Can 3D printing become a solution for the housing shortage?

It's often said that there’s no place like home. But what if that home was built with a 3D printer? Only a handful of people in the U.S. currently live in these types of houses, but some believe this will soon change because of 3D-printing technology’s potential to reduce construction times and costs. Stephanie Sy reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's often said that there's no place like home. But what if that home was built with a 3-D printer? Only a small handful of people in the U.S. currently live in these types of houses, but some believe this will soon change because of 3-D printing technology's potential to reduce construction costs, construction times and costs.

    Stephanie Sy reports

  • Stephanie Sy:

    April Stringfield has been laser-focused on a single goal for much of her adult life.

  • April Stringfield, Homeowner:

    I used to work two and three jobs because I was determined that I was going to get a home. From home health care, motel, I did call center at home. I just kept my fingers crossed, kept doing what I'm doing, working hard, saving money.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    With the help of Habitat for Humanity, Stringfield, her 13-year old son, Azayveon, and their dog, Tink (ph), moved in to a house in Williamsburg, Virginia two months ago, a house of her own.

  • April Stringfield:

    Getting something I always wanted and to see your dream come true, still in shock just a little bit that it is finally true.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The house is unique.

    This is not just any ordinary home.

  • April Stringfield:

    Right. It's a 3-D printed.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    A 3-D printed home, one Stringfield saw go up before her eyes in just over a day, layer by layer of concrete efficiently squeezed out of a printing machine, preprogrammed with a digital blueprint.

  • April Stringfield:

    I watched it from, it was like flat land, and so building up. It was awesome.

    Jonathan Reckford, CEO, Habitat for Humanity: We're really excited to be doing these vanguard moves.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Jonathan Reckford is Habitat for Humanity's CEO. The nonprofit, which helps people in need build and upgrade homes, has high hopes for 3-D-printed houses, at a time when labor and material costs are skyrocketing and affordable housing is more and more scarce.

    Jonathan Reckford, CEO, Habitat for Humanity: And so our hope with 3-D printing is, this is the beginning of the curve, but will lead to learnings that could mainstream ways that could either speed up construction or lower the cost of construction for us.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The U.S. currently faces a shortage of about four million homes, and more than one in four renters currently pay more than half their income in rent.

    Jason Ballard, CEO & Co-Founder, ICON: I think the best way to address that problem holistically is with robotic approaches to construction.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Jason Ballard is CEO of ICON, an Austin-based company that built the U.S.'s first permitted 3-D-printed home in 2018.

  • Jason Ballard:

    The more affordable and simplified supply chain, combined with an order of magnitude fewer humans, that's what gives you sort of this initial jolt of cost savings and improvements in speed of delivery.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But experts say it will be a while before 3-D-printed homes live up to their promise and go mainstream.

  • Mark Stapp, Arizona State University:

    I would say, with between five and 10 years, we may see more of it, if it continues to prove to be an effective, efficient means of construction delivery.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Mark Stapp is a property developer and the director of Arizona State University's real estate program. He says, while 3-D printing may reduce the cost of a structure's frame, a frame doesn't make a complete house.

  • Mark Stapp:

    You have got plumbing, electrical, mechanical, so, air conditioning, heating, et cetera, that all need to be incorporated. You have finishes to walls. You have got windows that have to now be installed.

    There's a whole bunch of other things that, one, products have to be adapted, and two, you have to train the labor.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Critics also say the proprietary blends of materials used to print buildings vary by project and are largely untested, compared with traditional building materials.

    Cities such as Austin have approved some 3-D-printed homes under building codes. And ICON's founder Ballard, who, in a previous career, worked with the homeless population, says it's only a matter of time before 3-D-printed housing is embraced widely.

  • Jason Ballard:

    That's what we're after, a complete solution to the global housing crisis in our lifetimes. That's what we're after.

    I think, one day, the sort of narrative will be, how on earth can we still build with a stick frame, when we know that these resilient materials are readily available? It's very much early days, but I think it's going to proceed like all revolutions, like, slowly at first and then all at once.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Back in Virginia, April Stringfield is busy making her house feel more like a home.

    Are there any other things about the concrete home that feel different?

  • April Stringfield:

    No, it's only really the outside of it, you know how it was built, but the inside is just like a regular home. The home is great.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Her favorite part?

  • April Stringfield:

    I love my kitchen. I wanted lemons, so I have lemons sort of there, here, towels and stuff.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Lemon-themed kitchen?

  • April Stringfield:

    Lemon-themed kitchen, mm-hmm, something bright, I guess, happy color, yellow.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    A happy color for a happy 3-D-printed home.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

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