Dan 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
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.
In honor of Earth Day, AOL Real Estate is revisiting some of the most eye-popping green homes around the globe. Just because you want to save the planet doesn't mean you have to live in a mud shack. (But how 'bout a coke bottle cottage?) From dazzling modern prefab homes, to sprawling eco-mansions, we explore the whole gamut of green living. Click through to see some of the world's most intriguing green homes.
Known as La Casa de Botellas, this home in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina is comprised of thousands of recyclable plastic bottles. Sure, HVAC might be a pain if the home were built in, say, Minneapolis, but given the weather in Argentina, we think the owners are just fine.
Wake up feeling effervescent and refreshed in this soda pop bottle bedroom.
The designer of the home actually created a child-sized replica for his daughter to play with in the back yard.
Constructed in 1975 by architect William Morgan, the “Dune House” is so named because it was actually built into the Atlantic beach sand dunes. And while it may look more like a grassy submarine from this perspective, the interior is something to be seen.
Descend the curving staircase to find the heart of the home – the kitchen, living and dining rooms. Much of the furniture is built into the home, creating the feel of a cabin suite on a large cruise liner.
A shot of the living room from the top of the spiral staircase. Despite its grassy facade, each room offers sweeping views of the ocean.
Living on the cutting edge of sustainable design doesn't have to mean sterile, futuristic decor. As this sumptuous cabin estate in Canton, TX aptly demonstrates, green living is what you make of it.
The Kirkland Kastle, a 40-acre gated estate approximately 50 minutes from Dallas, was built almost entirely from natural resources within a 10-mile radius of the home. Nearly 90 percent of the 6,000 hardwood logs used in its construction would have otherwise been destined for burn piles to make space for land clearing.
The 40-acre property includes two bridges, a barn, an on-site lake and a personal gazebo. Add to that your very own bar and lounge area, and this home manages to break every stereotype associated with eco-friendly homeowners.
The home is listed with Coldwell Banker Apex and is selling at $4 million.
This unfinished home in Malibu, Calif. is constructed entirely from the hull of a retired 747 airplane. Francie Rehwald, a Mercedes dealership owner, purchased a 55-plot of land to build her spacey home concept. Whether or not you're a fan of the Jetsons-esque facade, there may be no finer example of upcycling on the entire West coast.
A simulated drawing of what the airplane home will look like once completed. If you're still not sold on the practicality of building your home on the wings of a jumbo jet, consider the price tag: the entire plane cost a paltry $35,000, with 4.5 million reusable parts to choose from.
The notion of a massive green home may seem counterintuitive, even hypocritical to many within the green design community -- but that didn't deter Frank McKinney, a self-fashioned "daredevil real estate artist," from taking a crack at it. Judge for yourself by touring the 15,000-square-foot estate.
The fact that the home includes solar panels, high-efficiency appliances, a reusable water filtration and a bevvy of other sustainable design gimmicks --er, features -- is suddenly washed away at the sight of this aquatic garage. Park your electric car besides this underwater dividing wall, perfect for peeking at poolside divers.
Known as the Acqua Liana -- the Fijian term for "water flower," according to McKinney's site -- is built upon 1.6 acres of pristine coastal shoreline. The interior, however, channels 1960s Bond flicks. The nautical theme runs throughout the expansive mansion.
Other amenities featured in the home include a golf course driveway, two glass elevators, three laundry rooms, "swimmable water gardens," and this deluxe movie screening room.
This Mill Valley, Calif. marvel is the personal home of architect Scott A. Lee, the president of SB Architects. As Marin County's first LEED Platinum home, the highest honor granted by the U.S. Green Building Council, this refined, contemporary home is leading the way in American green design.
The interior combines elements of Frank Lloyd Wright's modern sensibilities with an earthy, rustic charm. Here is the designer's take on a modern fireplace.
At left, a sun-filled shot of the home's kitchen. At right, a long, candle-lit dining room table -- the yin and yang of a delectable night-in.
Check out these AOL Real Estate Guides on how to live sustainably and save your hard earned greenbacks.
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.