printed house construction may lead to job losses, it creates new job opportunities. Engineers must design the products used in 3D printing, and fabricators must develop and physically produce the printers.

In addition to the above professionals, 3D printing construction will require various technicians to conduct maintenance and repair the 3D printers. All of the above will support the local economy while creating jobs and, therefore, mitigate against potential job losses.

The reduced need for human labor in 3D-printed construction is a significant concern for many. As a result, many stakeholders in the 3D printing construction industry are implementing measures to mitigate any potential job losses. 

For example, the projects conducted by 14 Trees aim to help create jobs by hiring local individuals and training and upskilling them, which will involve training 3D printing machines and material-specializing machine operators.

Partnerships will also be created by local builders in the construction site locations looking to train and develop roofing applications, carpentry, and general painting skills.

3D printing can rapidly produce a prototype from a digital file. 3D printers can be used throughout the design process to create prototypes of the final building project. Specific parts used in the houses can be printed within a few hours, significantly speeding up the entire process.

The files used for 3D printing are all stored digitally. As a result, these files can be accessed and used to print whenever required.

Generally, 3D printing a building results in far less waste than conventional building methods. Traditional construction methods usually require materials cut from more significant segments of non-recyclable materials. With 3D printing, only the materials needed for the specific project are used. Waste is minimal, so the impact on the environment is minimal.

3D printing technology creates complex shapes more efficiently than conventional construction, and this gives enormous freedom to designers, who will have to be far less limited in terms of what they can feasibly create.

Energy Efficiency

3D printing can improve energy efficiency in construction by reducing the material waste typically generated during traditional construction methods and enabling precision in complex designs.

Downsides Of 3D Printing For Affordable Housing

Downsides Of 3D Printing For Affordable Housing
Image Credit: forumdaily

Housing Finance Africa reports that the limitations of 3D printing a house are mainly due to the newness of the technology. Like any new construction method, there are challenges that must be addressed over time. One of the biggest challenges with the 3D printing process in third-world countries is the power supply. Certain regions struggle with consistent, reliable electricity supply, especially those in remote areas, and this could significantly impact the ability to use 3D printing to build houses.

In order to make effective use of 3D printing construction, a constant electrical supply is essential. Even a brief power shortage or an interruption in the power supply can drastically affect the 3D printing construction project. A temporary electricity supply shortage or power interruption can cause the printing job to fail.

In addition, unstable power supplies can cause significant damage to 3D printing equipment. As a result, the machinery will suffer a significantly reduced lifespan, drastically affecting the overall cost of the building project.

Another significant downside of the 3D printing construction process is the drastic reduction in the need for human labor. Because most of the construction is performed through automated processes and completed through printers, fewer human laborers are required to complete the project.

Because many housing projects across Africa focus significantly on job creation, the 3D printing construction process poses a risk to the job creation potential that mass housing projects bring. Supposing this type of construction is viable in affordable housing projects, stakeholders must put measures in place that create opportunities for training and job creation in local communities.

Another pitfall of 3D-printed buildings is that the materials can only be used once. In order to produce the concrete used for 3D printing, enormous resources are being extracted, and as a result of this extraction, massive environmental destruction occurs. After resource extraction, large open pits are often left that are seldom rehabilitated. When these buildings are demolished, the waste is significantly increased.

A significant disadvantage of 3D-printed houses is the need for more flexibility. Incremental building is famous among low- and middle-income individuals in mass housing initiatives. In addition to the above, the simple purchase of 3D printing infrastructure and transporting it to the chosen site present their own challenges.

The machines required for 3D printed construction are inherently bulky and heavy, making it difficult to transport the equipment to where it needs to be.

This video illustrates the pros and cons of 3D-printed houses on a mass scale. It expands on some of the points mentioned above. While it might seem like 3D printing presents a potential panacea for solving housing problems worldwide, there are some downsides.

Round Up

While 3D house printing provides multiple advantages, there are viable alternatives for constructing houses, and each method has its challenges, benefits, and considerations.

3D printing technology can solve housing issues to a large extent. This relatively new method allows large numbers of houses to be built quickly compared to traditional methods. In addition, 3D-printed buildings are significantly more affordable than conventional alternatives and contribute to the feasibility of this type of construction for affordable housing.

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