In today’s episode, Mary Beth and Neela build out the topic of renovating your home in an eco-conscious way. Neela shares her expertise and passion for creating a sustainable living space as she’s currently experiencing a renovation. She explains why eco-conscious home renovation is important – not just for the environment, but also for the health and well-being of your family. She highlights the environmental impact of real estate and discusses how the materials and energy used in construction, heating, cooling, and lighting can contribute to energy consumption and pollution. She also shares her experiences and insights from her home renovation journey, offering valuable advice and resources to help listeners navigate the process. Tune in to learn about any changes you might want to make in the future!
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Appliances that can help make your home more energy efficient
- Upgrades to the internal and external parts of your home
- How to tackle the many decisions that go into a home renovation and how to approach them in an eco-conscious way
- Rebates you can take advantage of when renovating your home
- Why you should talk to your CPA when improving the energy efficiency of your home
- The importance of listing your “must-haves” versus your “nice-to-haves”
- Compromises you’ll need to consider when renovating eco-consciously
- The long-term gains that can come with changes you make to your home
- Why “perfect” doesn’t have to be the goal when renovating
Resources Mentioned on the Show:
- Join the Abacus community by connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on LinkedIn
- Connect with Mary Beth on Twitter, Instagram, and on LinkedIn
- Connect with Neela on Twitter, Instagram, and on LinkedIn
Transcript of the Episode
Mary Beth [00:00:14]:
Hey there. Welcome to the If Money Were Easy podcast, the show where we teach you how to expand what’s possible with your money. We’re your hosts, Mary Beth Storjohann –
And Neela Hummel –
Mary Beth [00:00:27]:
Certified Financial Planners and Co-CEOs of Abacus Wealth Partners. Today on the show, I’m going to be interviewing the very knowledgeable excellent, amazing, wonderful –
I’m like we didn’t get a guest. Who are you talking about?
Mary Beth [00:00:43]:
– Neela Hummel on how to renovate your home in an eco-conscious way. And let me tell you, she is going to nerd out on all of this stuff. And I am just in awe of the knowledge and expertise. So let’s just start Nee at the beginning. How did this become a priority for you? Not the home renovation, the eco-conscious home renovation.
Right, the home renovation. Yeah, because my size of family is bursting at the seams. And we’re also a family of giants, everything needs to just be taller. But look, real estate is a big environmental impact across the board. How we use real estate as a society has a huge environmental impact because the material is used to construct it. It’s how we heat, cool, and light it. It just takes a lot of energy. And then on top of that, we spend so much time in our homes and there’s so much junk out there that it was really important to me. When I think about what my family is going to be breathing, and sitting in that, the fumes and everything… I was also putting my money where my mouth is in terms of supporting the providers and the companies that were trying to do right by the world. So Abacus is a B Corp. And it was important to me that the companies that we were using to do our renovation had that same philosophy of trying to do right by the world.
Mary Beth [00:02:09]:
Love it. So let’s jump in then. What did you consider first? Where does one begin? Maybe we start there. Where does one begin in terms of looking at your home in terms of energy efficiency? Eco-friendliness.
So I would start with doing any kind of renovation is wildly stressful. So I just want to give everybody a giant hug. Who has done it? I’m actually surprised so many people do it because from navigating the finances to the permits to the moving out while it’s happening, it’s so much work.
Mary Beth [00:02:38]:
Yeah. If this piece doesn’t come into play for you, go easy on yourself because it’s already a pretty herculean lift. But in terms of energy efficiency, it depends on what scale of a project that you’re doing. If you’re building from the ground up or you’re doing a major renovation, you’re going to touch a lot of different parts of your home. If instead you’re doing a kitchen renovation only, which is a very different scale of a project and the most common renovation project that people take on, you’re going to be making different decisions. So I’ll start at the top: energy efficient substitutions wherever you can. The big one we talk about, kitchens, because that tends to be most relevant for so many people, is the appliances that you pick. And this one was kind of an interesting experience that we went through because as Americans, you grow up with the slogan, “We’re cooking with gas, and we’re cooking with gas.”
Mary Beth [00:03:30]:
Did we grow up with that slogan? Was that said in your house?
Maybe it was. I don’t know. But I feel like it was a saying that came up, and it was a brilliant marketing blitz. But I just assumed that the best chefs always used gas stoves. But I started poking around and learned that gas stoves actually create a lot of air pollution in your home, and they’re also one of the least efficient ways of cooking food. And so it sent me down a little bit of a rabbit hole, and we opted to go for induction. And I mentioned in the blog that I write about this that there’s a lot of top kitchens that are using induction only, including the Napa famed restaurant, the French Laundry. If it’s good enough for them…
Mary Beth [00:04:15]:
If it’s good enough for French Laundry.
