Could 3D printing be the housing solution for Northern Canada?

by Steve Randall on 09 Dec 2018

Could emerging technology have the answer to housing supply issues for Canada’s northern and indigenous communities?

That’s the questioned being pondered by the Conference Board of Canada’s new research series, Cool Ideas.

“Housing and construction in general is one of the greatest challenges in Northern Canada,” said Stefan Fournier, Associate Director, Northern and Aboriginal Policy. “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 in the North.”

The extra costs for the North include transportation of building materials on ice roads or sealifts that must be scheduled months in advance.

It means that a new public housing unit in Nunavut can cost as much as $550,000, three times as much as the same unit would cost in the GTA.

The first Cool Ideas report looks at 3D printing technology and how it could save time and cost and potentially help address housing challenges in the north.

“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,” added Fournier.

Potential benefits of 3D printed homes
Although there are many questions to be answered, the report identifies several potential benefits of 3D printing for homes in the North:

Lower construction costs: The cost of 3D-printed homes could be substantially less than that of a traditionally built home, perhaps as little as one one-fifth of the cost.

Reduced construction times: A 3D-printed house of approximately 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 locally available materials would reduce reliance on the shipment of construction supplies to isolated communities.
Increased local and individual 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.

“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, University of Saskatchewan and co-author of the report.

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