Could 3D printing provide the solution to Britain’s housing crisis?

Faced with concerns that the government is at risk of failing to meets it annual 300,000 new home target by the mid-2020s, 3D printing could provide the solution to Britain’s housing crisis?

Whilst the idea of living in a printed house may sound like a notion more suited to the world of science fiction, the advancement and development of construction methods is nothing new.  From Iron Age wattle and daub and the Tudor’s fondness of timber frames to the current prevalence of bricks and mortar, methods and materials used in construction have been continually evolving.  

Although the use of 3D construction methods remains in its relative infancy, exploration of the uses and limits of the technology are increasingly being tested across the globe. 

Chinese 3D Construction firm Win Sun Decoration Design Engineering constructed 10 single storey 3D-printed demonstration houses in under 24 hours and have also constructed a five-storey apartment block and a 1,100 square metre mansion. 

In 2018, the first 3D-printed family home was constructed and occupied in France. These projects, along with those such as Apis Cor’s development in Dubai showcase the possibilities and opportunities afforded by 3D-printing. 

With estimates that construction costs could be reduced by up to 60% as use of the technology advances and evolves, when the average UK house costs over seven times the average salary, the potential for such savings can only be commended. However, for consumers to benefit, these cost reductions must be passed on to potential purchasers.

Whilst on the face of it 3D printing might appear to provide a panacea to Britain’s housing shortage,  there are considerations over and above the cost saving and efficiency benefits to be examined if it can be considered a truly viable alternative to traditional building methods.  Can 3D-printed buildings ever achieve compliance with current regulatory regimes?  Would it be possible to achieve BREEAM Certification?  Will new legislation be required if 3D building is to become mainstream?  

Buy-in would likely also be required from the banking and insurance sectors.  At present, there is a limited market offering insurance and mortgages for non-standard homes; with those offering such services often charging a premium.  Consumers may well be deterred from embracing change if they are faced with lack of choice and increased premiums.   

Whilst 3D-printing might not provide an immediate solution to the housing shortage, it could prove transformative (for better or worse) in the long term.

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