3D Printed Homes

A few years ago I was up at the MIT Media Lab, where I have been on the advisory board, and met a bunch of faculty members. The one that blew me away was a woman who was building a 3D printer that could “print” office buildings. That really stuck with me.

So with that in the back of my mind, the Gotham Gal and I were in a bar in Palm Springs last night and we bumped into a couple people we kind of knew, one of them an AVC reader named Brett Hagler, and we heard the story of a house being 3D printed in Austin Texas during the recent SXSW conference.

Brett’s non-profit New Story (crowdfunding to finance and build homes in the developing world) and a robotics construction company called Icon collaborated to build an inhabitable 800 square foot home in Austin Texas in less than 24 hours.

These two companies think they can get the construction costs below $4,000 for a 3D printed home. That’s kind of amazing and disruptive in a whole bunch of ways.

It is exciting to see 3D printing technology continue to grow and scale into new and important sectors, like construction and real estate.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Gregory Magarshak

    This is pretty amazing. Something Sam Altman always uses as an example, is “robot, build me a house” and it would procure the materials as well, you come back and there is a house. It is not quite a “world after capital”, but it is a world where costs are brought way down by automating everything.In such a world, we will need a Universal Basic Income. Socialists are unhappy about UBI being a mere stopgap while inequality between the rich and poor will grow. Well, reducing inequality is the job of taxes, the job of UBI is to be a safety net. Fiscal policy vs monetary policy. There may be a robot tax as Bill Gates said, and as Andrew Yang in NYC said, who plans to run for President in 2020 🙂

    1. PhilipSugar

      Other than UBI I think I could support him. Although his UBI seems fairly mild. I think we really have to look at UBI as not a zero sum game.Look at the great work Mike Rowe is doing with trades: http://profoundlydisconnect…There is a HUGE need for skilled tradespeople. Don’t kid yourself in NYC echo chamber that if you want to learn a trade you can’t get a well paying job.If we had tons of people doing work, think how much nicer our country could be? Parks, Roads, Etc.

      1. Gregory Magarshak

        Agreed, there is a huge need for people doing trade work and dirty jobs in rural areas. These jobs pay well and still there are few people. But 1. This is not the majority of jobs, eg 70 million drivers or fast food workers 2. This is temporary until they are automated. Long term the solution must be a well-understood UBI.I also think that raising children should be paid work. Today, both parents choose to work and children are being raised by the state. Especially in Black or Native American communities this results in big problems (including violent crime among youth) that were not the case in the 40s and 50s. Homemaker / raising children should be a paid job. It’s undervalued in the USA.With a UBI, all these things become more moot. Minimum wage laws become obsolete. People are free to do what they like (pursue learning, poetry, religion) and get experience in unpaid internships as they see fit without being shut out of the market.

        1. PhilipSugar

          Nice thoughts. But people aren’t going to pursue learning, poetry, and religion. They are gong to pursue something much different.And why do I need to pay for your kids? If you have kids…..pay for your kids. If you can’t pay…don’t have. That is what most of us do.I believe if you can’t pay they should be taken away, and you should be punished for having more, i.e. stripped of all benefits on strike two.

          1. Gregory Magarshak

            It’s not the kids’ fault they were born to a poor family. Why punish them for their parents’ choices?Also, many people become poor through no fault of their own. People can’t predict everything, and you can’t hold them responsible for every consequence. Personal Responsibility is an ideology just like any other and can be taken to an extreme.It doesn’t matter if you don’t WANT to pay for someone’s kids. Public schools and police etc. are funded with taxpayer money. If your store pays rent to a mall, but you disagree with how the mall spends the money on toy trains for the kids, can you stop paying rent? No. At best you can have a VOICE in a democratic governance system.

