3D-Printed House: Revolutionary Living Spaces

New technology is set to transform global homelessness and build planetary habitats.

Growing up, you may remember seeing Sears catalog kit houses in your neighborhood. Those early 20th century “modern homes” offered the latest technology in homebuilding and were easy to assemble with a group of friends. We’ve come a long way since then. How about printing up your own custom home? Technology has caught up with homebuilding methods and now homes can be built using 3D printing. Yes, you can actually download and print up to a 2,000-square-foot house or even entire communities.

Austin, Texas based ICON is a newly launched construction technologies company that is pioneering the future of homebuilding. They are using 3D printing to make major advancements in affordability, sustainability, building performance, and customization. ICON developed the Vulcan II, a proprietary printer that uses 3D robotics, advanced software, and cutting-edge materials.

“Conventional construction methods have many baked-in drawbacks and problems that we’ve taken for granted for so long that we forgot how to imagine any alternative,” says Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of ICON. “With 3D printing, you not only have a continuous thermal envelope, high thermal mass, and near zero-waste, but you also have speed, a much broader design palette, next-level resiliency, and the possibility of a quantum leap in affordability. This isn’t 10% better, it’s 10 times better.”

A Cure for Homelessness

The first permitted 3D-printed house was produced in Austin, Texas in 2018 as a proof-of-concept for investors, customers, and the SXSW Conference. It is designed to address housing shortages for vulnerable populations around the world. The printer’s portability allows homes to be built under difficult circumstances such as in rural and disaster-stricken areas or where there are power, water, and assistance shortages. Having near zero waste, the printer can produce a 600-800 square-foot single-story home within 24 hours for $4,000 which is faster and cheaper than currently built structures for under-served communities.



ICON in collaboration with New Story, a nonprofit providing shelters for families in need, are embarking on a global initiative with a pool of engineers, environmentalists, designers, and entrepreneurs. They are forming partnerships with organizations for continued development of the Vulcan printer including Pump Studios, Yaskawa Electric, Alchemy Builders, TreeHouse, Andrew Logan Architecture, Linestar Automation, and The University of Texas.

“We feel it’s our responsibility to challenge traditional methods and work toward ending homelessness. Linear methods will never reach the billion+ people who need safe homes,” said Brett Hagler, CEO of New Story. “By working with ICON and leveraging their 3D printing innovations, we’re able to reach more families with the best possible shelter solutions, exponentially faster.”

In addition to New Story, ICON hopes that this project will influence the entire sector. The team plans to learn, iterate, and share the technology with other nonprofits and governments to help everyone improve and reach families faster.

First of Its Kind

Since its introduction, publications and online media have clamored to give coverage. Awards and recognitions are rolling in such as being named winner of the 2018 SXSW Accelerated Pitch Event Award, nominee for the 2019 Edison Award, honorable mention for the 2018 Fast Company Innovation by Design, and one of the startups to watch for in 2019 by Built In Austin.

The Vulcan II’s robotics consists of a gantry system that controls the precise extrusion of concrete over a large print area. Its industrial control software runs on a tablet with a user-friendly interface that selects, designs, and prints structures. ICON’s proprietary cement-based mix, Lavacrete II, is a closely guarded secret allowing rapid home builds that are structurally sound, cost effective, and esthetically appealing.

ICON’s Magma system is also the first of its kind and is an end-to-end automated material delivery system for use in 3D-printed construction. The Magma system automatically mixes the Lavacrete, additives, and water from built-in reservoirs and then delivers the mixture to the Vulcan II adjusting to a specific temperature, humidity, altitude, and speed. All this with a push of a button.

No Longer Science Fiction

Interested parties such as developers, construction companies, city governments, and others can purchase their own Vulcan II 3D printer to build homes more efficiently, affordably, and sustainably. After running out of the initial batch of printers, the company unveiled the latest Vulcan II earlier this year. “We have been hard at work developing the next generation of our technology,” said Ballard earlier this year in a written statement to Statesman.com. ICON is actively accepting printer requests for 2020.

Another cool project ICON is involved with includes a partnership with Cielo Property Group, a real estate investment company, and the City of Austin, Texas. Cielo will have access to the Vulcan II printer to develop underutilized lots and streets in the Texas capital, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country with a known housing shortage.

Meantime, the architecture firm, 3 Strands, and Overland Partners are sponsoring a design contest for their world-class architects to imagine design possibilities for the Vulcan II 3D printer. Also, ICON, in partnership with Colorado School of Mines participated in NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge to create sustainable housing shelters for Earth, the Moon, Mars, and beyond. They took home 4th place in the Seal Test Stage of the competition.

For a 2,000-square-foot house, plan on spending around $20,000. If you’re interested in having your own 3D-printed house, you can inquire through the company’s website. For more information visit iconbuild.com.