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3D printed homes: Why technology could solve Kenya’s housing crisis

By Peter Theuri | Jan 6th 2022 | 6 min read
By Peter Theuri | January 6th 2022

3d printer printing yellow small house [Courtesy]

You can today print your homework and a lot of other word documents in just a few seconds. But did you know that in just a few hours, you can also print a house to live in?

In an exciting world where artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of Things rule the world, you do not need a year to put up your dream home.

A giant printing machine can help you develop a mansion within hours.

In this robotic construction age, a machine follows a computerised blueprint and can build the entire wall system of a house.

Traditional construction is only used for the foundation, roof and other purposes such as wiring. But walls are purely made by printing.

According to The New York Times, the printer pours layers of lavacrete (a durable polymer concrete which is a proprietary concrete mix) one after another in long swirls. Ink for the printer is made of cement, sand and fibre.

And in just 24 hours, it is possible to be in your dream house.

Just recently, the first 3D-printed house in Kenya was officially opened in Athi River, Machakos County.

It is a show house located within Bamburi Special Products Premises — the product of a partnership between Holcim and UK development financier CDC Group through their joint venture, 14 Trees.

During the unveiling of the innovation, 14 Trees announced the commencement of Africa’s largest 3D-printed affordable housing project in Kenya - Mvule Gardens. 

The development will start early this year.

The project will utilise Holcim’s proprietary ink, TectorPrint that the local subsidiary, Bamburi Cement, will introduce into the market. The Tector range gives the 3D printed walls a structural function to bear the load of the building.

Speaking during the unveiling of the 3D printed show house, the Principal Secretary in the State Department for Housing and Urban Development, Charles Hinga, said that the project was timely given the effects of climate change being experienced globally.

He said the project was in line with the Affordable Housing Programme - having achieved EDGE Advanced Certification.

“This is evidence that the project will benefit both the planet and the house owner through the reduction of carbon emissions during construction and lowering the water and energy costs in the running of the home,” he said.

“I also note that the cost of construction per square metre is reasonable, between Sh30,000 to Sh31,000 per square metre, thus lowering the sale price per square metre.”

The speed with which the construction is done, and the reduced cost of the same, are key considerations for venturing into 3D printing of houses.

Further, a shortage of skilled labour, alongside the rising need for affordable houses, has pushed developers into opting for these houses which have been proven to withstand harsh weather conditions and are friendly to the environment.

“The homes can tolerate extreme conditions and have already withstood a magnitude 7.4 earthquake,” wrote The New York Times.

The 3D printing market is growing so much so that it is forecast to be worth $55.8 billion (Sh6.31 trillion) by 2027, according to Smithers, a technology consulting firm.

German formwork and scaffolding company PERI developed the first 3D printed house that was ready for occupation in July 2021.

The single-family house printed by PERI using a COBOD BOD2 printer was officially opened in Beckum, North Rhine-Westphalia and had the national construction accreditation.

“We firmly believe that 3D construction printing will revolutionise the construction industry due to its ability to expedite the industrialisation of the construction process,” said PERI.

“The objective of constructing a greater number of buildings in a shorter time at a lower cost is what fuels our desire to make this technology a commercial success. By adding more intelligent designs and optimised use of materials to the mix, 3D construction printing can also pave the way for a built environment with greater sustainability.”

This 3D printed house technology is not new. It was there even in the early 80s, but it has gained traction in recent years due to increasing needs for housing solutions and also due to rapid technological advancement.

The advancement has been so great that in 2021, Malawi opened its first 3D printed school.

“Students in Malawi have begun classes in what is being billed as the world’s first 3D-printed school, constructed by joint venture group 14Trees,” Voice of America (VOA) reported.

“The Swiss-British group (14 Trees) says the quick construction of computer-built schools can help alleviate a shortfall in classrooms in countries like Malawi.”

VOA said the project aims to quickly construct affordable housing and schools in African countries such as Malawi, which has a shortfall of 36,000 classrooms according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

The school was built in Malawi’s Salima district and its walls were printed in just 18 hours, compared to several days with conventional building materials, said CDC Group, which invests flexible capital to support private sector growth and innovation. 

“Our estimate is that with conventional construction methods, it would take more than 70 years to build so many classrooms,” said 14Trees Managing Francois Perrot.

“And we think that 3D printing can bring a lot of speed to the construction process and reduce the time needed to build those schools to 10 years or even less.”

It is a global revolution, with The Economist in August 2021 reporting that a batch of new houses across California was selling unusually fast, but people needed not worry. The construction would match the demand.

“In the past two months, 82 houses have been snapped up, and the waiting list is 1,000 long. That demand should, though, soon be satisfied — for, while it can take weeks to put up a conventional bricks-and-mortar dwelling, Palari Homes and Mighty Buildings, the collaborators behind these houses, are able to erect one in less than 24 hours. They can do so rapidly because their products are assembled from components prefabricated in a factory.”

“This is not, in itself, a new idea. But the components involved are made in an unusual way: they are printed.”

The 3D printing of houses could be the panacea to the crisis in the construction industry, where many are still unable to afford a home. 

“What makes this 3D printing technology impressive and exciting is that 3D printed houses could be an environmentally-friendly solution to the housing shortage in the United States,” writes Rocky Mountain Real Estate Law.

“A few of the main reasons the US is experiencing a housing shortage is the high cost to build a new house due, in part, to supply chain clogs and material shortages, the lack of labour, and the time it takes to build a house. On-site 3D printed houses offer a potential solution to these issues.” 

Pretty much all around the globe, and especially in developing countries, 3D printing of houses is the future.

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