Definitely not. The mac and cheese that I am cranking out in my house is not that caliber, but it felt like a good trade.
Mary Beth [00:04:26]:
Is it like the Kraft mac and cheese box on top of the induction. Is that what’s happening?
I’m a fan of the Trader Joe’s one, just gonna say.
Mary Beth [00:04:33]:
All right, Annie’s is also good. Annie’s is good. We’re not sponsoring any of that.
So induction, that was a big decision. And then any other appliances that you’re really doing. So if you’re looking at doing a tankless water heater, you can look at the washer and dryer that you use. Are those Energy Star approved? If you’re swapping out your toilets, are you getting low flow toilets? Are you getting one with a double button so that it’s not just sending the same amount of water down no matter what you do? Those are trade-offs that you can make. And then I should also say windows. Windows are a big one because windows are responsible for something like 25% to 30% of residential heat and energy use, and so they lose a ton of energy if you don’t have the right insulation. So just replacing your windows can go a long way in terms of making your home more energy efficient.
Mary Beth [00:05:20]:
That’s a huge one, especially for older homes. That’s a really big one for people to consider. It’s not necessarily as fun. You don’t get the splashiness when you’re upgrading the windows. But in terms of the efficiency, it’s huge.
Right. So that’s a big piece in terms of what are the bigger ticket items that you’re using, and is there a more eco-friendly approach that you can take? And again, kind of why are you doing it? What’s your budget? What is the scope of your project?
Mary Beth [00:05:43]:
Okay, so then tell us a little bit about materials and what you learned in a five minute summary of what you learned, because I know you basically could write a thesis statement at this point in time on the materials.
I think it comes back to – what I really tried to do with all of the materials that we use is, I looked at the company first. I wanted to know what the company was about. I wanted to know how they approach the environment. I wanted to know as we looked at tile, I wanted to see, are they a zero-waste facility? Are they using recycled materials for the wood that we used? Are they using wood that has been harvested in a responsible way? Are they FSC certified? Do they have a reclaimed wood option? Is there a low VOC version of that. Led lighting that uses way less energy. Paint. We talked about fumes and toxicity. It’s now gotten a lot more common to find no or low VOC paint. Even like the big paint providers.
Mary Beth [00:06:40]:
Pause and tell us what VOCs are.
VOCs, volatile organic compounds. They’re like chemicals that are used in paints and cleaners and pesticides, and they increase air pollution. They’re also known to pollute our water system, groundwater, et cetera. And there’s like, a lot of health impacts with them. And so if you think about we spend, what, over 90% of our time indoors, and if you’re breeding those toxic fumes, there can be adverse health impacts.
Mary Beth [00:07:06]:
So you just listed out a lot of things. No or low POC, FSC certified reclaimed wood, carbon neutral. How much Googling did you have to do and where did you start? So there’s a lot. How did you find all of these things?
There was a lot of digging. This was not super easy, but I will say it’s gotten a lot easier than it was, say, 10 or 15 years ago, because there’s just a lot more products out there. The hardest thing when you’re doing a renovation is there’s so many decisions to make. And so I worked with my contractor and my architect, and I was like, “What is the next decision I have to make?” And so then I could kind of focus on that one item. They’re like, “Okay, well, we’re going to need tiles for the bathroom.” I’m like, “Great. Okay.” So then I go down this tile rabbit hole, and I learned way too much about tile, but know which item has different aspects that you can sort through. I use the B Corp and the B Lab website to look through who are the members there, because I do really believe in the B Corp commitment. And so that was a good starting point. And even just good old Google searches, internet searches of eco-friendly fill-in-the-blank turns up just more than you could possibly need.
Mary Beth [00:08:12]:
Okay, anything else in the materials area.
I mean, I think there’s probably so many things that I didn’t even think of, but I think it’s just like, at every point, is there something that you can substitute? There are some things, like, I have yet to find an eco-friendly door handle provider. That one I’m going to let myself off the hook for.
Mary Beth [00:08:33]:
That sounds reasonable.
Maybe there’s an opportunity for some listener out there. There is a market that you can corner. I will buy eight handles from you if you can figure this out.
Mary Beth [00:08:45]:
Figure it out by in the next two to three weeks.
Two to three weeks. No pressure. Get that going.
Mary Beth [00:08:53]:
Okay, let’s talk about landscaping.
Okay, so Americans love our water, and residential landscaping is responsible for, like, one third of Americans water usage.
Mary Beth [00:09:05]:
See, I thought there would be a slogan around the lawns, though. I feel like we cook with gas. I’m like the lawn, this is…
Kill your lawn.
Mary Beth [00:09:11]:
Kill your lawn.
Kill your lawn. That one’s common.
Mary Beth [00:09:16]:
You’re hearing that more. Yeah.
