3-D printing can now do houses: Have you seen this one in Austin?

'There has got to be a better way to build houses,' Icon CEO recalls saying

By Ryan Korsgard - Reporter

HOUSTON - Layer by layer, a giant 3-D printer named "The Vulcan" recently printed a home. "The Vulcan" is a robot that dispenses concrete around a grid, and it is controlled by a laptop computer.

Everything can plug into a regular power outlet. For 47 hours, it poured the outside and inside walls of the home in East Austin. A timelapse video recorded in March showed the process in warped speed. 

“What we’re standing inside is the first site-built, permitted 3D house in America,” said Jason Ballard, the co-founder and CEO of Icon, the company behind the printed home.

Ballard grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast. After a storm destroyed his home when he was a child, he realized, “There has got to be a better way to build houses," he said.

The printed houses, made of concrete, could find a home where floods, fires and hurricanes threaten communities, Ballard said.

"In the rebuilding effort, with a house like this, you’re not talking about taking it down to the studs, doing mold remediation, etc.," Ballard said. "You’re probably replacing flooring and replacing furniture, and giving it a good cleaning. And you’re back in in no time.”

Ballard’s company works with a nonprofit organization called New Story.  Together, Ballard said their goal is to provide affordable housing to those in need.

The home printed in Austin included 350 square feet under the roof and cost about $10,000, Ballard said.

But a larger version could cost $4,000 and cut the building time down to 24 hours, he added.

After adding air conditioning and a few modern touches, Ballard said, the structure would serve as his office.

“This absolutely has application for homes in Austin, homes in Houston (or) Beaumont -- you name it," Ballard said.

What Ballard learns from printing the concrete structure in Austin could pave the way to construction in space.

He said he is working on a project with NASA to figure out how to use this revolutionary building technology to build habitats beyond Earth.

"When we go to the moon or Mars, we’re not hauling two-by-fours and screws and nails and compressors," Ballard said. "We need a technology that can print hundreds or thousands of kinds of buildings using local materials. This tech promises to do just that."

Ballard said you can expect the first printed-home communities in the United States and abroad within 12 months.

“It’s like living in a dream," Ballard said. "I still have all of these 'pinch me' moments when you’re watching the printer run. You can’t believe it’s happening!”

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