06-11 ICON Wolf Ranch 3D-printed housing development

[Image above] The Wolf Ranch housing development in Texas, pictured, is expected to be the world’s largest 3D-printed housing development once complete. Credit: ICON

By Laurel Sheppard

Although 3D printing is a well-established technology for fabricating a variety of materials in several industries, such as healthcare, it is only recently that the construction industry has adopted the technique to create large structural components and even entire buildings.

At DesignColumbus 2024, a one-day green building conference that took place in Columbus, Ohio, in March 2024, 3D-printed housing was discussed as a transformative technology for the construction industry. Potential advantages include faster build times, reduced material waste, design flexibility, and sustainability.

A major obstacle to widespread adoption of 3D printing in construction is the regulations and building codes that prohibit or limit the technology. Fortunately, this barrier is slowly being dismantled: Montana recently became the first state to approve 3D-printed walls. Having properly trained workers is another obstacle that must be addressed, and community colleges and universities are stepping up to the plate with the help of industry.

Numerous other advancements in 3D-printed housing have made headlines in recent years, and the sections below highlight some of these notable achievements.

Addressing the affordable housing crisis

Many governments and nonprofits are investigating 3D-printed housing as a solution to the affordable housing crisis because of its lower costs. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates more than 7 million homes are needed. To address this lack of housing, local communities are building 3D-printed homes.

In Newport News, Virginia, the Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg Chapter is building 3D-printed homes that cost between $180,000 to $190,000, compared to the average cost of more than $260,000 for a traditionally constructed house in the area. Alquist 3D, the company that printed the three Habitat houses built so far, plans to build 100 homes as part of a 300-home Habitat for Humanity project in Greeley, Colorado, where it is now headquartered.

In Maine, it is estimated that more than 80,000 additional homes will be needed by 2030, many for low-income households. To help accelerate 3D printing for these homes, the University of Maine installed one of the largest 3D printers in the world, dubbed Factory of the Future 1.0 (FoF 1.0). The new unit is four times larger than the university’s previous world record-breaking 3D printer, MasterPrint, which debuted in 2019. FoF 1.0 can produce structures measuring up to 96 feet long, 32 feet wide, and 18 feet high, at a rapid pace of 500 pounds per hour. The printer will help researchers at UMaine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center scale-up research and production on their bio-based 3D-printed home technology, which uses wood residuals as a feedstock.

Countries in Europe are also looking at using 3D printing to produce low-cost housing. Portugal’s Havelar house took just 18 hours to print, with the entire project taking under two months to complete. The cost to build is about half that of the local average. Another project in Tabasco, Mexico, is developing housing for poverty-stricken families.

More states welcome 3D printing

In California, the state’s first 3D-printed house was built in July 2023, which meets California’s strict building codes for earthquakes and wildfires. Near Redding, the 1,200-square-foot home, dubbed the Wildfire Restoration House, was built by Emergent. A video of the house can be viewed here.

Along State Route 198 in Wapakoneta, Ohio, what is claimed to be the first 3D-printed home in the state was built by Sustainable Concrete Innovations in October 2023. The house is 1,200 square feet, with two bedrooms and baths plus a loft for added living space. The company says their printing system can build a house in four days at 80% of the cost of a traditional home. An additional 20 houses are planned for 2024.

In December 2023, the first 3D-printed house in Detroit, Michigan, came on the market. At 988 square feet, it is priced at $224,500, which is much higher than the city’s average sale price of $82,000. The high cost is expected to decrease as 3D printing becomes more popular and more houses are built per project. State building codes that do not require reinforcing walls would also help lower costs.

Maine also recently welcomed its first bio-based 3D printed home in 2022. In October 2023, the University of Maine reported that the home successfully survived its first winter.

Texas announces world’s largest 3D-printed development

A housing development located near Austin, Texas, under construction by home builder Lennar and construction company ICON, will eventually have 100 3D-printed homes. In July 2023, the project’s first model home was revealed, with the first residents arriving in September 2023.

Called Wolf Ranch, the one-story 3D-printed houses range from 1,500 to 2,100 square feet and come in eight different floorplans featuring either three or four bedrooms and two or three bathrooms, respectively. The houses also include a solar panel system and smart home technology. Pricing ranges from $475,990 to $559,990 are considerably less than the average Austin-area home, which costs more than $800,000.

Learn more about Wolf Ranch in the videos here and here. CBS 60 Minutes also featured the project.

3D printing across the pond

Europe is also no stranger to 3D printing for construction. The Netherlands welcomed Europe’s first lived-in 3D-printed home in 2021, and many more projects have taken place since then.

In Denmark, 3D printing is being used to construct student housing in Holstebro near VIA University College’s campus. The project, which is currently considered Europe’s largest one using the technology,  will total six buildings, each with six apartments. Ranging from 420 square feet to almost 540 square feet, these one-bedroom apartments will include space for a laundry area.

Lünen, Germany, is also using 3D printing for multifamily housing. Peri 3D Construction is constructing a three-floor, six-unit affordable apartment building in Germany totaling 7,000 square feet, with rents ranging between $398 to $528 depending on the size of the unit. Planned for occupancy in October 2024, the project may be Europe’s first publicly funded 3D-printed apartment building. Peri 3D also printed a two-story house in Houston, Texas, and it is considered the largest 3D-printed home in the United States.

Another country building affordable housing with 3D printing is the U.K. Building for Humanity is constructing 46 new homes on Charter Street in Accrington, Lancashire. The company believes the project will be the largest of its kind in Europe when completed.

In addition to affordable housing, 3D printing is helping address other difficult situations, such as rebuilding homes in war-torn countries like Ukraine. 3D-printed buildings are also being designed to withstand natural disasters, such as Central Asia’s first 3D-printed home in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Check out this list to see more 3D-printed construction projects around the world. Also, this newly published open-access article overviews the materials and tools used in 3D concrete printing.