Print a house at the touch of a button

Print a house at the touch of a button

Prefab homes may take on a whole new shape if 3D printing gains momentum. Instead of a pile of lumber, a home may be extruded on site using a cement-type mix that hardens into walls and floors.

While the process is still in the experimental stage in several countries, it won’t be long until 3D house printing could be a real thing.

Of course, your mileage may vary on what actually constitutes 3D printing.

Researchers in China developed a system to fabricate large-scale parts in a factory and truck it to the job site. It's not quite the same as extruding a whole house on site, but it's a step in the right direction.

China’s WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. built 10 houses in 24 hours, for less than $5,000 each at the Shanghai Hi-Tech Industrial Park. A proprietary mixture of recycled mill tailings along with waste ingredients and glass fiber, form a concrete aggregate that's poured into layers to form the 2,150-square-foot houses.

The project used four printers 105 feet by 33 feet wide by 22 feet tall, to print the components. With the modeling software designers can plan for windows, plumbing and electrical systems and insulation, which are added after the walls go up.

The Contour Crafting system, developed by University of Southern California professor Behrokh Khoshnevis, can print a house in 24 hours. The giant 3D printer zips back and forth across the building site on rails, extruding layers of concrete to form walls with cavities. The print head takes another pass to fill the cavities with additional concrete.

Once the structure is complete, workers come in to hand doors and windows and provide the finishing touches. Homes can be designed with software and then printed on site. 3D printing offers architectural flexibility like curved walls that are difficult to pull off with current building methods.

In another flavor of 3D printing, The Canal House project in Amsterdam uses printed plastic sections that fit together like a children’s building toy. Known as de KamerMaker or “room builder,” the oversized 3D printer plops out honeycomb bricks from molten plastic, which builders then snap together.

It's similar to a desktop 3D printer, but the plastic “ink” is made with an industrial glue that’s 80 percent vegetable oil. The designers plant to use sustainable and recycled materials, but the printer can operate with about any material that melts at the right temperature.

The first segment was a corner of the house with a portion of a staircase that took nearly seven days to print and dry. Then the internal structure of each piece will be filled with a foam that dries to concrete-like hardness.

Designers at DUS architects, the project’s founders, expect the house will take about three years to print and assemble. The goal is to use 3D printed houses to keep up with the growing population migration to the cities. Using recycled materials will cut down the cost of moving building materials. The designers say 3D printing also offers greater customization according to a homeowner’s needs and tastes.

In the meantime, the site is a tourist attraction where people can tour the building as it rises and see architectural models and designs.

The people behind these 3D printed houses are focusing on providing low-cost housing for the indigent or those displaced by storms. After a severe storm, displaced people could be housed in 3D printed huts. Or, refugees from conflicts could move out of tents and into a safe concrete house.

Read more about prefab and systems built houses.

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