A non-profit partnership is raising money to 3D-print durable and affordable concrete homes in El Salvador, in an effort to offset the global housing crisis.

Each single-storey, 650 square-foot home costs US$4,000 to build using a concrete-extruding printing apparatus, which is programmed to create the foundation and walls of the structure. The printing plans leave room for windows and a non-concrete roof, and can be adjusted to make room for wiring and plumbing as well.

The whole thing is the brainchild of three Texas-based entrepreneurs, whose tech startup Icon aims to revolutionize sustainable home construction.

Icon co-founder Jason Ballard says 3D-printing is something of a “unicorn technology” for the construction industry, because it allows for faster, better and cheaper projects to be completed with much more creativity.

“It opens up tons of design freedom,” Ballard told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. He says printing with the liquid concrete makes all manner of shapes possible, from traditional squares and rectangles to circular and spiral shapes.

It also simplifies construction by eliminating the need for drywall, wood framing, insulation and other materials used to build the walls in traditional homes.

“You’re replacing not just one, but four or five (wall layers) at least, compared to conventional construction,” Ballard said, adding that concrete is far more resilient than drywall and two-by-fours.

Ballard says he grew up on the gulf of Texas where hurricanes sometimes strike, so he knows the importance of strong construction. “My childhood home was lost to a hurricane,” he said.


Ballard says he developed the idea to 3D-print homes during his 10 years in the construction business. “I realized that, rather than continuing just to patch the houses we have, we need a fundamentally better way to build homes, and technology could deliver on that promise,” he said.

Ballard and Icon partnered with the non-profit group New Story to launch their housing initiative, which is made possible by their concrete-printing apparatus, dubbed the Vulcan.

The first home printed by the Vulcan I was built in Austin, Texas, with the 350 square-foot structure taking approximately 48 hours and costing $10,000 to complete. But Icon says its next printer, the Vulcan II, will be able to hit its lofty goal of building a 650 square-foot home for $4,000 in less than a day.

Icon intends to put the plans for its concrete home up online, so others can use it once the technology becomes more widespread.

The World Resources Institute estimates that 1.2 billion people live in cities without affordable or secure housing.

Ballard says he expects the technology to take off, both in the developing world and in the U.S. and Canada, where housing is also in high demand.

But the change won’t be coming overnight. Ballard is currently testing out the first printed home in Texas as an office, to see how well it holds up to weather and the seasons.

“Before we let families move in, we really want to do a full battery of testing,” he said.

Ballard says the project has enjoyed plenty of attention since it was unveiled at South By Southwest last month, and he hopes that will help it secure more donations.  The New Story charity is currently accepting sponsors to build homes at a cost of $4,000 per house, with the cost of building a full community tagged at $400,000.

“It’s fun for people to realize this isn’t just a niche technology,” Ballard said. “This is a true paradigm shift.”