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3D printing seems to be something which is catching on amongst researchers and academics. My only knowledge of it comes from watching “The Big Bang Theory” TV programme. During one episode they printed a whistle. Going for a whole house seems a big step forward from that!

The material used for 3D printing is cellulose. I’m no chemistry graduate but I do know there are lots of varieties of cellulose and that there is a super-abundance of it globally. If, for the 3D printing of houses they can use the right varieties of cellulose then they would be up-front for recycling! Loads of paper and cardboard go in our rubbish bins. That would seem to make the idea a pretty eco-friendly one!

But if I put my “builder’s head” on, I’m a bit more critical – and cynical! The first thing that comes into my head is exactly how big would a 3D printer have to be in order to print even a modest three-bedroom house? How wide are the houses; about 15 feet or 5 metres! We all get frustrated over traffic hold ups caused by wide loads! Imagine the hold ups and tail-backs on a Motorway with a 3D printer occupying all three lanes! What kind of problems would there be getting it down a country lane on to a housing development?

Somehow one eventually arrives on site. It has to be set up where the house is required to go. With traditional build the first requirement is to get the foundations for the house down, along with the incoming services. Does a 3D house require foundations? Would they be 3D printed? As for the 3D printer itself which must be a pretty heavy gadget; would that require separate foundations preparing for it to sit on before it can start work?

An alternative methodology for the 3D printing of houses would be for them to be printed off-site and then transported to their final resting place. Oh dear. We come across the same transport problem as for bringing the printer to site! Too big and cumbersome a load! The answer to that, of course, would be to print just house components and erect them on site. To do that would be fairly easy but how would it affect the structural integrity to things like our high winds? Has anyone told us how tough these houses would be and if they could be bolted together on site?

Then we come to the number of jobs in the house building sector. Currently in the UK there is a shortage of the skilled tradesmen and 3D printed houses might address that deficiency. On the other hand do we really want to see the number of jobs for people to drop drastically? My own feelings on that are that we would do much better to encourage youngsters to take up apprenticeships and become articled tradesmen! The big obstacle to that is lack of continuity of employment, as we old-timers know. That is something that needs to be addressed by Government. I’m pretty sure it would do our economy good if we didn’t keep hitting recessions every decade!

Have a look at this photo. It is the only one of a part of a 3D printed house I’ve come across:-

3dprinter.jpg

Industrial robot 3D printer v01 by Creative Tools is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This is what has really put me off the idea of 3D printed houses! Clever from a scientific point of view, but a bit boring and lacking in character, wouldn’t you say? To make it liveable in and attractive to any potential buyer it would still need the lads to get in there and fit it out decently! Once they have done that what would the final build cost be like; higher or lower than traditional build? Another thing; how long will it take to print a house; quicker or slower than traditional build? There is a long way to go before they manage to 3D print a house which can be looked upon as a home!

This 3D printing of houses is a fascinating idea and it might eventually become the normal construction method. I very much doubt if that will happen for many years yet, though. Too many practical issues need to have sensible answers found to them. Do you know where I think the whole idea might come into its own? Very futuristic, this, but when humanity decides to populate the Moon! Most of the problems I see with the idea here would just go away in the Moon’s reduced gravity! Just one new one comes up; is cellulose available there.