Can You Buy a 3D Printed House?

This is the most common question I receive from both the YouTube comments and my website www.automate.construction

If you’re watching this video maybe you’ve seen some of my other videos where I tour 3D printed buildings and make content around the automated construction industry. Thanks to viewers like yourself, I now am getting access to opportunities and companies that previously had no interest in responding to me and because of you I’ll be able to make some really awesome videos coming up with some really awesome cutting edge companies. 

3 times a week someone will call me asking if a 3D printed house can be built their neighborhood so I figured it would be helpful to make a video answering this simple question. 

The short answer is yes but if you are looking to find the cheapest option, the tech is so new that it will be challenging to find someone that has a printer and the skills to use it who is willing to do a project with just one home. If you need a regular house built, the construction equipment for that project is available at every construction equipment rental outlet in the nation.  By my estimations there currently under 100 large scale concrete 3D printers capable of printing a tall enough wall for a house. 

To buy a 3D printed house, you will either have to make a deal directly with a company and pay them enough to convince them to use their very busy printer to make one house for you or buy the entire printer yourself which could cost more than the house. 

Ultimately the dream of automation and technology is to decrease the price of work therefore allowing more people and organizations access to building tech that would have otherwise been out of reach. Unfortunately in order for this goal to be realized the industry needs to get bigger in order to realize efficiencies of scale. Think of the way Tesla first sold their expensive roadster car back in 2010, it was nearly 10x more expensive than the Tesla model 3 that you can buy today. Teslas use of cutting edge automation in their manufacturing plants gave them an edge that has become impossible to ignore but for a very long time before the economies of scale were realized, many people thought the industry of electric cars would never be profitable and for a long time Tesla was the most shorted company on the US stock exchange.

It’s no secret there is a serious labor shortage in construction here in America and many other countries around the globe. Some are concerned automation will replace jobs but think of it this way, there are so many different types of architecture and there is room for all of them. No matter what there will always be people that appreciate a handmade building over one built by machines. 

The labor shortage is causing less new construction projects to be started. This is a major problem because according to freddiemac.com there is a shortage of 2.5million houses that need to be built in America. 

I’ve been in Austin for the past few months and in the short time I’ve been here I’ve seen the number of tents on highway medians and under bridges double and housing is only getting more expensive. 

The reality is unless more people start picking trade school over college homelessness and shelter insecurity will become an increasingly pressing matter. 

If you do still want to buy a 3D printed house the first big question is will it be permitted in your local municipalities zoning laws and construction code. The construction technique is so new that it can be tricky to figure out the permitting situation. 

If you want to make the process go smoothly then you can replicate traditional construction methods like CMU concrete blocks and fill columns of your printed concrete with rebar and traditional poured concrete. This is great for helping your municipality understand your project and getting though the paperwork quicker but because you will need to rely on traditional construction methods for all the structural elements of the building you will not realize the labor efficiencies. 

To print the house using the printed concrete as a structural element of the building, you force your architect or engineer to venture into unknown territory. For a professional engineer to sign off on your plan, you will need to test the structure to failure. Yes, this means that if you want to build a 3D printed house that is structurally dependent on printed elements then you must build not one but two houses because one of them will need to be destroyed in order to be sure it is strong enough. This is an irritating barrier to entry that is not cost effective at all but it is absolutely critical to ensure the safety of every house built with this technology. 

Thinking about the big picture this isn’t important, it’s only a temporary setback before enough data is collected for engineers to be able to accurately predict the strength of printed concrete elements every time, but for now every new structure must be proven to failure. 

Short term, a clever way around this is to use repeating modular segments that are identical. If you can build a house out of 3 or 4 different modular segments for example, one for a wall, one for a corner, one for a window and one for a door, then you only need to test each of those segments once and they can be printed and repeated into infinity as long as you continue testing the concrete parameters. 

If you wanted to build multiple similar units then this starts to make a lot more sense from a financial perspective because you always have the fixed cost of testing the new design so the more you build the more cost effective it gets. 

One of the major benefits of 3D printing as opposed to prefab is that your machine is capable of infinite designs as opposed to prefab units that are identical. If you want to build 1000s of units of the same building for the lowest price and fastest time then prefab is your best bet. If you want units that look unique, 3D printing concrete becomes a much more interesting option but the current environment of regulation is holding the tech back from its full potential and rightfully so until the safety standards have been proven to a sufficient redundancy. 

If you watched this entire video and you are still interested in getting a 3D printed house built for yourself knowing that being the first in your area to do so could be an expensive challenge then feel free to send an email to jarett@3dprinted.construction and I can try to help. 

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments, I will try to answer them as best I can. I am working on redeveloping my website to include a job listings section as many companies competing in the race to automate construction are currently hiring especially Engineers and Architects with parametric design experience. If there is anything else in particular you think would be a good addition to the website let me know. I would like to provide a place where resources are available for people pursuing automated construction projects who need them.

If you’ve signed up for my mailing list already which includes 114 people at this point thank you, soon I will be sending the first one.  for many people, their email inbox is a sacred place not to be bogged down with constant spam. Because of this I will make sure to only send emails when it is really worth it, maybe once or twice a month. It’s really meant for the people who have a deep interest in the long term prospect of automated construction, so if you’re only interested in the surface level project videos, then there is really no need for you to be on the mailing list. 

I hope this video answers some of your questions and that you aren’t too disappointed you can’t just order a 3d printed house online and have it come in a week for under $100,000. In time all technology is improving incredibly fast and there is no reason to suspect that this technology won’t ultimately be the same.

If you want to learn more, check out my other videos where I cover 30 companies competing in 3D printing houses and tour various 3D printed buildings.

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Published by Jarett Gross

Construction Tech Correspondent Spreading Awareness of Cutting Edge Firms Building the Future of the Industry

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