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Can 3D Printing Solve Homelessness?

  • ICON announced this week that it will be building an entire community made up of 3D printed homes.

  • While the technology is not there yet to provide fast, inexpensive housing, the hope is it someday will be.

  • With all new technology – including 3D printing – a new host of legal issues always arise.



This week ICON, an Austin based company, announced a new round of printing 3D houses. According to the release, they plan to build a 3D printed house community somewhere in Austin.


I have heard a lot about 3D printing and it always sounded cool. But I really do not understand how it works or what the future of 3D printing holds for builders. So when I saw the announcement, I decided to try to dig in a little and find out what is going on.


Well, after that research I still do not really understand how you can build a house from a 3D printer. But it still seems cool. And the future possibilities do seem promising. So that is what we will talk about in this week’s blog entry.


What was the Announcement This Week?


As I wrote above, the announcement that once again got me interested in 3-D printing for housing came from ICON. If you are not familiar, it is an Austin based building technology company. It has been at the forefront of using 3D printing for building. Indeed, it is the first company to sell a 3D printed home.


Last week it announced that it will team with Lennar to build a 100 home community consisting solely of 3D printed homes. ICON currently has the capability to print up to 3000 square foot residences. It did not yet announce where in Central Texas it will put the community but it hopes to break ground in 2022. When completed, it will be the largest 3D printer home community in the country.


I wrote above that I still don’t quite understand how it works to 3D print a home. That’s true. But apparently ICON sets up a large 3D printer that effectively places a giant frame around the home’s footprint and supports the printing head as it completes the setup. The concrete is apparently squeezed out like soft-serve ice cream and the resulting walls have lots of thin layers. I have yet to see a demonstration, but I sure would like to. Because it sounds pretty cool.


What Will this Mean for the Future of Housing?


The claim by the 3D printing companies like ICON is that 3D is the future of housing. It should lower costs and the time required for building houses. Currently, however, we are not there yet.


As of yet, 3D printing does not help with either the construction or labor costs. Part of this is because not everything can be 3D printed. Windows, for example, still have to be bought and installed. And thus, ICON has to pay the same price as any homebuilder for that.


But Lennar believes that the future technology will greatly reduce both of these costs. It believes as the technology improves, it will be much faster and much cheaper to complete a 3D house.


This has led some people to believe that 3D printing could help greatly alleviate affordable housing problems that exist throughout the country. Indeed, one official even claims this could “cure homelessness” because the houses will eventually be so repeatable and inexpensive to build. That is certainly a noble goal and we hope it gets there one day.


Legal Issues Surrounding 3D Printing Housing


Of course, with all new technology comes a host of legal issues to solve also. It seems like the most important will be the intellectual property issues. Now we are not IP lawyers, so I can only give a rudimentary overview of these issues. But IP issues dominate all of 3D printing – not just housing. 3D printing technology makes it easy to copy and reproduce products – even if they are protected by a patent, trademark, or copyright.


In addition, a common problem with new technology is determining who is liable when things go wrong. In this situation, you have the designer, the printer, the builder, etc. All could potentially have liability.


And finally, because there is potential liability, insurance must follow. As a result, insurance companies are going to have to figure out new products to provide as the technology develops.


All of these issues are, of course, solvable. And if 3D printing is as promising as some people claim, then it will all be worth it. Lets hope it is.

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