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How this non-profit is using 3D printing to break new ground on affordable housing

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3D printing may have found its biggest real-world use.

A new home unveiled at this month's SXSW in Austin, TX, was built in less than 24 hours using a concrete-based printer developed by tech startup Icon and non-profit housing provider New Story. Though it’s not the first or even fastest-built 3D printed home, it is the first 3D printed home to be permitted for habitation in the U.S., and it represents a realistic construction method that New Story plans to take to developing countries to build communities of full-size homes at a combination of faster and cheaper than it, or really any organization, has ever done.

"The homes that we build now through traditional methods are about $6,500. We think that, through 3D printing, we can get that cost down to $4,000," New Story co-founder Alexandria Lafci told Circa.

That price point means the more than 100, 600-800 square-foot homes New Story has planned for construction in El Salvador, its first 3D printed community project, will be built cheaper than 3D printed homes in the past. The way New Story is trimming costs isn't necessarily through technical tweaks; it's mostly through buying materials in large, cost-cutting quantities, a simple "economy of scale" scheme other 3D printed home builders have yet to take on.

"Existing companies that have 3D printed prototype homes, they’re really focusing on developed world context," Lafci explained. "So instead of waiting for profit motivation, the type of very durable but simple homes that we are building in the developing world is one of the best applications that we can use this tech for right now."

3D printing construction in El Salvador will kick off this year, with New Story currently accepting donations and sponsors on its website.

And Lafci said after New Story successfully builds its first communities of 3D printed homes, it plans to outsource its methods to governments and organizations that want to follow its lead, so you might expect that affordable 3D printed homes like the new building in Austin (which will be used as an office for Icon) could soon be coming in awfully fast, both around the world and here in the U.S.

""The next step is seeing who else can use this to help more people."

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