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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

3D Printing a Composite Material House?


In a previous post, I talked a little bit about large scale 3D printing of composites, and how it was starting to take off. But, a house that people live in? Are they actually doing that? And, if they are, how are they 3D printing a whole house?

The answers to all of those questions can be found on line and in articles in Composites World. In fact, all of the pics in this post are from different projects ongoing in Maine, California, Texas, and elsewhere. Mostly funded initially by the US Government using public-private investments to get started. They have morphed into completely private and profit making endeavors.

The pic to the left above is a good example of the public-private partnership. It is a demonstration 3D printed composite material house unveiled at the University of Maine. The construction of the house was funded and supported by the US Department of Energy’s Hub and Spoke Program in partnership with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Maine has a large lumber industry which creates quite a bit of wood material waste in the form of sawdust, bark, wood shavings, and wood that is not suitable for house construction.

The U of Maine teamed up with Oak Ridge National Labs and their large 3D printing capabilities, and created an entirely bio-based 3D printable material that is 100% bio-based materials, largely derived from wood waste. Researchers have been able to extract the string (cellulose) and glue (lignin) from wood waste and recombine them in a 3D printable material that prints a structure strong enough to be a house. And, the insulation is incorporated into the walls of the house through the programming of the 3D printer. They actually can have tunable R values for insulation. The rest of the infrastructure – electrical, plumbing, cable TV, internet wiring, is incorporated into the 3D print by providing channels and raceways printed directly into the walls, floor, ceiling, and roof of the house.

And this is just one example of the 3D printing of houses using composites. A company in Oakland, CA – Mighty Buildings, Inc. – is using its extrusion and UV cure large format 3D printing capability to build 3D printed, prefabricated modular ADUs and has been selling them on the open market since 2021. According to Composites World (7/6/2021 issue) they are working on getting UL 3401 certification for a continuous glass fiber version of their thermoset “Light Stone Material”. The pic above is of a prototype 2 bedroom, 864 square foot “Mighty Trio” modular home built with their continuous glass fiber reinforced 3D printed modular panels.

And of course, Austin Texas didn’t want to be left out of this mix. The pic to the left is of a machine that has been used by an Austin startup – Icon Technology, Inc. – to 3D print 4 homes in the Austin area. The center right pic is one of those homes. The first floor of these houses is 3D printed using a proprietary 3D printable concrete composite, with the second floor being built using standard wood frame construction. But, the houses pass all of the Uniform Building Codes and come complete with everything ready to move in. Icon Technologies has teamed up with one of the largest national home builders – Lennar Homes – to build a 100 house development in Georgetown, a suburb of Austin starting in 2023.

Another company that has developed a large format 3D printer that can print composite concrete is SQ4D, based in Long Island, New York. In 2019 they printed a 1900 square foot home in 48 total printer hours over eight total days. The pic to the right is a photo of that house under construction. They have been building these 3D printed composite concrete homes for about 4 years, and have gotten all of their homes permitted and inspected to the Uniform Building Code. That’s a pretty major feat for any startup company – especially one that is 3D printing a house.

So, the answers to the questions I posed at the start of this thing. Yes, these are 3D printed composite material houses that people can actually live in. Companies are actually building these things. And these companies use a range of different strings and glues, from glass fiber reinforced 3D printable concrete to recycled wood waste to do it. Large format 3D printers capable of printing an entire house are not only a reality, they are in use right now printing someone’s new house.

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