Icon Homebuilding

Inventing the future of human shelter

By Jason Ballard

A Daring Approach to Housing
The Problem

1B+ people globally are without safe shelter

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We’re in the middle of a global housing crisis. There are over 100 million people living in slum conditions and operating in survival mode. In places like El Salvador, which is largely indicative of most of the world, building a house is not an easy task. The land is vulnerable to earthquakes, flooding, volcanic eruptions. Nearly a third of the population is without shelter.

1.3 billion

people live in slums globally


of the population is without adequate housing

Without immediate action, this housing gap is projected to grow by 30 percent by 2025.

Two and half billion additional people will be living in urban areas worldwide by 2050, with Asia and Africa seeing nearly 90 percent of this growth. The housing gap has a human cost and is a major drag on the economy and the environment. Supporting affordable housing is one of the best ways to help fast-growing cities in the global south run smoother and provide benefits to all residents.

Conventional construction is slow, fragmented, wasteful, and has poor thermal properties which increase energy use, increase operating costs, and decrease comfort. Also, conventional materials like drywall and particle board are some of the least resilient materials ever invented.

A massive technological advancement, repeatable at scale, speed, and low cost is needed to make a serious dent in addressing this global problem.

A Radical Idea

Advancing audacious ideas in an entrenched, sluggish industry

It was this very problem that independently gripped three Texas-based entrepreneurs, who each started working on ideas independently about two years ago. One of them, Jason Ballard, was especially keen on an idea that had birthed years before. Jason had just spent the last decade of his life starting and growing TreeHouse, a home improvement store whose whole mission revolves around sustainability and health in the built environment. After working on literally thousands of homes, Jason began saying to himself, “Surely there is a better way to build homes that is more affordable, less wasteful, and more energy efficient than conventional building methods.”

ICON’s mission is to allow you to download and print your home in 24 hours for half the cost.

Approaches to construction haven’t changed in so long that it seems like people have forgotten how to even imagine a different way. This realization sparked Jason to begin a months-long study and research project (including prefab, insulated concrete forms, SIP panels, advanced framing, robotic bricklaying, architectural fungus, etc.). Eventually, Jason landed on 3D printing as the most promising technology to create a true revolution that checked all the boxes he cared about. After re-connecting with TreeHouse co-founder and friend Evan Loomis, the two decided to start working on building a prototype in a warehouse in Austin on the weekends. Meanwhile, an engineer named Alex LeRoux was working on a similar project in Houston. What birthed out of their partnership was a bold new venture called ICON.

A Groundbreaking Solution

3D printing an end to homelessness

ICON is a for-profit construction technologies company using robotics, software, and advanced materials to reinvent the homebuilding industry. Their first product is a 3D printer dubbed the “Vulcan I” which was unveiled in partnership with New Story, and was designed specifically for the developing world. New Story is a non-profit bringing homes to underserved populations – together they have achieved the first site-printed, permitted 3D printed house in America.

ICON’s Vulcan II will be able to print a standard house in under 24 hours.

ICON‘s 3D printer is truly a first-of-its-kind solution. The mobile printer fully prints on-site and does not require printing in an off-site location nor does it need to piece together different portions. The entire home is printed seamlessly and it sustainable, produces nearly zero waste and highly durable, low maintenance, and energy-efficient to operate. By contrast to traditional solutions and even recent advancements in modular homebuilding, 3D printing offers vast improvements including:

  • Speed
  • Lack of manual labor
  • Concrete is a well understood, affordable, resilient material
  • Concrete has a high thermal mass (comfort & energy efficiency)
  • 3D Printing produces a continuous, unbroken thermal envelope (comfort & energy efficiency)
  • Replaces multiple systems of the home in one technology (foundation, structure, insulation, interior & exterior sheathing, moisture barrier, finished surfaces, etc.)
  • Near zero waste
  • Tremendous design freedom (curves and slopes are no more challenging or expensive than straight, plumb lines).

ICON’s first printers are designed to work under the constraints common places like Haiti and rural El Salvador where power can be unpredictable, potable water is not a guarantee, and technical assistance is sparse. Their first mission is to tackle housing shortages instead of building with profit motivation. And yet, their long-term vision is to bring drastically-needed innovation to the entire housing industry. Their current printed homes are expected to last as long or longer than standard Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) built homes. The homes are built to the International Building Code (IBC) structural code standard. The printer uses a proprietary small-aggregate cementitious material (also known as a mortar). Since the mix has relatively easy to find constituent parts, local procurement is expected to be feasible.

Beyond developing countries and the US housing market, ICON is actively pursuing research on printing technologies for off-planet space habitats. It turns out, housing is truly a universal problem.