High-tech homes

Texas startup receives $9M to build affordable 3-D printed houses

A 3-D printed home could be built in 48 hours for only $10,000. Photo courtesy of ICON Build

In the not-too-distant future, a Texas company's 3-D printed homes will be popping up across the world for a fraction of the cost of traditional homes.

"It's our mission at ICON to reimagine the approach to homebuilding and construction and make affordable, dignified housing available to everyone throughout the world," says Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based ICON LLC. "We're in the middle of a global housing crisis, and making old approaches a little better is not solving the problem."

The 3-D printed homes startup just raked in $9 million in seed funding from a host of investors, including Fort Worth-based homebuilding giant D.R. Horton; Vulcan Capital, a Seattle investment firm launched by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, who died October 15; Austin startup accelerator Capital Factory; Austin real estate developer Cielo Property Group; and San Francisco venture capital firm Oakhouse Partners, which is the lead investor.

At this point, ICON executives aren't sure when their homes will be popping up around town. However, Ballard tells CultureMap, "serious conversations" are underway about bringing these homes to Austin and other places around the world.

In March, ICON reaped tons of press when it unveiled a 350-square-foot 3-D home at SXSW — the first home of its kind to receive a construction permit in the U.S. At the time, ICON executives said the home — constructed of concrete and printed in less than 48 hours by 3-D printing robots — cost less than $10,000. By contrast, the median price in September 2018 of a single-family home in the Austin metro area was $302,250.

ICON's first batch of homes is planned for a project in impoverished El Salvador that's being developed in conjunction with New Story, a San Francisco nonprofit that seeks to eradicate homelessness. The first homes there are scheduled to be printed next year.

ICON is targeting a per-home cost of $4,000 in El Salvador. Relying on technology upgrades, ICON hopes to create each 3-D home in less than 24 hours.

"While prices to print homes will vary from country to country and state to state," Ballard says, "the big takeaway is that downloading and printing a home has the potential to cost half of standard construction costs."

Homes at the development in El Salvador will measure 600 to 800 square feet — around the size of a typical one-bedroom apartment. Eventually, ICON aims to print homes in the 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot range.

Among the advantages of 3-D printed homes cited by ICON are:

  • Speedy construction
  • No manual labor
  • Little generation of leftover construction materials
  • "Tremendous" design freedom

There's a positive environmental impact with this construction process as well.

"Conventional construction is slow, fragmented, wasteful, and has poor thermal properties that increase energy use, increase operating costs, and decrease comfort," Ballard says. "Also, conventional materials like drywall and particleboard are some of the least resilient materials ever invented."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

UH has found a way to instantly zap COVID-10. Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

While the world rushes to find a COVID-19 vaccine, scientists from the University of Houston have found a way to trap and kill the virus — instantly.

The team has designed a "catch and kill" air filter that can nullify the virus responsible for COVID-19. Researchers reported that tests at the Galveston National Laboratory found 99.8 percent of the novel SARS-CoV-2 — which causes COVID-19 — was killed in a single pass through the filter.

Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, collaborated with Monzer Hourani, CEO of Medistar, a Houston-based medical real estate development firm, plus other researchers to design the filter, which is described in a paper published in Materials Today Physics.

Researchers were aware the virus can remain in the air for about three hours, which required a filter that could quickly remove it. The added pressure of businesses reopening created an urgency in controlling the spread of the virus in air conditioned spaces, according to UH.

Meanwhile, to scorch the virus — which can't survive above around 158 degrees Fahrenheit — researchers instilled a heated filter. By blasting the temperature to around 392 F, they were able to kill the virus almost instantly.

The filter also killed 99.9 percent of the anthrax spores, according to researchers.

A prototype was built by a local workshop and first tested at Ren's lab for the relationship between voltage/current and temperature; it then went to the Galveston lab to be tested for its ability to kill the virus. Ren says it satisfies the requirements for conventional heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

"This filter could be useful in airports and in airplanes, in office buildings, schools and cruise ships to stop the spread of COVID-19," said Ren, MD Anderson Chair Professor of Physics at UH and co-corresponding author for the paper, in a statement. "Its ability to help control the spread of the virus could be very useful for society."

Medistar executives are also proposing a desk-top model, capable of purifying the air in an office worker's immediate surroundings, Ren added.

Developers have called for a phased roll-out of the device, with a priority on "high-priority venues, where essential workers are at elevated risk of exposure — particularly schools, hospitals and health care facilities, as well as public transit environs such as airplanes."

The hope, developers add, is that the filter will protect frontline workers in essential industries and allow nonessential workers to return to public work spaces.

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