Does it sound unbelievable that homes can be printed? Well, it’s true. 3D printed homes are becoming increasingly available–and with the increasing availability comes many questions, including what 3D printed homes are made of.

3D printed homes are usually made of concrete. Concrete is a formulated cement mixture that has been used for thousands of years, from ancient Roman times to modern commercial and residential structures.

In this article, we’ll break down the differences between cement and concrete and how they’ve been used in the construction industry and architectural history.

What is Concrete?

Concrete is a hardened mixture of several construction materials. You can think of it like a hardened cement paste. The cement paste is usually mixed with several materials–generally, this is limestone, Portland stone, calcium aluminate, sand, and water. In fact, concrete is the second most used substance in the world, second only to water.

Concrete has high compressive strength and is able to be used in a variety of different applications. It’s readily available, and fire resistant, thus emerging as the most widely used building material in the world.

Cement vs. Concrete

A side by side photo of cement and concrete

Left: cement mix. Right: Wet concrete stacked on top of dried, hardened concrete.

You may have heard cement and concrete used interchangeably before, but they are completely different. Cement is the predecessor to concrete–it’s a mixture of several materials, usually crushed limestone, clay, and sand. When water is added, the mixture binds together to create concrete. If you refer to concrete, you’re referring to the hardened cement mixture.

After all, that’s why the saying goes “better get it in concrete” instead of “better get it cemented.”

The History of Concrete

The origins of modern concrete are hard to trace. Just as today, ancient concrete formulations varied so greatly, with some having mixtures of sand, water, clay, and crushed limestone or gypsum. Because concrete has no strict identity, it’s not easy to distinguish the original compound we use today.

Pantheon in Rome, Italy

The Pantheon in Rome, Italy, constructed in between 113-124 BC, is one of the oldest concrete structures standing today.

We can speculate that Rome is where it all started. Romans used a special mix of volcanic ash and lime to build lasting structures. Their cement formulations have remained a part of the fundamental formulation used today. By 200 BC, the Romans were using concrete as a standard building material to create a variety of structures, like the Pantheon and trade guilds.

Built by self taught, self sufficient tradesmen, trade guilds are where the materials developed further. Over the years the formulation had several major breakthroughs. In 1824, an Englishman named Joseph Aspdin introduced Portland Cement. Portland cement mixture fused silica, alumina, ground chalk, and clay in a kiln and heated the material to the point of vitrification. It has a faster drying time, can be used underwater, and gains tensile strength at a faster rate than its predecessors.

Portland Cement is still being used today. In fact it’s one of the most widely used cement mixtures on the market. Its variations are highly manipulated to detailed technical specifications depending on project, costs, and available resources.

How Concrete is Used in Construction

Concrete is used by our machines to 3D print homes.

Concrete has been used in many aspects of modern construction for hundreds of years. A few of these you may have already heard of:

  • Foundation
  • Commercial and residential buildings
  • Grout (in between tiles in a bathroom or kitchen)
  • Roads and highways
  • Bridges
  • Sculptures and other aesthetics (e.g. colored cement flooring)

Fast forward to the 2000s and now cement is being used for full scale construction projects using 3D printing technology. With the right amount of moisture, cement makes an amazing material for various construction purposes. Hardened concrete has been used as a structural material for thousands of years–and you can read more about the development of our own concrete here.

To read more, check out our other resources, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Be sure to pass along this information with your friends and family! Everyone needs a home they can afford and we’re hoping to start building near you.

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