- Over 40% of Americans are familiar with home 3D printing technology
- Two-thirds of consumers would live in a 3D-printed house
- Affordability and energy efficiency are key to adoption
- Uncertainty about long-term viability, aesthetics and durability poses challenges
- 3D printing technology can complement existing construction methods
The technology has made significant advances over the past decade, with a wide variety of applications. Over the past 10 years, we’ve welcomed Apple’s iPad and a new class of ultra-lightweight computing platforms, including smartphones, that have allowed us to watch NASA’s Curiosity rover land on Mars and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket make a controlled landing on earth, from the comfort of our self-driving electric cars. At the same time, robots have become more nimble, autonomous and interconnected, while artificial intelligence platforms like IBM’s Watson or Amazon’s Alexa can push the boundaries of search or find Billie Ellish’s latest song, while controlling the lights and temperature of our homes. Moreover, escaping the flatness of mechanical printing on paper, which has accompanied us for more than 500 years, technology has allowed us to unleash our creativity in three dimensions, and at the touch of a button. Thanks to additive layers, we can create just about anything, from toys, furniture, car and plane parts, and now even entire houses.
Three-dimensional (3D) printing of residential structures mixes concrete and pours it through specially designed nozzles in successive layers, in a predetermined pattern. From the first prototypes that could print small scale models, additive technology has evolved to the point of being able to erect a 2+ story house.
A concrete solution
The use of concrete for structures defined the large-scale architecture of the 20and century. From large industrial projects like the Hoover Dam, to more refined residential buildings like Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation in Marseille, France, and cultural venues like the iconic Sydney Opera House and the dizzying and visually dynamic auditorium of From Santiago Calatrava in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, to the intricate, suspended cubes of Habitat 67 in Montreal, Quebec, concrete is a go-to material for its strength, durability, and flexibility. The material has allowed architects and builders to go far beyond traditional construction, especially when combined with steel. The latest residential tools take the flexibility of concrete and combine it with the layering process of additive printing. The technology is clearly in its infancy, and for some people the results of today’s residential projects may be too reminiscent of the harshness of mid-century brutalist buildings. However, we could see an expansion of the technology’s expressive palette in the near future.
With several 3D printed houses having been successfully sold, we wanted to know if consumers were aware of current building technology and what they thought of houses built in this way. Realtor.com partnered with HarrisX to survey over 3,000 adults nationwide. The results indicate that consumers are increasingly tech-aware and willing to consider living in a printed home.
Over 40% of Americans are familiar with home 3D printing technology
Technological advances in materials science applied to building homes have become mainstream, as exemplified by the 42% of consumers who said they were familiar with 3D printed homes. Life stage and generation also appear to influence awareness, with 51% of Millennials and 42% of Gen Xers aware of 3D printed homes. By comparison, less than four in ten baby boomers, Gen Zers and the silent generation were aware of existing technology. Awareness is also higher for urban and more affluent consumers.
Two-thirds of consumers would live in a 3D-printed house
Given the early stage of the existing technology, it’s interesting to see that consumers are ready to embrace alternative building options, with 66% saying they would consider living in a 3D printed home. Again, across generations, younger cohorts tend to be more open to technology, with 75% of Millennials and 69% of Gen Xers indicating they would live in such a home. Similarly, high-income urban consumers are more likely to live in a home built using additive technology.
Affordability and energy efficiency are key to adoption
Since printing a concrete house is both new and still limited by the size of existing printers, we asked consumers what would persuade them to live in such a house. Cost topped the list, with 54% saying a lower price compared to traditional construction would move the needle. At the same time, 51% would be persuaded to choose a 3D printed house if it was more energy efficient than a traditional house. The third highest factor in favor of a printed home was greater resistance to natural disasters, which doesn’t seem surprising given the increase in extreme weather over the past decade. Lower construction costs and improved energy efficiency were the main drivers at all demographic and income levels.
Interestingly, only 16% of consumers would never consider living in a 3D printed home. The share was slightly higher for baby boomers and members of the silent generation.
Uncertainty about long-term viability, aesthetics and durability poses challenges
When we asked consumers what would stop them from living in a 3D-printed home, uncertainty about the long-term viability of the technology came out on top. Naturally, as this new technology continues to evolve, people may take time to gauge how widely it will be adopted and how it will fit into the construction landscape. This was the main attitude of all generations, with the exception of the Silent cohort, who cited the preference for the aesthetics of a traditional home as one of the main disadvantages of 3D printing.
Consumers are also concerned about the durability of laminated concrete compared to traditional construction methods, which comes in second place, for 22% of respondents. This was also echoed by the 14% of consumers who do not trust the technology currently used to produce these homes.
The aesthetics of 3D printed homes is another challenge, with 22% of consumers preferring the look of a traditional home and 13% saying they dislike the look of a concrete home. In a nod to existing process and scale limitations, 18% of consumers say they don’t want to live in a home that looks like their neighbors.
3D printing technology can complement existing construction methods
Even at this early stage and with limitations, consumers are recognizing the potential of 3D printing to complement existing construction methods. A third of consumers believe that additive processes are the future of home building, and in particular Millennials and Gen Xers. A further third believe that while the technology is not yet ready for mass adoption, it maybe one day it will be. A quarter of consumers thank the fact that 3D printing would not replace traditional methods, but could complement them. Only 15% consider 3D printing unlikely to replace existing construction methods. Urban and high-income consumers are more likely to see 3D printing as the future compared to other groups.
While the technology is still somewhat nascent, our survey data shows that consumers are very interested in 3D printed homes. Although there have only been a small number of 3D printed homes sold to date, as the technology continues to advance, we may see it add more affordable homes to the housing market. Additionally, advances in materials science, design, and engineering could also transform the look, feel, and scale of additive construction. After all, concrete has been used for increasingly complex and creative buildings over the past century. For rising generations of digital natives, new building technologies can provide a lasting bridge to home ownership.
real estate agent.com® commissioned HarrisX to conduct a national consumer survey. The total sample size was 3,026 adults. The survey was conducted online from July 21 to 23, 2021. The margin of sampling error for this survey is ±1.8 percentage points. The numbers represent a national view of American adults. Results were weighted by age, gender, region, race/ethnicity, and income, where applicable, to bring them into line with their true proportions in the population.