Five years ago, Jason Ballard had no idea he would be 3D printers, let alone build a larger-than-life 3D printer. But his passion for sustainable housing and his interest in technology led him to co-found ICON, a construction tech startup that uses 3D printing to create entire homes from scratch, with Evan Loomis and Alex LeRoux. “Evan and I were tinkering and we built a prototype in western Austin about two years ago,” says Ballard. Once the couple realized the potential of 3D printing in the housing industry, they teamed up with LeRoux, who was an engineer at Baylor University.
Eight months ago, the ICON team embarked on their first project of New Story, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that seeks to provide housing to poor communities around the world, and with which A D partnered to build 100 homes in Haiti. The demand for the new story? Build a machine that could print a house between 600 and 800 square feet for just $ 4,000. (Currently, New Story houses cost around $ 6,500.) While this was a difficult assignment, it was a fortuitous partnership rooted in the organizations’ shared values. Ballard has always had a passion for sustainable housing. In addition to his role at ICON, he is co-founder and president of Tree house—A company that provides services to create more environmentally friendly homes. “It’s gratifying that our first project was really such a passionate project,” says Ballard. Today, the fruits of their labors will bear fruit: South by South-West, ICON and New Story will unveil their very first 3D printed house.
New Story and ICON insist that 3D printing houses are more than a novelty – they make it possible to create a higher quality product with much less waste and more resilience, and this will become a useful tool in the long run. for communities like the ones New Story is serving. When 3D printing a house, a precise amount of concrete is extruded from the printer, removing excess waste that is quite normal in construction projects and trucked to the landfill after construction. It’s also fast: a New Story home can be created in 12-24 hours. Ballard also notes that a house printed using ICON’s technology has a hermetically sealed envelope, ideal for insulation, and top-notch resilience, crucial for tropical countries like Haiti that are often affected by weather conditions. storms.
“It can print a house almost identical to the ones we already have,” explains Alexandria Lafci, co-founder of New Story. “In fact, the printer has allowed us to design something that we think will be a better design for families – they can be a bit larger due to lower costs, which will help accommodate larger families and the way the house prints the walls supports the insulation, reducing the costs families have for poor insulation.
“In 2017, we challenged ourselves to increase quality, increase speed and reduce costs,” continues Lafci. “I started researching a number of innovations, and the two that reached the top were the pre-made modular box and 3D printing. And 3D printing really met those qualifications. She also notes, however, that many companies that 3D print focus on the ultra-rich, which means that communities who may need their services the most are reached last. ICON turned out to be different.
This newly developed printer also takes into account the technological constraints of the countries it plans to serve. A printer working in Austin, Texas won’t necessarily work in El Salvador or Haiti, where access to electricity and running water is more inconsistent. If the printer is actively extruding cement during a power outage, how would that affect the final home? Lafci explains that the teams considered these potential roadblocks. “There is a battery, a generator; and the container that the printer will be stored in will have solar panels at the top so that we can take advantage of the great resource of sunlight that we have in these places,” she says.
New Story plans to bring the printer to El Salvador first. “Our goal is to print a few test houses by the end of this year and a whole community by next year,” Lafci explains.
Above all, New Story does not intend to monopolize this 3D printing space. The organization hopes that with this successful, funded technological breakthrough, other NGOs and governments will be inclined to use similar systems to address housing shortages around the world. “Instead of waiting for market forces to eventually bring this technology to the developing world, we thought it was irresponsible not to try,” Lafci said. “Our goal is to open source everything we do. If we can outsource this printing technology to governments and other large organizations, then we can have a huge impact on the number of people hosted by. year.”
ICON and New Story are excited about the potential of what goes even beyond their own organizations. “We print better homes when it comes to human comfort, energy consumption, waste, aesthetics and design freedom, and so on. Adds Ballard. “It’s a better way to build houses.”