It's hard to use printers to build houses. This startup says it's found a solution — by creating a 3D printed home starter kit.

  • Roadblocks stand between startups and their promise of cheaper and quickly built 3D printed homes.

  • Construction-tech startup Icon's new collection of products could alleviate some of these issues.

  • Icon unveiled a multi-story printer, a "low-carbon" printing mix, a catalog of designs, and an AI designer.

Over the last few years, several new startups have promised to build better homes using less labor, time, money, and materials — all with the help of a piece of technology: a 3D printer.

But amid this quest to alleviate the US housing crisis, the nascent 3D printing construction industry has continued to face major roadblocks.

A construction-tech startup in Austin now says it has the solutions.

On Tuesday, Icon announced four products that could help solve for 3D printing construction companies' biggest pain points: a multi-story printer, a "low-carbon" concrete mix, a digital catalog of designs, and an AI printed-home designer.

No, printed homes aren't something out of "The Jetsons." They're real — and already here.

the BioHome3D by the University of Maine's ASCC
The University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center 3D-printed a bio-based tiny home in 2022. Brittany Chang/Business Insider

In the last few years, startups — and even colleges — have unveiled 3D printed dwellings around the US.

In Virginia, Alquist, a 3D printing construction company, has built three Habitat for Humanity houses using a 3D printer.

In Texas, Icon is now working with construction giant Lennar to build the world's largest printed neighborhood.

And in Maine, a state university is now scaling up its manufacturing space to increase its production of fully recyclable printed dwellings.

Startups like these say robotic 3D printers could alleviate the US's ongoing housing crisis.

Icon's over 2,000-square-foot House Zero in Austin. The exterior of the home is made of layered printed concrete that hold up the wooden roof. The shaded area is the car park.
Icon is responsible for projects like a luxury printed home in Austin.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

But their lofty goal of mass-producing affordable homes still faces some big problems, including an underdeveloped workforce, the tech's inefficiencies and limitations, and the sky-high cost of materials and printers.

On the latter note, most construction printers extrude a cement mix. However, concrete is far from being environmentally friendly.

But a solution to some of these issues is now in sight, Texas-based Icon says, thanks to its new group of products.

Icon's 100-home 3D printed community
Icon and its "first permitted 3D printed home" were launched six years prior. Pictured is a rendering of its 100-home community.Icon

Think of it as a 3D printing home starter kit — starting with Icon's new printer, Phoenix.

Many 3D printed family homes — including Icon's previous builds — are single-story, with the only printed components being its walls.

The rest of the house has to be built traditionally.

Phoenix, which Icon plans to deploy in 2025 or 2026, could change this.

prototype of Phoenix next to a printed building
Phoenix is set to be able to print buildings up to 27 feet tall. Icon says the tech's prototype, pictured above, printed a building of this height in 400 hours.Icon

The "six-degree robotic arm" can create a multi-story building's foundation, walls, floors, and roof structures without stopping, Melodie Yashar, Icon's vice president of building design and building performance, told Business Insider.

This printing process would then cut construction time, the number of excess building materials and workers, and subsequently, costs.

prototype of 3D printer Phoenix
Icon plans to charge $25 per square foot for walls and $80 per square foot for foundations and roofs built using Phoenix.Icon

Jason Ballard, cofounder and CEO of Icon, told Business Insider in a statement that Phoenix-built wall systems and foundations are estimated to be about 30% less expensive than conventional homebuilding methods.

Regarding speed, he said the timeline for completing a home's printed elements could be "twice as fast as traditional construction."

The new printer would use Icon’s newest printing material, known as CarbonX.

3D printed walls, wavy
Icon says its CarbonX mix has less Portland cement, the most frequently used cement type.Icon

Despite its widespread use, concrete isn't great for the environment: The global production of cement, which is an ingredient of concrete, makes up 8% of the world's carbon emissions, triple the aviation sector's global output, The Washington Post reported.

To address this, Icon says it created a “low-carbon” concrete printing material.

3D printed walls, wavy
On March 12, Icon and MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub published a white paper examining the carbon emission-saving benefits of CarbonX-built 3D printed homes over traditionally built homes.Icon

Like other cement mixes made for 3D printers, CarbonX would still be fireproof, mold-proof, and insect-proof, Yashar told Business Insider.

The formula would be available to other homebuilders in April, with more environmentally friendly mixes already in Icon's pipeline.

Unlike the cement mix, the average Joe could use Icon’s third new product: Codex.

rendering of a 3D printed home
Icon calls Codex its "digital catalog of ready-to-print home architecture." The design, pictured in a rendering by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, is part of the "fire resilient" collection.Icon

"Many times, developers, builders, and city planners come to us and don't know where to start," Yashar said. "They don't know what's possible in terms of designs or the best product for them."

To help with this, Icon created Codex, a digital catalog of printed home designs.

The database has more than 60 homes separated into five categories: Texas modern, fire resilient, storm resilient, affordable, and avant-garde.

rendering of a 3d printed home
A rendering shows another design from BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group as part of Codex's "fire resilient" collection.Icon

Avant-garde, as in some buildings are U-shaped, Yashar said. Others were designed to be "very affordable" — some of the units could be built for $99,000 or less.

To compare, the startup's first six builds in its upcoming 100-home neighborhood were listed between $476,000 and $566,000.

Developers can then browse this catalog, select their preferred designs, and tap Icon to build these properties.

Home buyers, on the other hand, can also select their dream residences from the catalog.

rendering of 3D printed homes
A rendering shows a design from BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group as part of Codex's "storm resilient" collection.Icon

They can then either send Icon a deposit on the model (if there's already one ready to purchase) or join a waiting list that would alert them if their ideal design has hit their market.

Some of Icon's projects, including those at its development in Marfa, Texas — where homes "start in the upper $900,000s," according to Icon's website — will be available through Codex.

However, people who’d rather design their unit from scratch can instead use Icon’s fourth new product: Vitruvius.

rendering of a 3d printed home
Vitruvius is in beta and wouldn't be ready to tackle aspects like "permits, budgets, and schedules" until 2025. An example of one of its renderings is pictured.Icon

Yashar said Vitruvius, an AI-based system, was created to "democratize" Icon's design process. However, the company didn't say how much it would cost to use the tech, which is still in beta.

When it's complete, people can use Vitruvius to create floor plans and renderings — while considering requirements like budgets and permits — of their ideal printed residence.

Homeowners with no prior experience in designing printed homes would be able to use Vitruvius instead of hiring a “prohibitively expensive” architect, Yashar said.

AI rendering of a 3D printed home
Pictured is an example of Vitruvius's rendering.Icon

"In the future, I believe nearly all construction will be done by robots, and nearly all construction-related information will be processed and managed by AI systems," Icon's CEO said in a release.

Architects could use Vitruvius to "accelerate" the home design process.

With these four new products — the printer, printing material, catalog, and AI system — Yashar said Icon could create higher-quality and more affordable dwellings without “sacrificing dignity, resilience, and beauty.”

rendering of 3d printed buildings
A rendering of one of Codex's buildings, designed by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group.Icon

"I want to build a better world faster and cheaper," Icon cofounder Ballard told Business Insider in 2022.

Two years later, with the release of this new suite of products, it seems Ballard could still be on track with his goal.

Read the original article on Business Insider