The Low Down On Green Living
September 8th, 2009
When houses cost upwards of $150 per square foot, the prospect of building a new house can be downright frightening, even if it is green, sustainable and energy efficient. And for many, that price is absolutely out of reach. With prices skyrocketing and wages low, affordable housing is even more important these days, which is in part why Dan Phillips, a self-taught builder, is helping individuals get into their own houses for very reasonable prices. How’s he doing it when most builders in the world are looking to make a profit? He’s using salvaged materials and at the same time teaching unskilled workers about construction.
Dan Phillips started a low-income housing initiative, called The Phoenix Commotion, in an effort to help people and their communities. So far they’ve built 14 houses in Huntsville, Texas and they work with local residents who are considered unskilled workers. He hires them for minimum wages, teaches them along the way and eventually they can go out and apply for higher paying jobs with their newly learned skills. The houses themselves are constructed from various salvaged materials - cast off construction materials, signs, reclaimed wood and much more. Each are unique and handmade with the help of the person who will eventually live in it.
These homes are a scavenger’s dream, and also incredibly sustainable. By using discarded materials, Phillip’s homes keep a considerable amount of trash out of the landfill. But this “trash” is also treasure and with some ingenuity and creativity, these materials turn into beautiful finishes. For example, a frame shop was going to get rid of hundreds of frame samples, but Phillips was there to take them and used them in a vaulted ceiling of one the homes. Now the ceiling is a fantastical zig-zag pattern of colorful corners. He’s also taken broken mirrors and turned them into a beautiful reflective mosaic.
Besides turning unwanted materials into treasures and reducing waste to the landfill, Phillips builds tough, strong houses. He follows building codes and works with the local building department to make sure there are no problems. He says, “codes are the result of massive research, debate, input, and planning. They represent the minimum for a safe quality of life in America.” So when the owner moves into his or her home, they know they’re getting a solid and well built home.
The website for the Phoenix Commotion is also a wealth of knowledge and provides many of Phillip’s tricks to finding good salvaged materials. For each element of the house, he provides info on where to find good materials, how to ask for them and what to look out for. He also has a great list for Readily available sources for free and salvage material, like using license plates for roofing shingles or contacting landscaping firms for hardwood tree removal.
The homes built by the Phoenix Commotion are not your traditional tract homes, they are usually not straight or perfect, but they are orderly and well built. The new owners of the home help in the construction so at the end they have a strong sense of pride in their home and will want to continue taking care of it. Combine that with reducing waste to landfill, training unskilled labor and building affordable housing, the Phoenix Commotion is an admirable organization promoting both eco and social consciousness.
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