How 3D Printing Is Making Housing Affordable
March 21, 2022
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by Stephen Kanyi

Like many developing nations and low-income neighbourhoods around the world, Kenya faces an acute housing shortage for its ballooning urban population. With the highest rate of urbanization in the continent, the State Department for Housing estimates that 300,000 housing units are needed annually to meet the demand.

This is a trend that is not only unique to Kenya but a lot of other developing countries around the world. The rate of urbanization is a lot higher than the number of houses available. The result is the mushrooming of informal settlements.

To curb this demand a few nations are employing the latest technology to build houses as fast and as cheaply as they can. These range from Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Technology, interlocking stabilized soil bricks, using Klevabricks to light gauge steel construction.

For Kenya, and a few others, 3-D printing is one of the key ways to meet this ever-rising demand.  In December last year, the country finished its first-ever 3-D printed house in a multimillion-dollar project to develop the technology for building.

With more than 70% of its population living in rural areas 3-D printing will come as a welcome technology to replace traditional semi-permanent housing.

Expected to kick off sometime this year, the project promises to cut turnaround construction time and more importantly the cost of building houses. The project will be implemented by 14Trees, which is a joint venture between Swiss building material company Holcim and CDC Group, the UK’s development finance institution.

The government has put in place a raft of incentives to facilitate the private sector to deliver affordable housing and seeing 3D printing technology take root in the construction space is a move in the right direction,” said Housing Principal Secretary Charles Hinga in a statement.

The US is a country that faces a housing deficit of around 7 million available and affordable homes. A report also found that this lack of affordable housing is most prevalent in communities of colour with 71% of Black extremely low-income earners spending more than 50% of the monthly income on paying rent.

Like Kenya, the US is relying on the private sector to come up with solutions to meet this demand. One such organization is Habitat for Humanity an organization that initiated a partnership with 3-D construction company Alquist to tackle the nation’s affordable housing crisis. This current crisis has made been made worse by the heightened costs of materials during the pandemic compounded by an ever-rising demand in the housing market.

Talking to NBC News Tawkiyah Jordan, senior director of housing and community strategy for Habitat for Humanity, said the organization adopted this method of building to meet the need to innovate, while also keeping high-quality homes affordable.

For instance, while it may cost $150000 to construct a typical American home with wood, 3-D printing which utilizes concrete saves up to 15% on building expenses.

“What really drives us is that mission for everyone to have a safe, affordable place to live,” she said, “and we’re also interested in multigenerational wealth being developed through homeownership, which is one of the primary mechanisms for wealth generation in our country.”

3-D printing also cuts the time for construction due to the machine’s efficiency. The process involves extruding concrete from a large machine into layers to form the walls, the foundation, and the home’s footing.

Printing also means that there will be much less spent on labour as the whole process is mostly autonomous and requires little supervision or staff on-site. This also prevents injuries and saves costs on workers’ compensation.

New York-based 3D-printing company SQ4D has also invested heavily in the technology and has already completed 40% of a home in just under six months compared to doing it in almost 12 months using the industry’s standard building practices.

Also speaking to NBC news director of operations Kirk Andersen believes that “3D printing will eventually become the go-to method for building rather than with wood because it’s a more efficient way to build.” Cement also provides better protection for homes against mould, termites and moisture compared to wood, he added.

While the benefits of using 3-D printing for everyone to see education remains to be a big obstacle. These machines can be incredibly complex to use and require quite a bit of training for one to grasp how to use them.

However, most innovators in this space remain confident that the technology will eventually pick up and change construction forever.

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