Construction 3D PrintingSustainability

Could construction 3D printing be the key to housing challenges in Canada’s North?

The Conference Board of Canada has published a report on the potential benefits of 3D printing construction

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Proponents of construction 3D printing say the technology could be disruptive in the industry, offering a more flexible and cost-friendly way to quickly construct housing. These benefits, along with the ability to construct buildings in remote locations (by working with local building materials), have apparently caught the attention of the Conference Board of Canada which will explore construction 3D printing for building homes in Canada’s northern and indigenous communities.

The Conference Board of Canada is the country’s leading independent, not-for-profit research organization, offering valuable insights into economics, public policy and other parts of Canadian society.

The idea to explore the use of 3D printing for building homes in the North was introduced in the recently published Revolutionary Building for the North: 3D Printing Construction report. The study is the first in a series of reports published as part of the Conference Board of Canada’s Cool Ideas project. The broad reaching initiative was launched to ignite discussions about how new technologies—such as AM—could positively impact daily life in the North.

In the newly released report, the non-profit organization details the cost and time benefits of AM construction, stating that it could help to solve some of the housing challenges that exist in the region today.

Construction 3D printing Canada North
Demo house 3D printed by Apis Cor in Russia

“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,” explained Stefan Fournier, Associate Director of Northern and Aboriginal Policy.

“Housing and construction in general is one of the greatest challenges in Northern Canada,” he continued. “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.”

Chief among the current challenges for construction in the North is cost. Because buildings materials must be transported to remote towns or communities via ice roads or sealifts, the process requires an exceptional amount of planning and logistics. For example, it can cost up to $550,000 to build a new public housing unit in Nunavut, which is triple what the same building would cost in Toronto. These building costs, in turn, mean that residents often cannot afford housing without help from subsidies from the public sector.

With 3D printing, however, the Conference Board of Canada believes that costs could be reduced significantly (to as little as one-fifth of the current cost). Another potential benefit of the technology is faster construction times, which could mean that more homes could be constructed in a shorter timeframe to accommodate the housing shortage.

The use of local materials for construction would also decrease transportation times, costs and challenges, meaning that even very remote communities would have easier access to new housing. And finally, construction 3D printing could also pave the way for more local and individual insight into housing design. In other words, architects could work with communities to design houses that reflect local culture and values.

Though 3D printing homes in the North could be on the horizon one day, there are still a number of questions that need answering before any real initiatives are launched. For one, 3D printed construction materials and homes would need to be tested in Arctic climates. Another thing to consider would be the weight of working with concrete, which could be too heavy for homes built on permafrost terrain, especially considering the destabilizing effects caused by climate change.

“There are still many unanswered questions about 3D printed homes,” elaborated Ken Coates, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan. “But, there are signs that 3D printing could revolutionize home construction and potentially help to address many of the housing challenges facing the region.”

The next phase that the report proposes is to test construction 3D printing technologies in northern environments to see whether it is a viable solution to the housing challenges there. You can find the full report here.

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