          2. PhilipSugar

            I can see you went to Juilard. I was accepted there as well. Certainly not at 7 and wanted to go into business. Not kids fault. That is why I say take them away. My wife who was abandoned and took over medical for a max state prison convinced me of this

          3. LE

            Public schools and police etc. are funded with taxpayer money.Nobody disagrees that taxpayer money should be spent on certain things that end up benefiting all of us. The only question is really how much. It’s certainly not all or nothing obviously.If your store pays rent to a mall, but you disagree with how the mall spends the money on toy trains for the kids, can you stop paying rent?Unclear how this example is relevant at all. A store lease is a commercial transaction. You get quoted rent and you either accept the rent or you don’t (and negotiate etc). Along with that there are things that you expect for the rent and you make a decision as to whether you want to sign the lease. Or not. Then there is a contract that is in theory adhered to. Unless the contract allows for changes it doesn’t change. There is no contract that people have with government.If you have a great deal of economic power (say you are Apple) you may very well be able to dictate how the landlord spends money either when you sign or later. However once you sign the lease if in a typical transaction as long as you have agreed to pay an amount it doesn’t matter to you what happens with the money you have paid. The only thing you can do is complain to take legal action if things aren’t done the way contractually agreed to.A lease in a mall or an office etc. is not a good example to use to bolster the point you are making.

          4. PhilipSugar

            You as a store go out of business. See ToysRus. Very bad analogy. See Aeropostale, Sears, etc.Not saying kids fault, saying break the chain. Again. As a person that works with people and has calloused hands…….I have an open invite to visit me and talk to people that do.

          5. PhilipSugar

            No, no, and no. Having kids is a choice. Am I for free birth control? I would pay for that every day.

          6. Gregory Magarshak

            Well, at least you sound more reasonable than tons of other people who take Personal Responsibility to an even bigger extreme:https://twitter.com/aaronpi

          7. PhilipSugar

            I see both sides.If you have no brain you think somehow not providing birth control AND opposing abortion is a good idea. What planet do you live in?And If you have a brain and think that letting people not work and they magically will become artists or pursue good things…….just as bad.

          8. LE

            But people aren’t going to pursue learning, poetry, and religion. They are gong to pursue something much different.Of course I agree.I was watching something on TV which showed military people cleaning the brass on a ship. It was obvious to me that one of the reasons for that was not just to keep things clean. It was to also keep them busy ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ applies as well as enforce discipline and regimen and keep them out of trouble.And why do I need to pay for your kids? If you have kids…..pay for your kids. If you can’t pay…don’t have. That is what most of us do.Exactly. However the unfortunate fact is we live in a world where we provide narcan to addicts so they can continue overdosing and not kill themselves. Figure that one out.The question also boils down to who exactly pays for other people’s mistakes. Many of the people who would say (per the parent comment) ‘it’s not the kids fault’ seem happy to pay for others because they fall into two camps. Camp A is ‘doesn’t have a pot to piss in’, so tax wise it won’t cost them anything. Camp B is ‘I have tons of money, and my needs are met, so spending something on social causes cleanses my soul from the evils that allowed me to make the money (earned or inherited)’.That said (and as I have pointed out; and will now name) there is what I will call ‘the loser paradox’. That is the fact that because others are weak, non motivated, or don’t have high abilities, then people who do get to gain more out of society as a result. In other words if everyone were like ‘us’ we wouldn’t be ‘us’. Even if ‘us’ is a result of both luck and hard work.

          9. sigmaalgebra

            There will essentially always be, on each scale, a distribution of abilities, to be careful mathematically, a distribution absolutely continuous with respect to Lebesque measure.Even with that fact, our society could make a LOT of progress with MUCH more in teaching, training, discipline, examples etc. of “values”. So, want self respect, responsibility, honesty, hard work, …. E.g., borrow from the Boy Scouts, etc. Also people desperately need a good Romantic Relationships 101, e.g., expanded from E. Fromm, The Art of Loving, 1946.

          10. PhilipSugar

            I love this comment. Cannot upvote more.

