3D-Printed Houses for the Homeless

Makeshift housing no more!


If all goes according to plan, 50 families in Tabasco, Mexico, currently living in makeshift housing will soon move into 3D-printed homes constructed by the Australian firm Icon. The company's Vulcan II 3D printer can build a 500-square-foot cement house with two bedrooms and one bathroom in just a few days. The company says its methods are cheaper and less wasteful than traditional home construction.

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  1. How easy will it be to trash an unearned concrete house?

    1. It will take some creative work.

    2. It’s solid concrete, so it’s even more durable than cinderblock. You can’t break a wall without a sledge hammer. So, while you could smash all the furnishings and every lightbulb, the house itself would be undamaged.

      1. It’s solid concrete, so it’s even more durable than cinderblock.

        This is flat out wrong on several levels. First, the walls are an inner and outer layer with a waffle pattern filling the void between them. They are not solid concrete. They may be thinner than CMUs but the airspace within is roughly equivalent. Second, CMU vs. poured concrete isn’t just a one-off comparison. Cell Fill is common in many places and a cell filled CMU wall, while not 100% functionally equivalent to a poured wall of the same thickness is very much more like a poured concrete wall than a standard stacked CMU structure. Third, the material used, while vaguely resembling concrete, is not advertised or sold as concrete. That’s not to say it’s not as strong as poured concrete but it could readily be more porous and much weaker.

        So, there already are Cell Fill CMU buildings that you can smash everything in the house with a sledgehammer and still not be able to smash your way through the walls *and* the 3-D printed walls are very much more like hollow stacked CMUs than poured concrete.

  2. Is the area zoned for multidimensional housing???

  3. I’m pretty sure you can’t 3-D print plumbers and electricians and trim carpenters and carpet installers and painters – so what the hell are they actually 3-D printing? Poured concrete walls? That’ll save a ton on construction costs, I’m sure, it must be hell trying to find cheap Mexican blockmasons in Tabasco, Mexico.

    1. The houses aren’t very fancy, but they do the electrical and plumbing along the way using pre-fab pipes and wires. I believe they use a vinyl flooring that gets installed after the 3D build phase is over (there’s a bit of touching up at the end but it’s still a monumental labor savings).

    2. If you put the conduit in as you pour, just about any idiot can manage wiring and plumbing. It’s definitely easier than learning to lay block correctly.(mainly because you can redo a mistake without tearing half the house down)

      Probably a way to print roof slabs on the ground, let them cure, and then lift them into place as well. Might as well print a cistern on the side of the house too. Even if it’s non-potable, you can water your garden, do laundry, or flush toilets with it.

      Solid concrete has a big advantage in thermal mass over block. Handy, especially in desert climates where it’s too cold at night and too hot during the day.

      1. Solid concrete has a big advantage in thermal mass over block. Handy, especially in desert climates where it’s too cold at night and too hot during the day.

        It’s not solid and it’s not, exactly, concrete.

    3. The real ‘secret sauce’ is the concrete. It’d would be interesting to know how that compares to regular concrete. My guess is that it has some significant drawbacks.

      Otherwise, concrete pumps have been around since the 60s and, at 500 sq. ft. forming and pumping *or* pre-cast† in 2 days is not unreal. Especially as a demo.

      † Of note: in every demo I’ve seen, the thing starts off on a pre-cast slab. Which severely limits the amount of custom construction the 3-D printing, as a method, actually brings to the table.

      1. Yeah, I’m trying to figure out if the words “3d-printed” are being used as a gimmick here, you know, like “in the cloud” is a fancy opaque way of describing “someone else’s computer”.

        1. Yeah, I’m trying to figure out if the words “3d-printed” are being used as a gimmick here, you know, like “in the cloud” is a fancy opaque way of describing “someone else’s computer”.

          It’s got a lot of SJW-y nonsense around it. They have an actual machine so it’s not 100% sales hype, but the SJW-ness introduces its usual lack of clarity with regard to science, engineering, and economics. The thing uses electrical power like nobody’s business but it will bring housing to poor areas where there isn’t stable electricity at a greater speed and diminished cost by running on unicorn farts.

  4. Icon’s previous builds have come it $10,000 for 400 squre feet. $25 a square foot. That’s for walls mind you. Nothing else. No roof, no doors, no windows, no plumbing, no electrical, no flooring, no fixtures. 4 concrete walls. You can buy a 756 square foot mobile home for $49,900, or about $66 a square foot. It comes ready to live in with a roof, doors, walls, plumbing, electrical and flooring. If you’re going to give them away to get destroyed by homeless crackheads anyway, you might as well at least give them a place to shit. This is what happens when technocrats create solutions in search of a problem. So naturally libertarians love it.

