Home Builder Turns Trash Into $10,000 Green Homes

dan phillipsDan 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, he builds 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 remodel 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 Search Homes for Sale See photos of homes for sale in your area and across the country on AOL Real Estate 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.

See photos of other amazing green homes here.

For more green coverage, visit the Huffington Post Green section.

Candy is an award-winning, Dallas-based real estate reporter, blogger, and consultant. She's the gal who brought House Porn to the Bible Belt! Read more at SecondShelters.com. and send story ideas and tips to CandyEvans@secondshelters.com.

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Wow, I wonder if he has any homes built in the Boise, Idaho real estate area? What an amazing idea, and even more amazing how well it's going for him.

June 17 2011 at 4:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In Baltimore MD, we have The Loading Dock. It is a recycled Building Materials warehouse. It is great to see these types of businesses springing up around the country.

May 09 2011 at 2:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why all the negative comments someone asks? This guy has done so much with his life to help himself, others, and Mother Earth! And yet, the only thing the selfish and greedy make a comment about is that, at this time, half these homes end up in forclosure. It's impossible for the mean spirited among us to see the glass half full. It's always half empty through their bitter eyes.

You're the man Dan! Thanks for caring and sharing and for trying to make a positive difference!

April 30 2011 at 9:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sigrid Wilson

Why all the critisisms???
I don't get it!!!!!!!!!!!
so inventive, all those whon are the critics, what have u done with ur talents!!!
I dislike itn intensely! More praises please..............

April 28 2011 at 11:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm confused. And saddened.

If you get foreclosed on for a house that costs roughly half of the total price of my CAR, you definitely didn't deserve the house in the first place.

April 27 2011 at 9:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Have you heard about non-profit Habitat for Humanity and Restore? They recycle building materials with Restore outlets all around the country. The funds generated from the sale of donated or salvaged materials support the building of new or rehabbed homes in the community. HFH has very few forclosures because of the support that potential new homeowners get while they participate in the building of their home as sweat equity.

April 27 2011 at 11:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to james's comment

But, building more houses is a waste of time. There are 600,000 empty homes in America right now.
We don't need Habitat for Humility, we need something else....Al-

April 27 2011 at 7:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was part of a Habitat for Humanity Project with the Union Building Trades. It was an experience I shall not forget. The carpenters laid out and set the forms and the finishers poured the slab. In 1 day we had exterior walls and a roof on the house with the plumbing roughed in. Everyone was proud and enjoyed their works but, especially the mother with 3 kids. I understand why Jimmy Carter has been deeply involved in the program. Money can not buy the feeling of acomplishment and the joy and sight of happiness. And alfredschrader, they also repair and restore including erect houses.

April 29 2011 at 7:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

all i have to say is do whatever you like, build your house out of mud and straw, use recycled materials, follow code dont, follow code. Eat meat , dont eat meat. Just quit villifying me for not jumpin o1 the band wagon. if you disagree with someones view dont call them nazi'z because you choose to live another way.I say to each there own and if i dont conform to your view of how i should behaving towards the enviroment then too bad.

April 27 2011 at 11:16 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You can build a very, very nice house using big rocks & a wheel barrow full of concrete.
You can built a very nice contemporary log home using logs you got for free.

He built finials by filling egg shells with bondo, then breaking the egg shell away. He had to buy the eggs & buy the bondo. I can take a 2 inch diameter tree branch I got for free, put it in a lathe, and make a better finial than those used in Buckingham Palace.

The materials are only a tiny part of building a house, it's the sweat that's expensive...Al-

April 27 2011 at 5:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

At the risk of appearing to be a politically incorrect heretic......NO THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!

April 27 2011 at 4:10 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tmartin750's comment
David Reed

good call heretic...

April 27 2011 at 9:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a nice man.Not many people (if any at all besides him) with that skill go and use it to help the poor.Anyone who has hired a carpenter knows that.He rocks.

April 27 2011 at 2:48 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

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