          11. ShanaC

            such as?I keep being reminded by how much fanfiction there is out there that there is definitely a will to create

          12. PhilipSugar

            Drugs booze chcagrettes and TV. They can watch Fox or CNN all day. Maybe the view or Opra. Go to the Dollar Store for munchees

          13. sigmaalgebra

            Speak only for yourself; certainly don’t include me or a lot of people I know:(A) My late wife wanted to dedicate her life to helping other people. She was Valedictorian, Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Woodrow Wilson Fellow, NSF Fellow, high end university Ph.D., etc. just to have the best qualifications.(B) One of her sisters dedicated her career to using journalism to expose the miscreants and to write human interest stories to help poor people. One of her daughters was first in her class at a high end high school, Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard Law, Cravath-Swain, later MD, and now practicing helping people.(C) Another of my wife’s sisters, wife, three small kids, very active in church, full time high end nursing career, decided to work extra, save up some money, and rush off to get a famous Refusnik out of Russia — she was successful.(D) Their mother, an RN, long volunteered at EMS.(E) My father was from English descent and my mother, German, but my brother, good as a dedicated teacher, took his Ph.D. to teach at black Knoxville College just to try to help the students there.(F) For now, I’m concentrating on my software startup. As of yesterday, my first server seems to work and the BIOS power-on self test (POST), the extensive BIOS code, and the Western Digital Data Lifeguard Tools say everything looks good, and I’m about to use my legal copy of Windows 7 64 bit Professional to format the first hard drive, install an operating system, and use some Western Digital tools successfully, quickly to backup, restore, and clone an installed instance — I’m sure I will soon need to do that.(G) But after my startup, I want to pursue music, move on from violin to composition, quantum mechanics, e.g., concentrate on cleaning up the EPR things, and relativity, e.g.. concentrate on fixing that with quantum mechanics and EPR. A friend, world class mathematician, recently sent me some of his notes, a few hundred pages, on mathematical physics! The notes look terrific! A lot that I see in quantum mechanics and relativity strikes me as just not well tested or credible; I want to try to fix it up.I do want a nice, new car, say, a Chevy Silverado with crew cab, 6.2 l. engine, part-time 4 wheel drive, trailer hitch, and that’s about it.I don’t want a ski house in Jackson Hole, Aspen, Maine, or St. Moritz, or anywhere. I’m no longer impressed with wines from the Haut Medoc.If I found a woman, smart, pretty, smart, nice, smart, feminine, smart, good with music, smart, otherwise a lot like the original Disney Cinderella, …, I’ll offer to take her to some operas. Did I mention smart?

  2. jason wright

    The Inuit process was the one to emulate. That was the perfect model. Take native materials in situ and construct. Any colour so long as it was white. Super efficiency.

  3. Frank W. Miller

    I agree with you. Putting money into companies that are scaling 3d printing is a good idea. It has a Henry Ford or a SpaceX feel about it…

    1. Vendita Auto

      invest in the land holdings

    2. jason wright

      Henry Ford was an industrialist fascist. He tried to turn humans into robots. Probably a sociopath. Horrible things cars. Dehumanising in every way. I would like to see a country ban them entirely.

      1. JamesHRH

        Lots of founders have shades of that mindset.

        1. jason wright

          they do indeed. i have a good radar for that. I’m intolerant of that mindset.Not just entrepreneurs. Hilary Clinton has always seemed to me to be a sociopath. I’m amazed that so many intelligent people seem not to see that in her.

          1. Matt A. Myers

            It’s when ego-mind in control vs. being guided by heart-intuition-feeling, controlled vs. managed, friction vs. free flow, being an attacker vs. cunning/evasive with Jiu-Jitsu moves.

      2. Lawrence Brass

        I walk, pedal in my bike, drive my car, take the bus a cab or the metro, board a jet plane now and then to go and see amazing places. It depends on the situation, the need, the mood.Diversity in the broadest sense suits me. Fundamentalism does not.This is our time. Each one of us. Take it.

        1. jason wright

          i’m not a big believer in balance. It can allow things to sneak in that are (to me) on balance unhelpful.

