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

 
 

Houston innovators podcast episode 140

What Houston can expect from its rising innovation district

Sam Dike of Rice Management Company joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the past, present, and future of Houston's rising Ion Innovation District. Photo via rice.edu

Last month, the Ion Houston welcomed in the greater Houston community to showcase the programs and companies operating within the Ion Innovation District — and the week-long Ion Activation Festival spotlighted just the beginning.

The rising district — anchored by the Ion — is a 16-acre project in Midtown Houston owned and operated by Rice Management Company, an organization focused on managing Rice University's $8.1 billion endowment.

"We're chiefly responsible for stewarding the university's endowment and generating returns to support the academic mission of the university," says Samuel Dike, manager of strategic initiatives at RMC, on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Part of those returns go to support student scholarships and student success — as well as many of the other academic programs."

"The university sees a dual purpose behind the investing," Dike continues, in addition to focusing on generating returns, RMC's mission is "also to be a valuable partner in Houston's ecosystem and pushing Houston as a global 21st century city."

RMC saw an opportunity a few years back to make an investment in Houston's nascent innovation and tech ecosystem, and announced the plans for the Ion, a 266,000-square-foot innovation hub in an renovated and rehabilitated Sears.

"In some ways innovation is not necessarily about creating something completely new — it's oftentimes building upon something that exists and making it better," Dike says. "I think that's what we've done with the building itself.

"We took something that had really strong bones and a strong identity here in Houston," he continues, "and we did something that's often atypical in Houston and preserved and repurposed it — not an easy logistical or financial decision to make, but we believed it was the best for Houston and for the project."

Now, the Ion District includes the Ion as the anchor, as well as Greentown Houston, which moved into a 40,000-square-foot space in the former Fiesta Mart building, just down the street. While RMC has announced a few other initiatives, the next construction project to be delivered is a 1,500-space parking garage that will serve the district.

"It is not your typical parking garage," Dike says. "The garage will feature a vegetated facade with ground-floor retail and gallery space, as well as EV charging spaces and spaces to feature display spaces for future tech. It's going to be a nice addition to the district."

The new garage will free up surface parking lots that then will be freed up for future construction projects, Dike explains.

He shares more about the past, present, and future of the Ion and the district as a whole on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.



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