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What it’s like to live in a 3D-printed home

Tim Shea is a 71-year-old, self-professed “old drug addict” who, after years of homelessness, now lives in a 400-square-foot 3D-printed home in Austin: “Considering all I’ve been through, this has been a godsend, literally.”

What it’s like to live in a 3D-printed home
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Tim Shea is a resident of Community First! Village, a supportive housing project for people who previously experienced chronic homelessness. Developed by the nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the village is located in northeast Austin, where Shea lives in one of six 400-square-foot 3D-printed homes built by Icon, winner of Fast Company’s 2021 Innovation By Design award for General Excellence, the competition’s top honors. Printed in just 24 hours and more affordably than conventionally built structures, the homes represent a faster and cheaper way to provide much needed housing—especially for vulnerable people like Shea. Here, he shares with Fast Company his experience of living in a 3D-printed home. —Nate Berg 

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[Photo: courtesy Icon]

I’m an old drug addict. Just turned 71. I’ve been in and out of prison, and moved all over the country with that lifestyle. I gave up drugs about 16 years ago and have been clean, but have been struggling. My health started going downhill, a lot from the drug use but also just from aging. I’ve got chronic arthritis in my knees and I can hardly walk. After being on the street for about three years I met a chaplain who works here at Mobile Loaves & Fishes, and he recommended that I put in an application. I got accepted and lived in an RV here for five years, and I applied to be a seed neighbor in phase two of this Community First! Village. I didn’t know that it would include a 3D-printed home, but that was the icing on the cake. I moved in a year ago, and it’s been a whirlwind and a wonderful experience. I’ve met a lot of great people, I’m living in a beautiful house, and I’ve got my kitty and my motorcycle. I couldn’t ask for a better last part of my life. Considering all I’ve been through, this has been a godsend, literally.

Tim Shea [Photo: Regan Morton Photography/courtesy Icon]

I hadn’t lived in what you could actually call a house in a long time. Decades. Either I was in prison or a halfway house or an apartment. So just the solidity, the experience of having that safety and security, that nice feeling of having place to go with a heavy locked door. I just feel so protected.

It’s a small home, but it is a home. It has all the features you need to have a home instead of just a house or a shelter. And the community here is a part of that. I’m close to all my neighbors. These six structures have drawn so much attention, not just to the 3D-printing element of it but the community itself. You couldn’t have found two better organizations to collaborate and come up with a way to focus on innovative answers to the major problems in this country of homelessness and drug addiction.

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[Photo: Regan Morton Photography/courtesy Icon]

It’s set up with a living room all the way to the right, with my couch and my big TV and my desk, and the kitchen is just off to the left. I have my little table that’s close to the kitchen, so I can sit here and eat my dinner and watch television. I’m one leg in the living room, one in the kitchen. For me, at my age and for as little company as I have except for residents around here, I don’t need anything more. I’m sort of a clean freak. Well, let’s clarify: I am a clean freak. So I love the idea of not having a big space that I’m not going to be utilizing all of the time and having to clean it all of the time. This is the perfect space for me and a pet.

[Photo: Regan Morton Photography/courtesy Icon]

All the way to the left is the bathroom and the closets, and if you take another left it goes to my big old bed, the biggest bed I’ve ever slept on. Out back there’s a great big enclosed porch area, with a big ceiling fan over it and table and chairs. I can even park my motorcycle back there, and it’s not a small bike. We have great sunsets and sunrises. I can just sit on my bed and look out my window and see some of the gorgeous sunsets here.

[Photo: Regan Morton Photography/courtesy Icon]

All the utilities are top grade. It’s not like miniature appliances. There’s a regular, full-size refrigerator, a big stainless steel sink, cabinets everywhere, big high-peaked ceilings, with ceiling fans and skylights. The sun comes blasting in. I’ve got five windows right here in my living room and one big one over the sink, which kitty sleeps on.

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I’m looking at my air conditioner, I have it on 78 and I’m perfectly comfortable. It cools off during the night. It isn’t until about 3 in the afternoon that I lower it down to 75. You can’t beat that. And the price that I paid for my water and electric in July: $50.

I don’t see any deterioration, I’m not having any problems. It’s so solid. It’s not a delicate place. It’s not some little, thin plywood or particle board, this is all very solid material, and you feel that way. You feel totally protected.

I love the windows, I love the ceilings, I really love everything about this house. I just wish I was younger, because I would look forward to living in this place for many years.

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