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  • Writer's pictureGraham Rawlings

3D Printed homes, a sustainable option?

3D Printed Home

Few industries have seen the fast-paced level of innovations like the 3D-printing world. What began as a high-priced device capable of printing a small figurine in 12 or more hours has exploded into technology that can print the framework of a house in a few days. The process is being touted as a sustainable solution for housing shortages, but is it? The answer is yes, possibly no, and it depends.

3D Printing Technology

Reduction in construction waste

Perhaps the most notable step towards sustainability in the 3D realm is the ability to print houses with nearly zero waste. The technology is so precise it allows structures to be printed to exact specifications. Even better, because the software provides the printing information, changes from one design to another are easily accomplished with a tweak to the programming.

In standard construction, board and metal cutoffs are prolific, resulting in copious waste on the construction site. Without a doubt, well-designed 3D houses are a win for the environment in this category. However, “well-designed” is essential. Not all 3D printing companies have their processes dialled in. Those who don’t can produce waste through inefficiencies.

Lower transport emissions

3D-printed houses, printed off-site and transported as prefabricated units or printed onsite where the structure will sit, predominantly require much less transport than traditionally-built homes. Think of all the separate contractors, suppliers, subcontractors and other invested parties that show up to a traditional build over the multi-month timeline. In contrast, 3D-printed homes typically require limited equipment and transport, significantly cutting the embodied carbon during the build. This is especially true in remote locations and small structures like tiny homes. However, this is again contingent upon the sustainability efforts of the 3D-printing provider.

3D Printed House 4

Types of materials used.

Most 3D-printer ingredients for home construction include some concrete in the mix. Concrete is responsible for up to 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and contributes to global warming and water runoff. Inasmuch, there’s some debate about the sustainable aspects of the materials used in 3D-printed homes.

However, there is a lot of exciting research going on in this segment of the field. Companies are developing a variety of low-concrete or no-concrete options. These concepts are made from natural materials such as hemp or clay. Other companies are experimenting with recycled plastic and glass. Since the industry is still in its youth, these materials aren’t yet widely available, but they offer promising hope for the future of 3D-home printing.

When considering emissions, it’s important to look at other aspects of the build besides the 3D printing itself. For example, is there a foundation required? Is that made from concrete? What about the windows that are typically added after the build? Most windows contain gasses such as argon and krypton, seen in both traditional and 3D builds. Onsite activities such as welding and site preparation should also be factored into the overall footprint of the process.

Addressing housing shortages

One distinct advantage of 3D-printed houses is the speed at which they can be completed. This creates a viable solution for housing shortages. Regarding the environment, villages or subdivisions can be printed in a fraction of the time it would require from traditional builds with less waste. Plus, technology makes it easy to produce highly energy-efficient homes.

3D Printed House 5

Long-term durability

Like any new technology, we don’t yet know the long-term capabilities of 3D-printed homes. If they don’t stand the test of time, as well as brick or wood houses, we could see a massive waste issue in the future. Even though we won’t have those answers for decades, it’s certainly part of the 3D-printed home sustainability equation.

3D Printing Technology

Are people interested in 3D-printed homes?

More than ever, it seems. According to a recent survey by 3D printing experts Hubs, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of people inquiring about both the technology and the availability. When people search for 3D technology, printed homes are the number one most Googled search worldwide. It’s not surprising, considering its potential to address housing shortages in a potentially sustainable way.

“In the last 12 months, Google searches for ‘what is a 3D printed home’ have risen significantly by 250%, while ‘where can I buy a 3D printed house’ is up 70%,” stated the Hubs report.

The 3D-printing trend report for 2022 shows the 3D printing industry is here to stay and is expected to see 24% growth in the next four years. With a large percentage of that action being directed towards 3D-printed houses, all evidence points to a continued interest and effort to rely on the technology within the construction sector.

While we don’t have all the answers yet, the pros seem to outweigh the cons, so, for now, responsibly made 3D-printed houses remain on the list of sustainable construction options to watch in the near future.

Source: Inhabitat


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