2 Raising the Roof


On any given night in Canada, 30,000 people are homeless.  Another 50,000 per night make up the ‘hidden’ homeless – people sleeping in cars or on couches with friends or family. Over any given year, the number of homeless is around 200,000 (Gaetz et al., 2013). But this has not always been the case. Up to the 1990s, the situation was not as dire as it is today as investment in social housing was still a priority for the government and housing was more affordable than it is today. In Canada’s bigger cities, such as Vancouver and Toronto, the average house costs anywhere from 800,000 to one million dollars today (CREA, 2019). With a household median income of around 75,000 dollars in these cities (Statistics Canada, 2019), it is no wonder people are struggling to survive. In light of this, it is once again time for the Canadian government to step up and refocus its efforts on alleviating homelessness and housing issues across the country. New technology can play a key role here. With the advent of 3D printing, a new way of building houses has emerged – one the Government of Canada should consider as a solution to its homelessness problem for a number of reasons. 3D printed houses are more cost-effective, faster to construct, and more sustainable than conventional houses and so deserve serious consideration.

The use of a 3D printer to construct houses is far more economical than traditional house construction. Although the technology had been in the works for decades, the first full construction of 3D printed houses did not occur until 2014. The WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Company in Shanghai, China was one of the first on the market. The company used a combination of fibreglass, cement, industrial wastes, and hardening agent for its material, bringing the cost of one 200-square-meter 3D printed house down to $6300 Canadian (Hager et al., 2016). According to Remax Canada (2019), building a house in Canada costs between $95 to $230 dollars a square foot. Given this, the least expensive house construction option in Canada would be $190,000. Even if the materials used in 3D printing were to be more expensive in Canada, the total cost would not reach near this amount. In fact, The New York Timesreported that a company in Austin, Texas is able to print a 2000-square-foot house for around $20,000 US (Kusisto, 2019). Production costs are overall less because, according to WinSun, this new technology can save up to 60% on building materials and 80% on labour costs (World Economic Forum, 2016). This makes an excellent argument for the Government of Canada to use 3D print technology to address homelessness.

Not only is the construction of a 3D printed house cheaper, it is also faster to build than the alternative. In the opinion of WinSun, as reported by Time Magazine, construction time can be reduced by up to 70% (Stampler, 2015). Contour Crafting technology, for example, allows for the construction of the house on site, minimizing time to build (Hager et al., 2016). The lowest recorded time to build a structure was the building of an emergency shelter at the University of Nantes in France, coming in at an incredible thirty minutes, whereas a 600-800 square foot house in the US was built in just 24 hours (Carpenter, 2019). The latter timeframe also applies to WinSun’s 3D printed houses in China. In Italy, a house dubbed ‘The Gaia’ took 10 days to print, with a villa in China reportedly completed in 45 days (Carpenter, 2019). Compared to the time needed to construct a house traditionally, this is almost miraculous. According to HR2 Construction Ltd. (2018), a production (not custom) home takes around 6 months to complete. This timeframe is confirmed by other sources (Kale, 2017; Heidenry, 2017). This is a far cry from 24 hours or even 10 days – another good reason for the Canadian government to invest in such housing.

Finally, 3D print technology also creates more sustainable homes than traditional construction, yet another incentive for its use. The technology itself is deemed to save energy and reduce CO2 emissions (Gebler, Uiterkamp, & Visser, 2014). In terms of the construction of houses, research is still in its infancy. However, early findings reveal that raw materials can be reused or recycled, construction waste can be minimized, and air pollutants maybe curbed by the use of 3D printing technology (Oberti & Plantamura, 2015). For example, WinSun’s 2014 houses were made of waste construction material and cement (Bartolacci, 2014). Italy’s ‘Gaia’ house was made of a mixture of soil and waste from unused straw and rice husks, with the entire building being biodegradable (Jordahn, 2019). Moreover, Amsterdam’s famous Canal House is made of bioplastic that stems from linseed oil (Barrett, 2018). Although more research needs to be done in terms of energy consumption of 3D printers, early indicators appear promising for the environment.

