Could 3D printed homes solve the North’s housing shortage?

3D printed homes
The Apis Cor Mobile 3D printer

3D printed homes could be part of the solution to a housing shortage in Canada’s North, if the technology is able to stand up to the climate, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

The Conference Board of Canada’s new research series on emerging technologies launches with a look at how 3D-printed homes could be considered for Canada’s northern and Indigenous communities.

The board’s Cool Ideas series aims to spark discussion about how emerging technologies could potentially improve the quality of life in Canada’s North.

Revolutionary Building for the North: 3D Printing Construction, the first report in the Cool Ideas series, highlights how 3D printing construction could deliver significant cost and time savings, potentially addressing housing challenges in the North.

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“While it’s not yet clear whether the technology can address or overcome some of the key issues that construction projects must contend with in northern and remote environments, it’s not hard to see how 3D printing construction could potentially have a meaningful impact in Canada’s North,” said Stefan Fournier, associate director of the board’s northern and aboriginal policy. “Housing and construction in general is one of the greatest challenges in Northern Canada. There is a severe shortage of suitable housing and appropriate buildings across the North, and the high cost of standard construction and short transportation season have prevented governments from coming close to meeting the urgent need for housing.”

Construction and maintenance costs are all above average in the North as building materials must be transported on ice roads or sealifts and scheduled months in advance. This puts quality affordable housing out of reach for many residents without significant subsidies from the public sector. In Nunavut, it can cost up to $550,000 to construct a new public housing unit—three times the cost of building the same unit in the Greater Toronto Area.

According to the report, the potential benefits of 3D-printed homes in the Canadian North, include:

  • Lower construction costs: The cost of 3D-printed homes could be substantially less than that of a traditional home, perhaps as little as one one-fifth of the cost.
  • Reduced construction times: A 3D-printed house of about 400-square-feet can be constructed within 24 hours. The shorter construction process means more homes could be produced in a shorter timeframe and contribute to a rapid reduction in the housing shortage.
  • Decreased transportation challenges: Using local materials would reduce reliance on the shipment of construction supplies to isolated communities.
  • Increased local design input: 3D printers allow for greater flexibility than standard construction, which can potentially be used to design homes and other buildings that reflect local cultures and values.

 

However, questions remain on the effectiveness of the technology in northern and remote environments. 3D printers use a combination of extruded concrete and foam and it is not yet known whether these materials can stand up to arctic climates.

Concrete may also be too heavy for houses that are built on permafrost terrain and the shifting ground that comes with permafrost degradation due to climate change. Other challenges include impacts on existing construction firms and jobs, as well as the need for people with advanced skills.

“There are still many unanswered questions about 3D printed homes. But, there are signs that 3D printing could revolutionize home construction and potentially help to address many of the housing challenges facing the region,” said Ken Coates, professor and Canada research chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan and co-author of the report.

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The report recommends the technology is tested in northern environments to better assess the potential of 3D printing construction.

The Cool Ideas series will consist of about 10 reports, published over the next several years.

Topics under consideration for future publications, include remote surgery, tech-driven education and autonomous trucks