CONROE, Texas (FOX 26) — There’s a lot that 3D printers have made: bones, rockets, buildings. In fact, in Austin, you’ll find a 350 square foot structure billed by its builders, start-up company ICON, as the first permitted 3D printed house in the U.S. But build much bigger and you’ll have problems.
"Once you get large enough, you really need some form of steel or some other means to reinforce the concrete,” says Andrew Colopy, assistant professor of architecture at Rice University.
That’s where Larry Haines, founder of Austin-based Sunconomy, comes in. He says Sunconomy has partnered with a San Francisco residential building company, Forge New, to develop a system called We Print Houses. It will allow the builder to create bigger homes using a unique mobile platform to which they attach a print head.
By building a certain way and using portland-free, geopolymer concrete from Geopolymer Solutions in Conroe, they have been able to achieve structural integrity.
"We can put concrete on the inside of the wall and the outside of the wall with the insulation that goes in the middle," says Haines, conducting a demonstration with a steel beam. "And so that’s how we’re meeting code."
Haines has already obtained the permit to print an entire house — roofs, floors, and walls — something he says has never been done in the U.S. He is building the first model in Lago Vista, a little more than thirty miles outside of Austin. It will take two months to complete. Then, he wants to sell it.
“This is the future,” says Haines.
Maybe so, but some say don’t expect it to be the norm just yet.
"The design is pretty limited," said Sean Forkner, council business representative of the Central South Carpenters Regional Council. "It’s a great thing and it’s fast, but you’re going to want a house that looks like that.”
And, even though the homes will be much more affordable, some say they won’t appeal to everyone.
“Long term, I still believe that traditionally-built homes are going to be the lion's share of housing, at least in Central Texas for quite some time,” said Becky Collins, president of Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin.