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

 
 

This Houston staffing firm has tapped into tech to support the growing gig economy workforce. Photo via Getty Images

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

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