Could the future of building construction be 3D printing? There are increased efforts to 3D print buildings to reduce waste in construction and use more recycled materials to create homes. With many new projects and technologies being developed focusing on 3D-printing through companies such as WASP and the Horizon Legacy Group, it is possible that they could take over the future of construction.

What Are 3D Printed Buildings?


A 3D-printed building from Dubai created by Apis Cor, photo from https://inhabitat.com/worlds-largest-3d-printed-building-opens-in-dubai-after-2-weeks-of-construction/3d-printed-building14/ 

3D-printed buildings involve using building-sized printers that inject layers of material such as cement onto a digitally marked framework to form the exterior and interior walls and roof. Additives to the cement help it solidify far faster, and the entire construction process can be completed in days instead of months, reducing waste material by up to 30 percent. Most 3D printers commonly use a modified cement, but future printers hope to work with a wider range of materials, including locally accessible materials that would increase the sustainability of construction.

One major benefit of 3D printing is that it can lead to lower construction costs. 3D printed buildings have much lower building costs than those built with traditional methods because of the reductions in raw material and labor involved. An architectural project’s labor costs can be reduced by up to 80% by having most construction completed by 3D printers. Production costs are also reduced by eliminating the need for maintaining large storage spaces and having daily transportation of building materials.

Another benefit is reducing construction waste, since using very little energy the printed construction will only generate about 30% of the waste that a normal construction project produces. Components are printed on-demand and any material not used can easily be recycled for future use. The cement mixture used in 3D printers can be produced out of recycled plastic and other imperishable materials.

3D printing also means that it is easier to create design shapes and customization that isn’t possible or would be too expensive for regular construction. Printers can precisely place small amounts of concrete exactly where needed for complex shapes, which greatly enhances an architect’s design possibilities. It would also lead to reduced construction time, as building a house with 3D technology can be completed in about a month in a half compared to the normal 6 month construction period. This can be extremely beneficial during an emergency situation where structures need to be built in as little time as possible, such as for creating shelter in disaster relief zones. By using locally accessible materials, even sand, a portable 3D printer can be delivered to the site and reduce the time required to build the homes that are urgently needed.

Though 3D-printed buildings have benefits such as shorter and more affordable construction, it still currently has a few cons to consider. One of those issues is that there are no regulations or processes to get 3D printed buildings approved for residential or commercial use. The local government needs to come up with standards that must be followed including electrical, plumbing, structural integrity, and public safety codes. 

Another issue is that the material for 3D printing is currently limited to just concrete and plastics. Buildings requiring wood or steel components would not be able to use the printer to complete those portions.

The third issue with 3D printing is its limited engineering compatibility. Currently, very few architects and engineers have an interest in designing 3D printed buildings. Additionally, traditional blueprints are not compatible for use with a 3D printer so the entire design process needs to be handled differently.

What Impact Could 3D Printed Buildings Have Globally?


A 3D-printed building by Apis Cor, photo from https://www.buildwithrise.com/stories/3d-printed-homes-sustainable-alternative

There are already many projects involving 3D printed buildings occurring all over the world. A small startup construction company in San Francisco 3-D printed a small home in under 24 hours. The printer produced the concrete walls, partitions, and the building envelope while human labour was required for painting, wiring, plumbing, insulating, and adding the roof.

The world’s first 3D-printed neighborhood was created in a rural area on the outskirts of a town in Southern Mexico. The 500-square-foot houses were finished with roofs, windows, and interiors last week. New Story, the nonprofit leading the project, believes that the new construction process could be part of the solution for affordable housing in some of the poorest communities in the world. New Story was founded five years ago to bring housing to people living in extreme poverty, has already built more than 2,700 homes in Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Mexico, using traditional construction. However, New Story recognized that new technology could help it continue to work faster and decrease costs and it partnered with Icon, a construction tech company based in Austin, to begin developing a 3D printer rugged enough to work even in the most challenging conditions.

The Gaia house, photo from https://www.dezeen.com/2019/02/27/gaia-wasp-3d-printed-house-biodegradable-video/ 

Another active 3D printing project involved the Italian 3D-printing technology developer WASP showcased the abilities of Crane Wasp, a modular 3D printer that can create homes in a variety of formats and sizes. This 30-square-meter house is called Gaia and was printed on-site in Massa Lombardo, a town in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, in October 2018. Its construction used a natural mud mixture made from soil taken from the surrounding site and waste materials from rice production such as chopped straw and rice husks. WASP also claimed that the final product is biodegradable and that it will turn back into soil if not maintained.

What Impact Could 3D Printed Buildings Have In Canada And KW?


The Fibonacci house. Photo from: https://worldhousing.org/world-housings-first-3d-printed-affordable-village/ 

Canada is also working on 3D construction-related projects. For instance, World Housing announced that it joined forces with Twente Additive Manufacturing (TAM) in the development and utilization of their 3D printed home construction technology. TAM’s 3D-printing construction process, which makes use of robotics, automated material handling, and advanced software, offers a new way to quickly build homes that are both resilient and adaptable to the varying climates, geography, and topographies of Canada. TAM already achieved the first step of creating a permitted 3D-printed house in Nelson, BC. The goal now is to advance the technology to the next phase of development to build five two-bedroom homes. This progression from the Fibonacci home will be to build Canada’s first 3D printed affordable housing community.

Renewable energy and real estate firm Horizon Legacy Group also unveiled plans to build Canada’s “first and largest 3D printed neighborhood.” As part of its “Marco Polo 100” challenge, the company offered $10 million to fund the R&D of any advanced technologies or building approaches, capable of erecting housing at a cost of just $100/sq ft. The contest finalists were now tasked with proving the scalability of their entries in a final stage that could see six family homes 3D printed into a cozy waterfront community in Ontario. The Horizon Legacy Group was initially founded as a conventional house building firm but changed its approach over the last decade to focus more on green energy and construction technologies. This resulted in developing solar, wind, and water power-generating technologies, and new attempts to seek out new approaches to building sustainable eco-friendly real estate. 

With many new projects and technologies being developed for 3D-printed construction in Canada and all over the world, it is highly possible that it will take over the future of building construction. Do you think this will be the case? Let us know what you think on social media by tagging us at @SustainableWat!

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