A $4,000 donation can now provide a whole new home for a family in less than 24 hours

How a non-profit uses additive manufacturing to build affordable, viable homes in the developing world

As an organization backed by Y Combinator and named as one of the “Most Innovative Companies in the World”, [1] the non-profit New Story is cognizant of the opportunities technology can bring to their goal of providing safe shelter and “create a world where no human being lives in survival mode”. [2] This is why they have partnered with Icon, a construction tech company that uses additive manufacturing or 3D printing to build affordable homes in a less wasteful, more energy efficient method. [3]

According to the United Nations, approximately 1.6 billion people worldwide live in inadequate housing. [4] The lack of safe homes has repercussions in people’s health, education, employment, and opportunities for social mobility, making it a priority in development strategies. However, given that housing is subject to the market, buying, building or even renting a home has become unaffordable for a large portion of the population in the world. [4] For these reasons New Story has focused on building homes in underserved populations using local materials, employing local workers and with a donation of $6,500 USD. [5] With Icon’s help, New Story will be implementing house building with a 3D printer that can build 600-800 ft homes in under 24 hours with a cost of $4,000 USD, a fraction of the time and cost of current home building methods [6].

Since its launch in 2014, New Story has built almost 800 homes in Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Mexico. [7] The transition to a 3D printing construction will enable them to expand and grow their impact in more communities in the short term. Additive manufacturing applied to construction has benefits that could change the way the New Story and the construction industry work. Its significant reduction in labor use and in construction time can also decrease the injuries and fatalities related to the building process. The ability to build on site can reduce costs of materials storage, and the technology itself decreases wasted materials that makes this method more sustainable than the traditional one, since construction and demolition generate more than twice the generated municipal solid waste in the United States. [8, 9] Once the equipment is functioning, the technology enables different layouts that can be tailored to each community and family. New Story and Icon have already been successful in printing the first customized home with all required permits in the United States in March of this year. Icon claims their additive manufacturing model is more sustainable and that homes built with this method are more thermally efficient. [10]

In the short term, New Story has the goal of building the first 3D printed community of homes in El Salvador by 2019. In the future, they plan to democratize access to this technology to governments and other non-profits in the world. [11] However, it is not an easy task and New Story should consider other factors in their future strategy. For instance, 3D printing requires specialized and thus costly equipment, and there is an additional challenge in utilizing materials that are compatible with the technology, that can endure each location’s weather conditions and vulnerability to natural disasters in the long term, and that can be locally sourced. In addition, the process requires significantly less labor per home that will have repercussions in the employment possibilities of the local communities where it is implemented, one of the key value propositions of New Story. The cost reduction in material utilization, transportation and warehousing might also affect the communities in which 3D printing is implemented given the use of local companies to fulfill these needs. Moreover, governments should have processes in place to evaluate the safety of 3D printed homes in an efficient manner, since today there is not a precedent of how to approve these homes that will be built in an exponentially shorter amount of time. New Story should think about scaling their current processes for obtaining building permits and safety clearance from local governments.

As New Story gains capacity to build more homes in communities in need, they should be thinking about how they can overcome other challenges such as land availability in urban locations. Can they take advantage of the speed 3D printing given external constraints such as government bureaucracy and land access? Additive manufacturing has the potential to revolutionize access to housing, but other challenges remain to ensure it truly has the positive impact New Story, and society, expect.

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[1] “Brett Hagler”. New Story. Accessed November 2018. https://newstorycharity.org/team_members/brett-hagler/.

[2] “Vision and Beliefs”. New Story. Accessed November 2018.   https://newstorycharity.org/vision/.

[3] “FAQ”. Icon. Accessed November 2018. https://www.iconbuild.com/faq.

[4] “Affordable housing key for development and social equality, UN says ….” 2 Oct. 2017. Accessed November 2018. https://news.un.org/en/story/2017/10/567552-affordable-housing-key-development-and-social-equality-un-says-world-habitat

[5] “For Locals, By Locals”. New Story. Accessed November 2018. https://newstorycharity.org/locals/.

[6] “Frequently Asked Questions”. ICON. Accessed November 2018. https://www.iconbuild.com/faq/.

[7] “Our Work”. New Story. Accessed November 2018. https://newstorycharity.org/our-work/.

[8] “Sustainable Management of Construction and Demolition Materials ….” Accessed November 2018. https://www.epa.gov/smm/sustainable-management-construction-and-demolition-materials.

