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Turning Trash Into Affordable Housing

4/29/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: Dan Phillips, The Phoenix Commotion, Texas, housing, salvaged building materials

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailWhere many people see garbage, Dan Phillips sees opportunity. This Huntsville, Texas, builder uses everything from bones to bottle caps (and even a Pyrex baking dish as a skylight) to help low-income people build efficient, affordable homes. Through his nonprofit organization, The Phoenix Commotion, Phillips and his wife, Marsha, teach people how to build their own homes without incurring high debt by using a broad (and creative) spectrum of salvaged materials and modern design and efficiency techniques. Phoenix Commotion’s untrained workers learn skills they can transfer to higher-paying jobs, and a lot of garbage stays out of the landfill. 

Phillips has built 13 homes, including the 'Bone House,' which features a stairway made of bones, and a 600-square-foot Doll House built almost entirely from salvaged, donated or recycled materials, according to a recent update on AOL Real Estate. Through no prowess of my own, the houses I build are intrinsically interesting because they are conspicuously organic—that is, the design of the house grows out of the materials available,” Phillips told Natural Home magazine.

Phillips’s heavily insulated houses generally range from 300 to 750 square feet, with lots of outside covered deck space. They never contain carpet, vinyl, a dishwasher, a garbage disposer, a trash compactor, a bathtub or a separate dining room. Water heaters are tankless, and the toilet and washing machine are fed with rainwater from cisterns. Landscaping is minimal, with a preference to xeriscaping. The homes are simple and easy to maintain. “The owner-built home not only encourages pride in the final product, because it was customized to fit that family’s needs, but the owner now knows how to maintain it because he or she built it in the first place,” says Phillips, who believes that anyone can be taught to build personal shelter.

As people in Huntsville and beyond learn about The Phoenix Commotion, they’ve started donating old fixtures, doors and other materials when they demolish or remodel. Phillips keeps the salvaged materials in a warehouse and distributes them to low-income and needy people. A spin-off warehouse in Houston opened in October 2009, AOL reports.  


Dan Phillips gives low-income people homes and valuable skills by teaching them to build their own houses. 

phillips home 

Dan Phillips says this Huntsville, Texas, home—made almost entirely of recycled materials—is a composite of every storybook home he read about as a child. 

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