Austin, TX could soon be home to a development of up to 100 3-D printed homes. Nicole Friedman reports in The Wall Street Journal:
A major home builder is teaming with a Texas startup to create a community of 100 3-D printed homes near Austin, gearing up for what would be by far the biggest development of this type of housing in the U.S.
Lennar Corp. and construction-technology firm Icon are poised to start building next year at a site in the Austin metro area, the companies said. While Icon and others have built 3-D printed housing before, this effort will test the technology’s ability to churn out homes and generate buyer demand on a much larger scale.
“We’re sort of graduating from singles and dozens of homes to hundreds of homes,” said Jason Ballard, Icon’s chief executive.
If 3-D printing succeeds at this more ambitious level, it could offer a response to America’s chronic shortage of homes for sale, especially in the affordable price range. Mortgage-finance company Freddie Mac estimated that the national deficit of single-family homes stood at 3.8 million units at the end of 2020.
Supply-chain backlogs during the pandemic have pinched home construction, while labor shortages have hampered production for years.
“Skilled tradesmen are a dying breed,” said Eric Feder, president of LenX, Lennar’s venture-capital and innovation unit. “So there have to be alternative building solutions to help with this labor deficit.”
The vast majority of newly built single-family homes in the U.S. are constructed on-site and framed in wood using traditional construction methods.
Icon’s 3-D printed houses use concrete framing instead. Its 15.5-foot-tall printers can build the exterior and interior wall system for a 2,000-square-foot, one-story house in a week, Mr. Ballard said. The printer squeezes out concrete in layers, like toothpaste out of a tube. The machines can print curved walls, allowing for more creative house designs, he added.
Lennar will complete the houses using traditional construction methods. The week it takes Icon to print a wall system is about the same amount of time it takes to frame and drywall a home using traditional construction methods, but Lennar said it hopes it can speed up that process in the future. 3-D printed homes can also be built more cheaply, with fewer people on-site and less waste compared with typical newly built houses, Icon says.
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