Texas Trash Houses

September 3, 2009 at 11:44 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

29233717Today’s New York TImes has a story about 64-year-old gray-ponytailed Texas scavenger-architect Dan Phillips, who with his wife Marsha helms the Phoenix Commotion, a confab committed to building low-cost, low-income housing with salvaged materials such as license plates, bones, bottles, wine corks, scrapwood and DVDs … or, as the Times calls it, “trash”:

“To him, almost anything discarded and durable is potential building material. Standing in one of his houses and pointing to a colorful, zigzag-patterned ceiling he made out of thousands of picture frame corners, Mr. Phillips said, ‘A frame shop was getting rid of old samples, and I was there waiting.’

“So far, he has built 14 homes in Huntsville, which is his hometown, on lots either purchased or received as a donation. A self-taught carpenter, electrician and plumber, Mr. Phillips said 80 percent of the materials are salvaged from other construction projects, hauled out of trash heaps or just picked up from the side of the road….

“While the homes are intended for low-income individuals, some of the original buyers could not hold on to them. To Mr. Phillips’s disappointment, half of the homes he has built have been lost to foreclosure — the payments ranged from $99 to $300 a month. Some of those people simply disappeared, leaving the properties distressingly dirty and in disrepair. ‘You can put someone in a new home but you can’t give them a new mindset,’ Mr. Phillips said….

“Phoenix Commotion homes lost to foreclosure have resold to middle-class buyers who appreciate not only their individuality but also their energy efficiency, which is also part of Mr. Phillips’s construction philosophy.”

The Phoenix Commotion’s mission statement affirms a commitment to landfill reduction: “While an exact percentage is difficult to achieve, a reasonable estimate would be that 10% of the average landfill waste-stream consists of usable building material. Reclamation is practically impossible once these materials reach the landfill, because of the immense liability involved. Municipal lawsuits tend to be large, and last for years. Most municipalities have simply forbidden salvage activity, to avoid possible lawsuits. There are, however, strategies for reclamation of materials before reaching such finality.”

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