      3. Frank W. Miller


  4. Tom Labus

    Can larger buildings be done for apartments?

  5. DJL

    Incredible. I cannot imagine how much this would benefit people. How to get from 1 to 1 billion will be the trick – and of course costs should drop in the meantime.

  6. sigmaalgebra

    The 3D printing part seems to be only for the walls. Still need to (A) clear and grade the land for the location, (B) handle the main consideration, water, (C) set the forms for the slab, (D) pour, level, and finish the slab. That’s all the same as the old ways going back decades — nothing new.Then notice that somehow most of the 3D printed walls got finished to something smooth and painted. The labor for that stands to be comparable, per square foot, with what is standard now for hanging, taping, and painting drywall.Notice that apparently the roof is from a steel I-beam and some quite nice lumber — no use of laminated trusses. Nothing new there.It also appears that the roof is not really enclosed; that is, insects and animals could easily come and go.Notice that the 3D printed parts have essentially no openings for water, sewer, AC power, cable TV (phone, Internet), or HVAC. It appears from the video that any electric lighting is getting its AC power from cables run through the ceiling.It looks like the concrete slab has no openings for water, sewer, or floor drains.The 3D printing will need an expensive concrete pump and an on-time flow of ready mixed concrete, and those two will be difficult to achieve in really poor areas. So will the site preparation.Apparently the only thing that is new is the 3D printing of the walls. Well, the pre-fab industry can put up walls or a whole house in a big hurry. Indeed, for a house of just 800 square feet, could build that in a factory, deliver it on a flat bed truck, and have it in place faster than with 3D printing. If want to do a lot of such houses, then have a few dozen standard walls and assemble the wall parts of the houses just by snapping together the pre-fab walls.”Manufactured housing”, i.e., house trailers, are likely also competitive.Typically there is a lot of cost for the plot of land and that because of the costs of the roads, sewers, utilities, etc. of the subdivision and also because of scarcity of suitable land in desirable locations, locations, locations.Ah, but “sustainable, non-profit, charity”, those are the keys, right?Okay, we all were feeling really good until I mentioned the insects and animals, right?So, it was a feel good video? I thought it was a lot better once I turned off the sound with the horrible, irritating effort at music!!!!

    1. Vendita Auto

      You soooo miss the point

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Which is??

        1. Vendita Auto

          On site international 20/40 year durability Speed & Price “Okay, we all were feeling really good until I mentioned the insects and animals, right?” “Typically there is a lot of cost for the plot of land””Ah, but “sustainable, non-profit, charity”, those are the keys, right?””the horrible, irritating effort at music!!!!”Thank you Sheldon

          1. sigmaalgebra

            I addressed speed and price — they don’t look new or even very competitive, especially in an “international” context.”International”? In poor areas, where the heck is there any hope for some $500,000 high end German engineered concrete pumping, with a long boom, 3D printing truck? Even if have the truck, likely the local roads and bridges won’t handle it. Even then, the truck will need a carefully timed, carefully formulated supply of ready mixed concrete, and that, too, will present problems for roads and bridges. Besides, what does such a ready mixed concrete truck cost, $200,000? And the ready mixed plant, $2 million? And the supply of sand, gravel, and lime to the plant? For those, need “infrastructure” — roads, bridges, railroads, electric utility grid, lots heavy power equipment, Diesel fuel, parts and maintenance, etc.For durability, 20/40 years is too short: In the US, common suburban houses built to common building codes with just common 2 x 4 wood frames commonly last 100 years. Paint the exterior wood occasionally, replace the roof shingles about each 30 years, keep water under control, and have a good shot at the 100 years. E.g., the house I grew up in was built in 1948; now Google Street View shows the house still as part of a nice neighborhood, the house worth about $300,000. That house and its neighborhood stand to still be doing well after 100 years. It’s a wood frame, “stick built” house with a foundation of just cinder block piers about 3′ high.Looking again at the roof of that sample 3D house, the underside is an invitation to lots of nests for various insects. Looking at the concrete slab, it’s too low to the ground and a big risk of flooding inside the house. Oh, by the way, for the site preparation, the concrete slab, the landscaping, and the nice fence, are those included in the $4000?And I mentioned the problems with AC power, telephone, running water, sewer, floor drains, and HVAC — there aren’t any. So, for water, walk outside and use a well. Looks like cooking will have to be over an open fire, and that, too, will have to be outside. For a toilet, walk outside and use an outhouse. For a bath, f’get about it. Laundry? F’get about it. By the way, I saw no clothes dryer inside or clothes line outside.Net, in simple terms, as presented, IMHO it’s total BS work.The role of charity? A capitalist is highly motivated to allocate their limited resources carefully. But if get away from capitalism and such careful resource allocation, then are wide open to total BS, wasteful allocations of capital. Result? More poverty.

