Dan Phillips builds houses…out of recycled or discarded materials. This New York Times article profiles Phillips and talks about his work. He uses things like picture frame corners that he got from a frame shop who was getting rid of samples and small pieces of wood that are leftover from the ends of boards that other construction companies discard. Phillips tries to sell all of his houses to low-income families, though after a while many of them cannot afford the mortgage.
(Photo is from Our United Villages and the Rebuilding Center, which also has a cool warehouse of recycled and reclaimed materials, see pictures here.)
One thing that I found to be very interesting was that he requires that the future owners help with the building. This adds another dimension to his projects that makes it more of a human project than anything else. People who help build their own homes will appreciate it more, and in turn they will appreciate the materials and things that go into building the house. Maybe I am being too hopeful to think that they will appreciate where the materials come from and think more environmentally, but this is a good start towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
There are limitations with these types of endeavors. This kind of activity may be limited to small companies doing work here and there. Phillips has built 14 homes since 1997. There may simply just not be enough materials to do this type of construction on a large scale. And as for safety, recycled materials may not be strong or stable enough to build larger structures like apartment buildings.
While I am excited to hear that someone is doing this type of work, I am still waiting to see other developments in construction that may be able to be used on a large enough scale to make an impact. The must be a better way to salvage materials or use materials from the beginning that are better for the environment or can be repurposed easily.
This reminds me of a book called Cradle to Cradle by William McDonaugh and Michael Braungart are advocates of this concept that anything that we make should be designed and manufactured so that it can in the future be remade as something else or reused to make something similar. The physical book is made out of a material that is made up of plastic resins and inorganic fillers but can be completely recycled and reused without losing any quality.
I’m not sure what direction construction will go in, but I am sure that there are many ways to explore!
Flickr user Our United Villages