It was recently reported that a family in Nantes, France has become the first in the world to move into a 3D-printed house. The four-bedroom property is a prototype for bigger projects aiming to make housebuilding quicker and cheaper.
In a bid to do the same, this year US construction technologies firm Icon demonstrated a method for 3D printing a single storey house in less than 24 hours.
Icon claims that the planned production version of the printer will have the ability to build a single storey, 600-800 square foot 3D printed home in under 24 hours for $10,000, with costs potentially being bought as low as $4000.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is a generic term for a number of different techniques that use "additive manufacturing" technology to create three-dimensional objects, layer by layer, using a digital blueprint.
Although 3D printing can have its challenges, including lack of in-house expertise, cost of system equipment and intellectual property issues, it can allow ideas to develop faster than ever.
When it comes to constructing a house, a team of architects and scientists will design the property and programme it into a 3D printer. The printer is then brought to the site of the home and begins to print layers from the floor upwards.
Each wall consists of two layers of insulator polyurethane, with a space in-between which is filled with cement, which creates a thick, insulated, fully-durable wall. The windows, doors, and roof are then fitted afterwards.
Why are people using 3D printing to create houses?
It's thought that 3D printing will provide a more sustainable, economic and efficient method of housebuilding.
Jason Ballard, co-founder at Icon, says the technique has the potential to be "10 times better" than regular house-building, as the production process produces next to no waste, while the mortar is "resilient" and energy efficient, absorbing and retaining heat within the home.
He thinks that in five years they will reduce the cost of the construction of such houses by 25% while adhering to building regulations, and by 40% in 10 to 15 years. This is partly because of the technology becoming more refined and cheaper to develop and partly because of economies of scale as more houses are built.
Could 3D printing help solve the UK housing crisis?
There are clear failings in the current housing system that stifle development. Housebuilders are forced to abide by a rulebook that's no longer fit for purpose whilst trying to prepare for the expected boom in build-to-rent developments.
So could 3D printing form part of Government's next steps to improve conditions for build-to-rent developments?
In our Planning 2020 white paper, we approached 100 senior decision makers working in the UK housebuilding industry, who provided an insightful understanding of the behaviours, aspirations and ongoing challenges in the market.
Our findings in the white paper reinforce the need for Government to pursue the introduction of an updated planning framework. It also highlights a prevalent culture of appeals and viability-related delays that could be countered by the widespread adoption of more council-led local plans like the project in Nantes, France.