          2. Vendita Auto

            ” $500,000 high end German engineered concrete pumping, with a long boom, 3D printing truck” ” Even if have the truck, likely the local roads and bridges won’t handle it” ??? WTF has one off building construction to do with global large housing sites “By the way, I saw no clothes dryer inside or clothes line outside.” You seemingly live in a wealthy autistic bubble, empathy is a feeling not an edict. Thanks for your mud hut analogy

          3. sigmaalgebra

            If I understand your concerns, then much of my motivation is empathy for the “international” situation.Supposedly this house is a prototype to demonstrate some new residential construction techniques, 3D concrete printing, that could be useful in international poor areas.Okay, I have plenty of empathy for such areas and would like to see some progress in residential construction techniques, in particular, for housing that is more livable and durable, better for health, less expensive, etc.Then, looking at the prototype, I’m not seeing much progress past what has long been available.Actually, it appears to me that trying to use 3D printing would be a step backwards: That is, as I mentioned, from sand, gravel, lime, etc. for the concrete through the cement plant, the ready mixed truck, the pumping truck for the 3D printing, the technique seems to assume too much local infrastructure that is too expensive.Or the poor international situations, where we should have empathy, are short on capital for expensive power equipment but long on hand labor for saws, hammers, nails, etc. for older “stick built” techniques.

          4. Vendita Auto

            “concrete through the cement plant” all of which will be on site in situ.The poor international situations I see as the alternative to usual throw money at corruption / short term plasters I guess in the same way as I applaud this: Chinese Jiu-Jitsu move that I like “Poor rural students get priority in college admissions”http://www.xinhuanet.com/en…Not that I have run the numbers on possibilities of turning out productive ROI That is something you are very good at.

    2. SFG

      Personally, I say just convert shipping containers! Not all warm and fluffy, but they work!

        1. SFG

          Very cool!

    3. ShanaC

      Notice that the 3D printed parts have essentially no openings for water, sewer, AC power, cable TV (phone, Internet), or HVAC. It appears from the video that any electric lighting is getting its AC power from cables run through the ceiling.</bockquote> That can (and probably will) be fixed in the 3d model. You can leave holes for that sort of stuff

  7. Anthony Catanese

    It’s amazing how far 3D printing has come with not only homes, but with the space station using this group (http://madeinspace.us/) to make their own tools and print structures in space. Andrew Rush that runs that team is solid.

  8. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:Thinking aloud!Are the 3D homes designated under sustainable development? Are materials used have a particular life span? Could the offer be a remake the 3D home every ten or twenty years on same property for the purchasers if the costs are only $4, 000?This could be helpful in underdeveloped countries and beyond disruptive in construction & RE sectors as the blog owner indicated.Captain Obvious!#UnequivocallyUnapologeticallyIndependent

    1. ShanaC

      concrete is pretty durable in the right enviroment. They last 50-100 years.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Apparently some concrete has lasted since the Romans.For the 3D concrete, likely want some materials included in the mix to stop the growth of cracks.

