ICON, a construction technologies company, is transforming the future of construction and home design. In 2017, the company joined forces with the non-profit New Story to use 3D printing and new building technologies to provide affordable, sturdy, and environmentally-friendly homes to those in need.
The two organizations seemed destined to meet. New Story was looking for ways to provide quality housing to homeless families, and ICON was creating patented 3D printing technology and materials for construction. In March 2018, ICON and New Story completed their first 3D-printed home in Austin, Texas. The 350-square-foot home was printed using the Vulcan I 3D printer in about 48 hours. The total cost for the printed section, which did not include the roof, was just $10,000.
ICON, which had developed the Vulcan I 3D printer over a period of two years, aimed to create 3D printing technology for developing countries. The final result was a mobile gantry-style printer on rails weighs roughly 2,000 pounds and prints on-site in an uninterrupted fashion. Since sites can vary depending on terrain, weather, and availability of materials, the mobility of the Vulcan I facilitates the construction process.
The printing material consists of a cement-like mixture developed by ICON, as well as other basic commercial materials. The home built in Austin includes two rooms and has an interior partition made of the 3D-printed mortar used on the exterior walls. The team strived to make the home unique and attractive. According to ICON co-founder Jason Ballard, they also "wanted to show off a few possibilities that are opened up with 3D printing," like curves and other assorted shapes since 3D printing enables traditionally customized features to be created more affordably, quickly and at a higher quality.
The Austin home, for example, is rectangular in shape, but also has two curved exterior corners that make it distinctive. There is also a clerestory window above the 3D-printed exterior walls that provides plenty of light and a cantilevering shed roof that forms a wraparound porch.
Alchemy Builders installed the roof and windows, as well as the doors, electrical wiring, and plumbing installation, using conventional materials and construction methods. In addition, ICON produced practically zero waste while building the home, which is sturdy, low-maintenance, and energy-efficient. The house is built to include sustainable features like a graywater system, solar panels, and energy-efficient appliances.
This year, ICON expects to print a community of homes in a low-income community. Each home will run from 600 to 800 square feet, and ICON is hoping to keep costs under $4,000 per home. The company’s next 3D printer, The Vulcan II, will be twice as large and twice as fast as the Vulcan I, Ballard says. It will be capable of printing homes of up to 2,000 square feet—"this allows us to serve a much larger swath of homeowners and print a much larger array of home designs," he adds. The Vulcan II will allow individuals in the US to download and print their own homes in 24 hours.