Chinese company Winsun Decoration Design Engineering is recently making headlines with 3D printed houses. Recycled trash from construction and industry waste is used as a concrete additive, and the resulting houses come at a price point of only about $5,000.
But the idea is not new. American craftsman, architect, and mechanical engineer Andrey Rudenko worked on this as a more or less personal project for more than 20 years his latest result being an incredibly beautiful castle with lots of different shapes. He considers selling his 3D printer and estimates it may be around the cost of a car – not much if you consider what value you can create owning one.
So what kind of big deal is 3D printing when it comes to construction?
In its essence, printing houses is not much more difficult than printing with desktop FFF (fused filament fabrication) 3D printers or decorating a cake with frosting from a forcing bag. The material is applied in a viscous liquid state and has to dry or harden fast enough to build the desired layers. It’s a piece of cake if you will.
Not just a brick and mortar business
Actually, not only bare walls can be built: Insulation and piping can be included from the start as well as electricity, which significantly speeds up the construction process as many steps are combined.
Material such concrete, mortar, clay, mixtures of classic materials, or experimental mixtures with plastic or glass particles, are what makes the 3D printed buildings sturdy, sustainable and more cost- and energy-effective than regular buildings. Winsun claims to gain immensive savings on material, time and labor. Building ten small houses took only 24 hours in 2014. Their new announcement is a three-story, 1,100sqm luxurious villa that can be built within one month and only costs about $160,000.
The greatest difficulty when 3D printing buildings seems to be the size of the needed printer. Always needing a printer that has to have greater dimensions than its product creates immense costs and makes it impossible to “build” seamlessly between existing buildings. Winsun uses a printer with dimensions of 150 x 10 x 6m. Their solution is to prints the parts that are assembled later – almost like prefabricated house parts are made and then combined at the desired location.
Possibilities for your next home
With all these new outcomes regarding building technique, what could make you want a 3D printed home? Think of all the shapes architects could not build before, at least not for contracts that are not multi-million dollar projects. A circular living room would be extra cozy, I guess. Extra precise textures on the walls could also be possible with the resolution of a tenth of a millimeter in dimensions of meter high walls. Think of the “sandstone” filaments that are used even in consumer 3D printers. A little floral relief instead of a plain wallpaper - all this and more could be affordable for your next home.
A Spanish team of architects and designers even created a 3D printer that prints structures on walls and ceilings. Overhangs are no problem for their machine. While they showcased it only as an art project and proof of concept, this technique could be used to print overhanging parts like balconies, concrete shelves or handrails, even as additional elements in already existing buildings.
All that sounds good. Improvements in work security, sustainability, cost and endless possibilities lie ahead with 3D printing estate. But applied to a much larger scale and an industry that may be reluctant, as many established firms and jobs could be destroyed, it is unclear how many 3D printed buildings we may really see in the future.
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