Due to the low-cost, quick construction, and sustainable features of 3D printed homes, 3D printing technology could be the ideal solution to our homelessness and housing crises in Canada. The idea is being tested in El Salvador this year where New Story, a non-profit dedicated to eliminating global homelessness, is currently building 100 single-family homes (Maines, 2018). If this initiative works – and there is no reason to believe it won’t – then the charity will build 3D printed homes in other countries. Individual countries, such as Canada, can create initiatives like this on their own to alleviate the cost of housing and eradicate homelessness altogether. Once this has been done worldwide, there is talk of using this new technology to build colonies on the moon and other planets.



Barrett, A. (2018). Amsterdam is building 3D printed house from bioplastics. Retrieved December 16, 2019 from https://bioplasticsnews.com/2018/10/02/amsterdam-is-building-3d-printed-house-from-bioplastics/

Bartolacci, J. (2014). How 10 houses were 3D-printed with recycled concrete in a single day. Retrieved December 16, 2019 from http://architizer.com/blog/china-3d-print-houses/

CREA. (2019). Housing market stats: National price map. Retrieved December 13, 2019 from https://www.crea.ca/housing-market-stats/national-price-map/

Gaetz, S., Donaldson, J., Richter, T., & Gulliver, T. (2013). The state of homelessness in Canada.Toronto, CA: Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press.

Gebler, M, Uiterkamp, A., & Visser, C. (2014). A global sustainability perspective on 3D printing technology, Energy Policy, 74, 158-167.

Hager, I., Golonka, A., & Putanowicz, R. (2016). 3D printing of buildings and building components as the future of sustainable construction? Procedia Engineering, 151, 292-299.

Heidenry, M. (2017). How long does it take to build a house? Retrieved December 16, 2019 from https://www.realtor.com/advice/buy/how-long-does-it-take-to-build-a-house/

HR2 Construction Ltd. (2018). How long does it take to build a house? The complete guide to custom homebuilding.Retrieved December 16, 2019 from https://hr2construction.ca/how-long-does-it-take-to-build-a-house-the-complete-guide-to-custom-home-building/

Jordahn, S. (2019). 3D-printed Gaia house is made from biodegradable materials. Retrieved December 16, 2019 from https://www.dezeen.com/2019/02/27/gaia-wasp-3d-printed-house-biodegradable-video/

Kale, S. (2017). How long does it take to build a house? Retrieved December 16, 2019 from https://www.newhomesource.com/guide/articles/how-long-does-it-take-to-build-a-house

Kusisto, L. (2019, Mar. 11). A 3D printed family home? A Texas start-up says it can deliver. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 16, 2019 from https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-3-d-printed-family-home-a-texas-startup-says-it-can-deliver-11552334520

Maines, C. (2018). Could 3D printed homes solve the homelessness problem?Retrieved December 16, 2019 from https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/could-3d-printed-houses-help-solve-homelessness-problem-ncna860791

Oberti, I., & Plantamura, F. (2015). Is 3D printed house sustainable?Proceedings of International Conference CISBAT 2015: Future Buildings and Districts Sustainability from Nano to Urban Scale, 173-178.

Remax Canada. (2019). How much does it cost to build a house? Retrieved December 16, 2019 from https://blog.remax.ca/how-much-does-it-cost-to-build-a-house/

Stampler, L. (2015, Jan. 20). A Chinese company 3D-printed this five-story apartment building. Time Magazine. Retrieved December 16, 2019 from https://time.com/3674557/3d-printed-apartment-building-winsun/

Statistics Canada. (2019). Distribution of total income by census family type and age of older partner, parent, or individual. Retrieved December 13, 2019 from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1110001201

World Economic Forum. (2016). WinSun: Demonstrating the viability of 3D printing at construction scale. Retrieved December 16, 2019 from https://futureofconstruction.org


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