Can low-cost 3D printing solve housing shortages?

Can low-cost 3D printing solve housing shortages?

by Claudia Lewis

Download and Print a Home?

It's a somber reality that 1.2 billion people worldwide live without adequate housing. For the past several years, New Story, a housing charity based in San Francisco, has built over 150 homes in El Salvador, where tarps and scrap metal shelters abound. New Story has been working to provide houses that have proper roofs and floors but it's slow, painstaking work in a country where nearly a third of the population is without shelter. They needed a better approach. Last year, New Story may have found a potential solution to this widespread housing shortage.

Enter ICON

A construction tech company by the name of ICON, in partnership with New Story, recently unveiled a new invention. The Vulcan, an innovative feat of technology, is a massive 3D printer. ICON’s Vulcan 3D printer has the ability to produce an 800 square foot home in less than 24 hours. The process uses local building materials and it costs roughly $4,000 to build the home. The hardware is built to fit on a truck, so it can be easily transported to rural locations. It’s durable, so it can survive long trips and harsh conditions. While the main goal is to help solve the global housing crisis, New Story also plans to use local labor, creating jobs in the process.

Starting at the Bottom

If all goes according to plan, a we will construct a community made up of about 100 homes for residents in El Salvador next year. There are other startups working on 3D-printing technology for home-building, but most are targeting higher-income consumers. Says New Story CEO Brett Hagler, “We thought, okay, what if the bottom billion weren’t the last ones to get this, but the first ones to get this?” The company will eventually build homes in the US as well. While it’s a compelling solution to solving affordable housing shortages, it could be contentious among labor unions that represent workers. The Vulcan printer is capable of printing a home that’s 800 square feet, about the size of the average New York apartment, for much less than traditional building methods.

Custom Floor Plan

Because the 3D printed homes are built using software, it’s possible to offer several different designs, depending on family size. The software program can quickly customize the design layout when needed. For now, the wiring and plumbing must be installed outside the walls, but ICON hopes to overcome that issue soon. ICON’s first proof-of-concept 3D-printed home now stands in an Austin backyard, where the company’s staff plans to use it as an office. That way, they can experience spending time in the space, and tweak the design as needed. The team at New Story eventually aims to provide 3D printers to other nonprofits and governments. The target cost is low, perhaps less than $100,000 per printer. As the technology improves, New Story hopes their innovations will go a long way toward ending the global housing crisis. Find out more at

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Compass is a licensed real estate broker. All material is intended for informational purposes only and is compiled from sources deemed reliable but is subject to errors, omissions, changes in price, condition, sale, or withdrawal without notice. No statement is made as to the accuracy of any description or measurements (including square footage). This is not intended to solicit property already listed. No financial or legal advice provided. Equal Housing Opportunity. Photos may be virtually staged or digitally enhanced and may not reflect actual property conditions.