    1. I was looking for the article to actually dig into the costs. Further, why are individual homes like this being built for those who won’t pay for them? Wouldn’t it be more economical to put them in an apartment complex with units of the same size? It makes no sense to me to try pushing responsible adults into apartments and then building individual homes for homeless people

    2. This is what happens when technocrats create solutions in search of a problem.

      The machine and materials aren’t engineered for anything much above 2 stories. So, they’ve absolutely hammered the homeless problem in Tabasco, Mexico. SF, LA, NYC, Miami, Chicago… not so much. Detroit, Baltimore… maybe.

    3. The $100 laptop is the next global innovation that will bring the information superhighway to the impoverished masses of the third world.

  5. Not sure why commentators are assuming this is some government technocrat program. These videos are for private charities.

    ICON 3D Printing for the Homeless in Austin

    New Story + ICON + Échale | “3D Printed Housing for Those Who Need It Most”

    1. Is there a reason why my comment from yesterday morning is still “awaiting moderation”?

      What is the reason for “awaiting moderation”? It was a fairly mild post with links to a couple of youtube videos about the subject of the article.

      Can other posters see my original post?

  6. Making concrete puts a lot of CO2 in the air. Building wooden houses sequesters CO2. But not as cool because they’re not 3D printed.

    So are we celebrating coolness, or trying to be good to the environment?

    1. Making concrete puts a lot of CO2 in the air. Building wooden houses sequesters CO2.

      Pouring concrete sequesters CO2. Grinding/cutting lumber up into other usable pieces emits a lot of CO2 (assuming you haven’t treated it with arsenic compounds).

      So are we celebrating coolness

      Considering that it’s a misapplication of rapid prototyping technology, it’s more like ‘Retardation: A Celebration’ and everybody wants a 3-D printed cake.

  7. Saw this earlier it looks like a great idea. probably won’t be allowed in California without spending millions to get approval thus they are doing this in Mexico.

  8. “Wouldn’t it be more economical to put them in an apartment complex with units of the same size?”

    Depends on what you consider in the cost parameters. An apartment complex could take years to build before it’s ready for the first tenant to move in.

    Icon is claiming that they can have one of these 500 square foot 3d printed homes complete and livable in just two days.

    That’s someone off the streets every two days. Tiny homes can be built on tiny lots, What’s the land foot print, including parking, needed for an apartment building?

    Another issue to factor in with low/no income apartment complexes is political/nimby opposition.

    Also consider what happened with large public housing projects like Cabrini Green in Chicago.

  9. This is retarded non-news and/or self-hype. All over the tropics (read poorer and less advanced countries), poured-concrete houses, much larger and more intricate than 500 sq. ft. are the norm. To pour and furnish a house in 2 days is not unheard of.

    3-D printers aren’t a mass production tool. Full stop. Are you 3-D printing the houses on site? Then you can’t possibly get them all done in 2 days unless you’ve got a stupid number of 3-D printers. If you aren’t printing them on site/bespoke and/or in 2 days, then how is it at all different from pre-cast (except maybe more expensive)?

    1. OMG the neighbor has to wait two days for his house holy shit the end in Nigh

      1. The point being that unless the 2 days are *today and tomorrow* and *on this spot*, the 3-D printer is meaningless. If it’s 2 days a week from now on any one of 50 identical lots, I can pour the walls/house anywhere ahead of time and have all 50 units up in less than a week without the need for a 3-D printer.

        1. Exactly. Pre-fab concrete bolt-together buildings have been around for at least 30 years, if not longer (don’t be in one in an earthquake).

          The 3d printing part of this sounds like tech-utopian lingo.

          The 3d printing aspect of this story feels a bit like it’s the Juicero of homelessness solutions.

          1. Pre-fab concrete bolt-together buildings have been around for at least 30 years, if not longer (don’t be in one in an earthquake).

            The 2 jokes we always used to make:
            1. In the very center is OK.
            2. You wear a hard hat so, if one of the panels falls, they know where to shovel up your remains.

    2. And you can’t possibly get a large number of homes poured in 2 days without a stupid number of cement trucks (not to mention the forms used to hold the concrete).

      Manufacturing changes. 3-D printers can be used in production. The concrete is different, and the pour technique is different.

      1. 3-D printers can be used in production.

        Concrete pumps have been in use since the 60s.

        There are untold billions of recipes for varying kinds of concrete.

        The pour technique isn’t exceeding different.

