Texas company leading 3D home printing innovation

Gina Gaston Image
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Is 3D printing the future of Texas home building?
A Texas company is at the center of a revolution in housing construction that aims to build more durable houses faster.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- An Austin-based company just announced a partnership with homebuilders Lennar Homes to develop a community of 100 3D printed homes next year. Icon has already partnered with NASA and the U.S. military to build 3D printed projects, but houses have been the cornerstone of their business.

Huge machines gush out rows of concrete in rope-like shapes piled on top of each other. The architectural design is mapped out on a computer. The process eliminates worries about timber prices or worker shortages.

While 3D printed homes might have sounded like science fiction just a few years ago, Gary O'Dell, who purchased a home made by Austin-based Icon, says the future is now.

"At one level, it feels no different than living in a traditionally-built house," O'Dell explained. "The finishes feel the same, the walls are painted, but then you zoom out and it's crazy to think of the process."

Icon believes the four homes they built on Austin's east side are the first 3D homes sold and occupied in the country. They were just completed this summer. These homes range from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet. The top floor is traditional construction, but the bottom floor is printed. These homes were printed in less than a week, and some feel this technology has the potential to help solve our looming housing shortage.

Bruce Race from the University of Houston Gerald D Hines College of Architecture and Design says, "I'm actually pretty enthusiastic about these new technologies for home building."

Race says 3D-printed homes have several advantages. They are durable, especially against wind, they are attractive, they offer customization options, and they are cost-efficient, especially when several are built at once in a community as Icon intends to do next year.

They have the potential to be an asset to our extreme weather if designed properly, but Race cautions they don't address one of southeast Texas's biggest climate challenges because they can't be easily lifted.

"Because we flood, many of these designs are built on slab on grade and so we have to think about the design and how to accommodate that," he said.

Icon first gained national attention when they partnered with Austin's Community First Village to build five homes for formerly homeless people. Those tenants became the first in the nation to live in a 3D-printed home. They've since expanded to other printed structures, like these fully-printed Air Force barracks, and a planned NASA space-based construction system.