Ontario developer set to roll out 3D-printed homes in Gananoque
Toronto’s Horizon Legacy Group will kick off construction this summer on what will be the largest 3D-printed neighborhood in Canada. The plan is to use industrial-grade 3D printers to build five 1,400-square-foot triplex homes on a lightly wooded two-acre property just north of the St. Lawrence River in Gananoque, Ontario.
Advocates say the 3D technology that powers this project and a growing number of others around the world has the potential to reduce the cost and time needed to build homes. Some estimates suggest that typical construction costs and times can be cut in half with 3D printers.
In Gananoque, each of the buildings will have a studio for rent, a one-bedroom apartment and a two-bedroom apartment. Thirty per cent of the units will meet Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s definition of “affordable”, meaning less than 30 per cent of pre-tax household income.
The project is the result of a competition sponsored by Horizon that challenged participants to design a multi-story building for $100 per square foot using new technologies. The teams of Czech republic, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Chile were chosen to build the triplexes. One of these teams will also build a 12-storey 3D-printed multi-residential building elsewhere in Ontario.
Horizon CEO Anthony Zwig says the idea for the competition came about during a company-wide brainstorming session to find solutions to Canada’s affordable housing crisis. “The cost of construction, due to the shrinking supply of labour, is only exploding and the situation will get worse,” he says. “And so, we started to focus on the fact that there seem to be opportunities to automate the build process for cost and time benefits.”
Although each of the selected teams has their own unique strategy for obtaining these benefits, the basic process behind the 3D printed build is the same. Also called additive manufacturing, it starts with digital designs of interior or exterior concrete walls – the typical elements built with this technology – which are then sent to a robotic 3D printer. A special liquid concrete mixture is pumped through the pipe from the printer, which moves back and forth, forming the structure of the walls layer by layer.
One of the biggest advantages of the technology is that fewer workers are required compared to traditional construction projects. Skilled labor is paramount to any construction project, if you can even find it, says Horizon’s vice president of development, Nhung Nguyen. “More than half of construction costs are labor, so we believe that with the use of technology we can solve this problem.”
The absence of formwork in a 3D-printed building can also mean significant cost savings, says Maria Anna Polak, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo and an expert in 3D printing concrete structures. “Traditional concrete construction requires formwork because concrete is liquid before it hardens and typically needs 28 days to harden,” she says. “With 3D printing, the cost saving is definitely the lack of formwork, because you don’t have any.”
In Gananoque, the Netherlands team, CyBe Construction, estimates that its costs will be less than $82 per square foot. CyBe also says that it will print all the elements in two to three weeks and assemble them in one week.
That’s good news for Gananoque Mayor Ted Lojko, who says there’s a “severe shortage” of affordable housing in his community of about 5,000 people. “The other part of the equation is that a lot of people from Ottawa, Toronto and the GTA are moving [here] and inflate the housing market. And all of a sudden, people who have lived in the neighborhood have to find other accommodation, and that’s very difficult to do.
Since 2016, the population of Gananoque has increased by 4.3%. And during that time, the median selling price for a single-family home in the area has gone from around $200,000 to just under $540,000.
However, 3D printing should not be seen as a panacea to affordable housing problems in Canada, says Ian Comishin. At least not yet. Mr. Comishin is president of the Dutch company Twente Additive Manufacturing, a manufacturer of 3D construction printers. “The technology is still very new and it will not necessarily be readily accepted by all jurisdictional approval bodies. So, even if we can build a house at a lower cost than conventional construction, the authorization process may end up making the building too expensive again. »
The technology itself is also expensive. TAM’s smallest printers start at €100,000 ($135,198) while its largest models start at €920,000 (over $1.24 million).
The concrete material is also expensive. That’s because it’s highly refined and some components can’t be purchased locally, Polak says. “Right now, if you go to a cement company, you might find 3D printable concrete, but it’s very expensive.” But that may soon change, she says, as researchers continue to research how to produce these concretes from local materials.
Mr Comishin believes that within a few years every concrete plant will have its own 3D mix as the industry is “moving at breakneck speed”. When he co-founded his company in 2018, he said there were maybe 10-12 companies in the world working in industrial 3D printing or printer manufacturing. Now he thinks there are over 200.
Grand View Research expects the global 3D printing construction market size to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 100.7% from 2022 to 2030.
In Canada, a few 3D-printed construction projects are underway, including in Leamington, Ontario, where the University of Windsor and Habitat for Humanity are using the technology to build four affordable tiny rental homes. In Dubai, the goal is to 3D print 25% of all buildings by 2030.
Comishin believes 3D printers will soon be on every major construction site in North America. “Automating some of these processes is almost essential just to maintain the current prices we’re seeing in housing, not to mention the wild price increases as the supply of skilled workers dwindles.”
Back in Gananoque, Ms. Nguyen agrees. “The 3D printing aspect is really not even what interests us here. This may be a starting point, but really it is about using building technologies and automation more in the construction industry. This is where we believe the future lies.
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