        3-D printers can be used in production and have been. They aren’t/weren’t called 3-D printers because reasons. The new methodology isn’t exceedingly new and caters to a very small niche. It will solve the homeless crisis in places where homelessness is the result of inability to build houses. Which, in the modern era, are places like Tabasco, Mexico.

      2. I guess I should be more even-handed.

        I don’t mean to say the technology has zero application. On the contrary, there exists a potential niche where it will be unparalleled: extra-terrestrial housing. In places where we can’t ship materials, land is in abundance, and man-power is at a premium it will be an absolute must. Here on Earth however, we can ship materials and people pretty cheaply most anywhere that people already live or want to live.

  10. Better yet 2D printed billboard houses. Put one in front of each tent or grocery cart. Voila. It takes a Potemkin to raise a village.

  11. Cheaper than traditional maybe but cheaper than factory made prefab? Cheaper than this?

    1. My home was built using Structural Insulated Panels – 1700 square feet, put up and sealed in 2 days.

      1. after foundation pour and set where this is all in one shot.

        1. after foundation pour and set where this is all in one shot.

          No. It’s not. Watch the videos, look at the machine. It’s set on steels casters for chrissakes!

          They plunk down a pre-cast concrete pad on a prepped site that is both flat and level. They set the machine up on the pad and then they start the clock. From there the house is done in 2 days using a crew of 4-6 people, which is not at all faster or less labor intensive than pre-fab/pre-cast.

          Jesus fucking Christ are you people astounded when family members pull quarters from behind your ears too?

          1. But, but, it’s got electrolytes, I mean 3-D printing!

            There’s a distinct lack of skepticism from the public, especially the ‘educated’ public towards anything revolutionary that has the right ‘science!’ trappings. Theranos, Musk’s electric cars, smart guns, and now 3-d printed concrete houses.

            I mean, I like science too, but show me the math and the finances first.

            1. show me the math and the finances first

              I don’t necessarily need to see the math and finances first. There is no discovery/reward without some risk. But at least have some notion of humility and/or scientific skepticism. Objectively recognize that their are no perfect solutions and when someone calls you on your bullshit at least acknowledge that your product does smell bad.

        2. With the energy, time, labor and process of getting the 3d printer shipped in and working, you could drop a shipping container off the back of a truck for half the effort. And there’s no local power required to drop the shipping container. How much on-site energy is it going to take to run a 3d house printer for two days?

  12. Hint, you can use old shipping containers as houses too. No need for fancy ‘3d printing’ technology. We’re talking about housing the homeless here. You could outfit a shipping container with electrical, rudimentary plumbing and even insulation for pennies on the dollar compared to traditional construction.

    What’s cool about the shipping container idea is that it’s somewhat modular and if you put in a little effort, you can actually make them nice.

    1. shipping containers need to be insulated some types of concrete have insulation capabilities so again this tech is good and will only get better to the point that plumbing and electrical will be 3d printed along with the concrete.

      1. to the point that plumbing and electrical will be 3d printed along with the concrete

        Why, in 10 yrs. time, they’ll even be able to print the homeless people inside right along with the furniture!

        1. Furniture? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

  13. I just be missing something. I don’t see where 3D printing comes in. Just cart in walls and a roof built elsewhere and put them together. Or 30 years ago we had a house factory in the neighborhood. There were maybe 5 floor plans. You could pick your colors. They were averaging maybe a house every 2-3 days, but it did take a week or two per house because they would have several under construction at the same time. Then, they would have this machine pick up the house, and slowly trundle it to the prepoured slab. Better quality than most of the stick built houses at the time, at half the cost. Then, when they ran out of lots, they moved the factory to the middle of another section (square mile) and started up again.

    This sort of thing still goes on. Building sheds i small factories is quite the business throughout the upper NW (E WA through at least the Dakotas). I bought a prebuilt 1200 sq foot garage last summer, better built than most stick built houses. Delivered to my slab in two pieces. About $35k plus slab. Well enough insulated to survive MT winters. 2×6 construction. Etc. We had a carpenter who was going to build me a garage that big but then came back and told us he was now working at the shed factory in town, and it made no sense – I would get a custom prebuilt garage for half the price.

  14. Next year; Icon share holding politicians lobby the government for a new set of Tree-Hugger legislation to help their useless business grow.

  15. 3D printing house concept is very unique amazing technology, I liked this 3D printing house concept very much

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  17. I get some of the points from people above, and I have seen this thing before too and read up on it a bit.