  9. Gregory Magarshak

    The same can be said about any health insurance company, for instance. It’s called a moral hazard. It’s the trade-off between having a TRUE safety net and relying on large organizations to negotiate on your behalf (collective bargaining). Whether it is Amazon guaranteeing prices and squeezing producers, or Apple / Google kicking apps / websites off their platform. That’s why people choose to live in a state. The collective bargaining actually makes pricess LOWER btw, because a single payer doesn’t compete against themselves while providers compete. The downside is that providers are now vulnerable and need to unionize also.You can’t make guarantees to everyone without having a large enough organization handling things. As Abraham Lincoln said: the government should do for the people what the people cannot do for themselves. And no more.

  10. _miki_1774

    In cities like SF/NY the bulk of the savings will be passed up to the developer.Price of housing is determined by how much customers are able to pay (or can borrow from a bank). E.g. if the government subsidizes home purchases with $10000, prices will rise $10000 automatically.There is way more room for innovation/disruption in cost components of housing that are not building materials or labor.

    1. Drew Meyers

      Such as? Amenities? Shared spaces?

      1. _miki_1774

        Avg. construction cost of condos in NYC from $85 to $200 sqf. Avg. sale price in Prospect Heights $950 sqf. (Brooklyn, where I live). Go figure.

  11. Vendita Auto

    Will make prime / mid land values rise & insurance prices drop. Hold the land / invest in groups with large land holdings

  12. ShanaC

    On a practical level, I think1) This technology will be adapted to non-concrete homes/buildings – concrete is a very specific sort of building material, and there are plenty of environments and reasons people won’t want to go with concrete2) I don’t think wood framing is going away forever – people like using wood studs to anchor things to walls. I think we’re going to see more interesting behavior about filling in framing3) Boy, construction in the US is going to be pissy4) OTOH, Habitat for Humanity will love this

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Some U-section galvanized sheet steel also makes good studs.If really want to get the price down, then to heck with studs and a “stick built” house and, instead, have factory made walls with whatever really works, e.g., foam for insulation, maybe rigid foam for both insulation and structural strength, built-in vapor barriers, on both sides, integral electric power, cable TV, start on HVAC, built-in windows and doors, snap together at the job site, etc. — here I’m just guessing, and no doubt much better ideas are around.Concrete has some advantages: Immune to damage by water. Mechanically strong.

      1. Frank W. Miller

        OK, I have to put in a plug for a personal friend of mine now. He’s been doing innovative work with prefab’d concrete using crazy high tech, pseudo concrete printing machines from Germany. I have no financial interest in the company but he is a friend and I’ve been watching him bust ass for more than 10 years on this: https://www.linkedin.com/in

        1. sigmaalgebra

          Likely saw something close: A house next door burned, and to rebuild they removed down to the dirt and poured a new basement floor. Then for the basement walls, they put up forms and had reinforcing bars wired in.Then arrived some big truck, pumper, boom thing, likely from Germany: Ready mix concrete trucks brought the wet stuff, and the pump and boom filled the forms. In about an hour the basement walls were DONE.

  13. ShanaC

    A little inflation isn’t bad. The real issue is stagflation, which functionally for many jobs has been happening for years. You see this in the housing market in big cities, there’s an oversupply of luxury condos but not regular housing. Rent on the high end remains flat, but the low end sees huge price increases.Literally the only market that I haven’t see this happen in in recent years is organic food, and that’s because it had mass crossover appeal.So better question, does a UBI solve stagflation

  14. jason wright

    Trees. It’s all about trees. Plant trees.

  15. JamesHRH

    Critical question – which bar?

  16. Jeff Jones

    Very cool. Some really exciting things happening in the housing/construction space. Check out this flat pack A frame that can be unfolded onsite and installed in several hours. https://newatlas.com/madi/5

  17. Drew Meyers

    Totally agree. This technology on other planets will be awesome, when we get there.

  18. paramendra

    24 hours and 4,000 dollars —- those are the key numbers. And, obviously, those numbers will inevitably comedown. How far? How fast? The house looks great, by the way. I can imagine living in one. Less cleaning to do. The space feels plentiful.