[9] “3D Printing of Buildings and Building Components as …”. Science Direct. Accessed November 2018. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877705816317453.

[10] “Home”. ICON. Accessed November 2018. https://www.iconbuild.com/home.

[11] “Home”. New Story. Accessed November 2018. https://newstorycharity.org/3d-home/.



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Student comments on A $4,000 donation can now provide a whole new home for a family in less than 24 hours

  1. Fascinating read. It’s amazing how NGOs utilize technology to create impact unforeseen before. One question I have in mind is the replicability of the business model ( which you’ve touched upon). Especially in developing countries where employment is key for local labor, addictive manufacturing can be devastating to many who have relied on construction for living. Is there a way to upskill these labour using the technology so they continue to be employable?

  2. Really great post! It’s truly incredible that this company is able to have such a large impact on those without homes. Given the benefits of a 3D printed home (less waste, more thermally efficient, etc.), do you think that this will ultimately change the way homes are built in developed markets? I wonder if the benefits are so vast that this will actually revolutionize the way homes are built around the world, including for-profit entities rather than just via non-profit organizations.

  3. Really great post and an incredible read! It is amazing to read about how New Story is able to reduce the cost of home creation to a fraction of the normal cost due to additive manufacturing. Especially with the rise of inadequate housing as a global academic. To address land access issues, maybe New Story could invest in architecture studies or research and development that could design new denser multi-family housing for more land constrained areas.

  4. Great read! As we think about the potential downfalls of an approach like New Story is taking, I believe that the benefits outweigh the risks. While you might put some local workers out of a job (can we re-skill them somehow?), the potential to elevate the quality of peoples’ living situation in such a dramatic way has massive societal benefits. My only concern is with the design – it’s easy to build a few designs that work, but what happens when you’re operating in difficult cultures or countries with different needs? How much do you project your own culture on these underserved populations, making them live in houses that don’t reflect who they are?

  5. Wow – really fascinating article, with a number of thought-provoking implications for the future! In particular, as mentioned in your post, my immediate reaction was around the impact this home-building process will have on the local construction industries, which often are very important employers in countries with less technological innovation. Are the majority of these homes providing shelter for individuals and families that otherwise would be homeless, in which case the impact on those employed by the construction industry would be limited? Or will this result in a reduction in home prices across the country and a displacement of those currently employed by the construction industry? Additionally, depending on the answers to the prior questions, what are the political implications of this innovation, and has there been any political push back thus far? Regardless, a very well-done and thought-provoking post!

  6. I loved reading about an organization that is doing good and look forward to seeing how New Story scales. As you pointed out, New Story faces limitations related to land availability in urban locations. However, urban homelessness remains a huge problem. I assume 3D technology can only build two to three story homes, but I wonder whether it is possible to translate this technology into high rises. What would that look like?

  7. Thank you for the brilliant article. New Story is solving a real need and the key to its success will be the efficiency with which it can build houses people really want and its ability to deal with local authorities. However, I do have concerns about the quality of houses over time and the repair process – will the homeowners be able to make repairs piecemeal or require a whole new piece of a building re-printed? If the latter, maintenance may add a layer of inconvenience and cost over time.

  8. Awesome topic to learn more about! I completely agree with your concerns about the safety of these rapidly constructed homes and need for lawmakers to consider what metrics will be evaluated to measure stability of these 3D printed homes, especially over the long-term. Given the space constraints, I think this usually drives developers to start thinking vertically instead of standalone homes. However, I believe your concerns would amplify if 3D high-rise apartment buildings were the next product that New Story tried to tackle. Slow, sustained growth with a heavy emphasis on safety would be my recommendation going forward. While the company is seeking to do good as quickly as possible, there would be very detrimental repercussions to these homes deteriorating within 5 years-time, leaving the vulnerable populations that New Story has sought to help without a permanent option.

  9. I feel like there is a TOMS Shoes model lurking somewhere in this business plan… perhaps New Story and Icon can scale even faster while addressing some overcrowding or managing sustainable infill in developed cities. The ability to scale, however, seems limited by the portability of the printing technology; it is the singular bottleneck and the output remains 1 printed house per day, whereas a coordinated construction team might be able to hit an exponentially higher output rate — albeit more expensively. A TOMS model might allow for developing markets to be prioritized, while the donor/buyer elects to defer construction of his/her home until the costs to create the printer have come down to the point that it can mass-distributed.

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