Building Dreams: How One Texan Contributes to the Green Collar Economy

A home built out of almost entirely recycled material is reminescent of storybook homes.

| January/February 2009

  • Owner Dan Phillips built his home from salvaged building materials, including bottles, cans and paper.
    Photo by Jennifer Knapp
  • Phillips calls this Huntsville, Texas, home—made almost entirely of recycled materials—a composite of every storybook home he read about as a child.

Cofounder with wife Marsha Phillips of The Phoenix Commotion near Houston, Dan Phillips is expanding notions of what a home can be. The Phoenix Commotion proffers three main goals: reduce landfill burden, provide low-income housing and train unskilled workers. The program shows low-income individuals how to build their own homes without incurring high debt, using an extremely broad spectrum of salvaged building materials—think bottles, cans, paper and more—and modern design and efficiency techniques. Phoenix Commotion’s untrained workers learn skills they can transfer to higher-paying jobs.

How do people react when they see your homes?

Most people are a bit dumbfounded, but nevertheless thrilled. 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.

What is your vision for housing America?

Housing in America needs to be downsized. The houses I build are very small—typically ranging from 300 to 750 square feet, with lots of outside covered deck space. There’s no carpet, vinyl, dishwasher, garbage disposer, trash compactor, bathtub, separate dining room, room for king- or queen-size beds (unless the client is 7 feet tall). All water heaters are tankless, and the toilet and washing machine are fed with rainwater from a cistern. Landscaping is minimal, with a preference to xeriscaping. Appliances of choice are Energy Star, and there’s a huge quantity of insulation. 

How does owning a home change someone’s self esteem and attitude toward life?

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