    To me it’s not so much what it is now, but what it could be. Concrete is a pretty sweet material, and could be used to do different stuff. Solid walls, or with space in between like these. There’s a lot of theoretical potential.

    The 3D printed aspect means future machines could potentially do a wide variety of designs completely on their own, not just shitty 500 square foot concrete shacks. If the cost of the machine, and the speed of the machine were to come down and go up respectively, even being able to essentially bang out the bulk of the structure is pretty useful.

    If you could just dump off the machine and let it do up an entire house in a day, and then have people in there finishing everything else (flooring, electrical, etc) the very next day, that would be pretty impressive.

    Alternatively, using pre selected sizes of pipes/electrical, potentially printing certain aspects of interior (maybe build in shelving? Counters? Who knows) could cut down on more labor. We have fancy robot arms, there no reason those couldn’t be added to a machine to place pipes or electrical, or even just running a 2nd machine behind it with such abilities. Now you just need finish work done.

    Not saying this WILL be earth shattering… But it could be if the right abilities come into existence. Again, a full structure, maybe plumbing and electrical all places, almost fully without human hands in a day… That’d be badass. And who says concrete floors aren’t awesome anyway???

    The main potential of something like this is removing human labor. You get rid of human labor and a lot of stuff becomes really cost effective. This type of thing 10 years from now may well be a great technology, with at least specific use cases where it is the best option.

    1. Not saying this WILL be earth shattering… But it could be if the right abilities come into existence.

      It’s only earth shattering because of the false narrative you’ve concocted in your head about the way houses are built or could be. Waiving a magic wand and having a fully built house appear would be earth shattering.

      In reality, on the other hand, long before you could just drop off an extruder and let it go to town, you’d have to completely automate surveying, excavation, and site prep. The extruder’s gonna weigh a couple tons and need a good amount of power. If the lot is sloped, the ground is sloppy/the water table is high, and the power is still hanging on a pole at the street, there’s still an awful lot of work to do before you can even consider flipping the ‘ON’ switch. We’re already getting to the point where *this* portion of the process is fairly automated, but it’s still going to be at least another 1-2 decades before even things like flat concrete roads are just ‘point and click’. Even then, there are issues with weather and logistics that means the printer will, at best, compete rather than outright dominate.

      Even with all of the above, ‘3-D printing’ is a solution to a niche logistics problem, not a mass scale production methodology. That’s not to say that 3-D printing won’t ever be used in manufacturing anywhere, but that there are massively cheaper and more efficient means of producing things that have existed for decades and, so long as you aren’t completely pulling a process entirely out of your ass, can be employed with even a modicum of foresight. Part of the problem is that the term itself is a gimmick. At it’s core, it’s extrusion technology (except photoreactive polymer printing) and extrusion, even automated, centuries old technology.

      1. Well detailed.. It reminds me of an article a few years ago about a city council that spent $500M on solar lighting for a public park only to have the solar not even produce enough to light the park. Politicians are really very naive when it comes to reality outside of mob theory. They’ll believe anything the salesman will tell them.

        Here’s what I see; Basic Concrete runs $100/yd^3. The foundation and roof are the most expensive parts of a hollow structure and the foundation cost is ALL in the concrete. Wood walls are actually wildly cheap to make. We’re talking 1/10 of the price of either the foundation or the roof and they aren’t going to crumble and crack like concrete does especially at the pin-head thickness they’d have to lay it down to be even as cheap as the foundation. Just not seeing it be a very good investment at all.

        I think a robot that per-fabricates wooden walls, trusses would be the way to go; perhaps even building it onto a truck bed to do onsite crafting. I often wonder why even factory constructed walls are still being hand-crafted at the plant instead of machine crafted.

      2. Again, the whole process doesn’t need to be automated… It’s fine if the foundation and some other stuff is still done by people.

        Personally I do think prefab of other stuff, like metal, wood, etc is also a great way to make housing. One can look at all the great options out there for this stuff and see.

        All I’m saying is if you can pop a machine out there that essentially does all the framing and walls all in one go, with no human time spent, that could be very useful. You add in doing some of the basic wiring/plumbing prep work and that’s even more awesome. If some finishing work is done by people that’s fine. Those tasks might be able to be automated later.

        Now, will this ever be “better” than prefab metal or wood stuff that gets slapped together on site? I dunno. There’s still a lot of stuff to put together with prefab wood or metal structures, like framing and such. Siding takes time after the basic frame is up. I could see where things get to be pretty even once the human time is factored in. Especially if one is using a machine like this to bang out tract housing or something.

        Again, probably not a silver bullet, but it may well have some great use cases.

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