Dan Phillips is one of the most
unconventional home builders you'll ever find. In fact, he's more an
ecological social messiah than a home builder (see video below). For $10,000,
affordable homes for low-income people that are attractive,
energy-efficient and save landfills. Most builders purchase building materials
-- piles of wood, sheet rock, nails, bricks, and tiles -- that are used in
construction and then, when the house is finished, the waste is discarded to
the dump. Phillips, 66,
salvages those materials, hauling them from the trash or even picking them
up on the road, to build or
homes for low-income buyers.
He says he's just doing what people have been doing for years -- using
whatever they can scrounge up to to build shelter.
"And if you ponder what could be used," says the Huntsville, Tex.,
resident, "then building materials are everywhere."
Phillips himself has been "everywhere": He worked as an intelligence officer
in the Army, then as a dance instructor, an antiques dealer and a puzzle
maker. Fourteen years ago he started a
new career: Creating
affordable homes for low-income families out of trash. He is a self-taught
carpenter, electrician and plumber. His motivation came from the disparity he
saw between landfills overflowing with discarded building materials and a lack
of affordable housing.
He started Phoenix Commotion, a for-profit company that
hopes to solve the world's social problems associated with housing. Phillips
builds homes for as little as $10,000, making them energy-efficient with tight
insulation, solar hot water and even a rainwater catchment system. He
hires unskilled workers, teaches them marketable construction skills and
then helps them find
jobs when the project is complete. He keeps the landfills shallow by
using truckfuls of leftover building materials
such as lumber, tile and granite. Locals even hand off their old fixtures and
doors to Phillips when they
remodel, which he keeps in a warehouse and distributes free to low-income
and needy people and organizations.
Huntsville officials say he is saving costs as well as Mother Earth. In fact,
his materials warehouse has inspired a spin-off in Houston, the nation's third
largest metropolitan area. The Houston warehouse opened in October, 2009 and
within the first six months diverted 200 tons of building materials.
So far, Phillips has built 13 homes that are highly unusual, especially in
Huntsville, a town of 35,000
north of Houston whose main industry is the huge high security prison that
houses Texas death row inmates.
There's the "Bone House," which features a stairway made of bones, floors
covered in wine corks and beer bottle caps, and a skylight made from -- are
you ready? -- a Pyrex baking dish.
There's the Storybook House that has that medieval Hansel and Gretel feel.
There's the Budweiser House with an exterior of red, white and blue. There's
the 600-square-foot Doll House, built for Gloria Rivera, a doughnut-shop
cashier who put her own thumbprints in the bright yellow stucco walls, which
was constructed of almost 100 percent salvaged, donated or recycled materials.
To Phillips's dismay, about half the homes he has built in Huntsville have
been lost to
foreclosure. As he told the New York Times in 2009, "You can put
someone in a
new home, but you cannot give them a new mindset."
Undaunted, he is continuing to spread the story of what he does to others and
preach his philosophy: You may not save the world anytime soon, but you can
help tidy up your own backyard.
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