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Houses from the 3D printer: quick overview of the technology and current possibilities

02/06/2022 · Autor: Durmus Avci, Head of Digital Products & Innovations


The industry's use of 3D printers for the production of prototypes has long been the norm. The construction industry has also recognized the technological potential for about eight years and has developed a number of innovative concepts with which printed houses can be created, in some cases within a few hours.

Architects and builders abroad have already put a number of spectacular visions into practice. In this country, too, the first house is now "springing" from the printer in 2021. A good reason for us to take a closer look at this topic for you.

What awaits you in this article:

  1. We explain the technology and how a 3D concrete printer house is created.
  2. You will learn details about a selection of 3D printed buildings already realized.
  3. You will get an overview of the current advantages and disadvantages of this process.

House 3D printer in action: the Gaia projectImage sources: 3dwasp.com & housedruck.de

Houses in 3D printing: the most important key data on the principle

At the very beginning, we want to make it clear: You can of course not print entire houses "with all the trimmings". Windows, doors, heating, electrics, ceilings, roof, floor slabs - all this must be inserted additionally. Only the walls can be printed.

  • The building material used:

    Concrete - partly also in the finer-grained variant cement mortar - are so far the material from which virtually all 3D-printed houses consist. There are indeed the first model houses that have relied on more ecological materials such as vegetable oil - but so far the advantages of concrete, including its reliable fire and sound protection, clearly prevail in use.

  • How printing works:

    The actual printing process for the walls is quickly explained. A computer controls the print nozzles, from which the fine concrete lines emerge. Gradually, the individual concrete layers pile up to walls. As high as it was conceived and planned - also on the computer. Usually, the print nozzles thereby rotate around a single axis, so that the lines can run exclusively circular.

  • To shape and print duration:

    The "typical" 3D house therefore also has a mostly circular footprint. Those who want more "common" base shapes must use two-axis variants, which are more complex and time-consuming to use. But even then, rounded and curved corners are typical, as are walls where the lines of the printed concrete are clearly visible from the outside.

    This characteristic "layered facade" is practically the aesthetic trademark of printed buildings. Meanwhile, a rule of thumb for the duration of the "construction" is that the 3D printer needs about five minutes for one square meter.

  • This is feasible in 3D printing of concrete houses:

    Plastered or painted facades and wood cladding are common for the exterior walls. Furthermore, buildings with multiple floors are now printable, and even basement buildings. Incidentally, a visit to a 3D printed house construction site is often reminiscent of prefabricated house construction. Already pre-produced elements are delivered and assembled here, so that often everything can be standing after just a few hours.

3D house project Image source: 3dwasp.com

A small chronology of house printing: four pioneering project examples

We have selected three objects for you, on the basis of which we would like to show the advancing technological developments and possibilities. Among them is also the first residential house from the 3D printer, which was created in this country.

    • 2014: Pioneering work in the Netherlands: One of the first objects, the small art pavilion "3D Print Canal House", was created back in 2014 in Amsterdam. Only 8m² in size, it was printed from a thin - completely recyclable - plastic thread. At the time, the total construction time was still estimated at three years. Here you can find pictures of the pioneering project, in which even the US government was interested at the time.

      (If you are interested in other minimalist living concepts: In our article on 'Tiny Houses' we have summarized relevant information on the topic for you.)

    • 2018 & 2020: sustainability pilot projects: Since 2018, the pilot project "Gaia", a house printed from a CO2-neutral material mixture of plant fibers, raw soil and lime. A similar project called "TERA" can be found in New York State since 2020 - here the material used is a fully recyclable bio-plastic, originally developed for NASA.

    • 2019: Administration building in Dubai: 9.5 meters high, 640 m² of interior space, raised in just two weeks - with the world's largest 3D printing house (as of 2020), the emirate has literally underpinned its claim to leadership on this topic. By 2030, a quarter of all new buildings on site are to be created by 3D printers. Here is more info on this print house superlative.

    • 2021: The first 3D print house in Germany. In Beckum, North Rhine-Westphalia, a two-story single-family house with 160 m² of living space was built in July 2021, this time after just under 100 hours of printing. In the process, the printer was fixed in a metal scaffold and applied the concrete in layers of 2cm thickness each. Here you can get more information about this construction project, which is still unique in this country and is traded by the initiators as a possible model of accelerated creation of new local housing.

Worldimage source: apis-cor.com

For those interested: Advantages and disadvantages in a 3D-printed house

It is important to realize that this technology is still in its infancy in this country. Even the pioneer house in North Rhine-Westphalia will initially serve as a model and demonstration object and will not be used as a concrete residential model until 2023. Those who already want to deal with the advantages and disadvantages of buying a house from the 3D printer can find a compact summary below.

The advantages with 3D print houses:

  • - Quick printing. The printing of the walls usually takes only a few hours - depending on the object size. After a maximum of four to five days, for example, the foundation walls for an approximately 160 m² single-family home can stand.
  • - Environmentally friendly raw material mix. Supporting structures can be printed in part already from raw soil, lime, and straw and plant fibers - a completely biodegradable combination of raw materials.
  • - Efficient use of materials. Only as much is printed as is needed.
  • - Pleasant living environment. Fully compostable raw materials as building materials usually meet the highest criteria for residential health.
  • - Sustainable future concepts. As seen, companies for 3D buildings have already developed building materials from purely natural raw materials. This gives hope that 3D houses will also increasingly stand for better environmental sustainability and carbon footprint of housing.
  • - Innovative pioneer living. With the distinctive circular architecture of 3D printed houses, prospective buyers can discover a hitherto rare form of housing for themselves.

The disadvantages with 3D printed houses:

  • - Few providers. As a prospective buyer, you can hardly make comparisons so far, because offers for private customers are rare on the market so far.
  • - More expensive than conventional construction methods. For a house of comparable floor space and number of floors, you still have to accept additional costs of about 10 to 15% so far, if you want to have a variant from the 3D printer. Prototype types are already offered from 10,000 euros - but these usually do not comply with current building regulations.
  • - Missing empirical values. So far, you can only ask a few people how the living comfort in a 3D printed house. Long-term experience is almost non-existent due to the novelty of the technology. This brings uncertainties, especially with regard to the topics of living comfort, insulation and energy supply.

Conclusion: With the first house from the 3D printer in 2021, a starting signal has also been given in this country, proving that with this type of construction, applicable building codes can be met. However, it remains to be seen whether this technology will prevail in the long run and, above all, whether the disadvantages in terms of costs and sustainability can be converted into advantages.

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