The Conference Board of Canada recently released a report, recommending the testing of 3D printed housing in northern climates to see if the construction process is an affordable and realistic option for remote and Indigenous communities.
The Revolutionary Building for the North: 3D Printing Construction report is the first of the Board’s new research series, “Cool Ideas,” which will explore a number of topics over the next few years, including autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, and tech-driven education.
There are many challenges when it comes to building safe, affordable housing for Canada’s northern communities. In Nunavut, it can cost up to $550,000 to build one public housing unit. This is three times the cost of building the same unit in the Greater Toronto Area.
Due to harsher climate, maintenance is a heavy cost, as well as the transportation of construction materials. The materials have to be transported over ice roads and sealifts, and the transportation has to be scheduled months in advance.
Since the cost is so high, there is not enough housing to meet demand. This has caused overcrowding in housing units, leading to health problems, interference in youth education, and intensified domestic tension.
How can 3D printing help?
The big benefit is lower construction costs. The Board says construction can cost as little as one-fifth of what it costs today to build a housing unit for a northern community. There’s also time-savings to take into consideration. The report says a 400 square foot unit could be built in 24 hours.
With 3D printing, there is also the option of using locally sourced materials, so transportation costs would be lower. And when it comes to design, there is a wider range of possibilities, so locals can be consulted on design preferences.
It all sounds good, but a few questions and concerns remain. 3D printing uses a process of extruded concrete and foam, and it’s unknown whether these materials are suitable for the significantly colder northern climate. The materials may also be too heavy to be built on the permafrost terrain which is prone to ground shifts.
And while there may be savings in the materials, transportation, and time departments, 3D printing requires more highly-paid, technologically-skilled workers to be involved in the process, which could offset other savings.
"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," says Ken Coates, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation, University of Saskatchewan and co-author of the report.
Of course, the only way to research these potential obstacles is out in the field, so the Board is recommending the testing of 3D printed housing in a northern area. Of course, we are excited about the potential and look forward to what will surely be a public-private partnership tackling the pilot (if one comes to fruition).