But anytime you’re doing especially a larger renovation, you look at your front yard, you look at your backyard, you see, “Where am I using a lot of water?” Especially, we’re in California. Los Angeles is technically a desert. Having a big, lush lawn doesn’t necessarily make sense. So when you’re doing a remodel, all your plants are going to die anyway. I’m just going to tell you, they’re not going to be taken care of. They will be trampled and murdered whether you want them to or not. So it’s a perfect time to redo it.
Mary Beth [00:09:42]:
Based on personal experience.
Based on personal experience. I will say when we first moved into our house eight years ago with two big dogs who just destroyed the backyard, and we ended up putting artificial turf in, eight years later, it’s been phenomenal. It’s been such a great move, and it really cut down on our water usage. And so for phase two, we’re going to be doing that in our front yard and doubling down on what are some drought tolerant plants that we can use? What’s a drip irrigation system so that we’re not overdoing it with water?
Mary Beth [00:10:15]:
You probably don’t know this. Maybe you do. What’s the lifespan on artificial turf?
It’s like decades. Yeah, I think it’s like 20 or 30 years or something. Ours still looks brand new. And again, two very big, very clumsy dogs. And so many children.
Mary Beth [00:10:30]:
So many children.
So many children. Just trampling it.
Mary Beth [00:10:33]:
So many legs. Just so many legs.
There’s a lot of legs.
Mary Beth [00:10:36]:
There’s a lot of legs.
Long, heavy legs.
Mary Beth [00:10:39]:
Okay, so kill the lawn. Obviously, the water usage is huge. And yes, so much water going into the landscaping. My favorite, just as an aside, is driving through Palm Springs, which is a literal desert, and then seeing – not the favorite, but just wow. When you’re in the Palm Springs area and you see all of the green. And then knowing that you’re driving through the desert, you’re like, this feels painful.
It feels painful.
Mary Beth [00:11:08]:
Okay. Let’s talk about the planning for the future, going off the grid.
Yeah. So you also have an opportunity, again, depending on the size and scale of your renovation, to make some other lifestyle decisions. One, you and I talk about, we’re going to run our cars until they’re in the ground. And yet I also know that the next car that we get is going to be an electric car.
Mary Beth [00:11:27]:
Electric, yeah. Same.
And so in this renovation, we decided to upgrade our electrical system so that it could accommodate the charging of an electric car, so that when we actually do get that car, it’s going to be ready for us. And what goes along, especially now with a lot of the federal rebates available, you can also get a battery charging station to go with the electric car, and that’s where you really kind of get the bang for your buck. And then I should also mention solar. You don’t have to do it at the same time as your renovation, but to put solar panels on your roof, you need a recent enough roof to be able to actually handle the panels. And so get an idea of how your roof is situated. Would it be able to accommodate solar panels? And is your roof resilient enough to be able to support those panels?
Mary Beth [00:12:13]:
Yeah, panels are great. What are you thinking for an electric car?
I don’t know.
Mary Beth [00:12:19]:
Is it for you or for Tom?
It’s for me.
Mary Beth [00:12:21]:
Yeah, I’ve had my car for ten years. I love my car. It’s got 60,000 miles on it, so I’m pretty sure it’s still kicking. Probably going to be my kid’s first car. So I don’t know. Depends on what electric vehicles they have in nine years, hopefully it’ll be a hovercraft. Maybe I won’t need the plug.
Mary Beth [00:12:40]:
Maybe not. There you go. Let’s talk about the rebates and tax credits.
Okay, so the nice thing with a lot of choices that we’ve talked about is that the government wants to support you making these moves. And so especially after the Inflation Reduction Act was passed in 2022, there are so many energy tax credits that can help defray the cost of some of these improvements. And then on top of that, local utilities also do their own rebate programs. Do not sleep on those. You can do research on your own local energy companies and see what rebates they offer. So if you put in an eco-friendly washer and dryer, you will get a rebate. If you put in a tankless water heater, you will probably get a rebate. And then also make sure you’re recording all of this and working with your CPA, because things like solar panels can get you a lot in terms of tax credits and again, make the cost a little lighter.
Mary Beth [00:13:35]:
So when you’re going through all this, this is a huge undertaking because you’re doing a massive remodel. And so time-frame-wise, how much extra time would you say it has added on in order for you to make it eco-friendly? To the extent that you have done, which you’ve gone pretty extensive.
Pretty far. Pretty far. I’m going to say it probably added an additional, I’d say 20% of time. 25% of time, because I still felt like I needed to do – just because of who I am – I needed to do research on the things anyway.
Mary Beth [00:14:10]:
Right. You were picking it all out. You weren’t being presented with options. You were the person that is hand picking.
Correct. I was doing it all anyway. And so it just ended up being an extra layer of additional questions of additional showrooms that I was like going to and looking at working with different representatives. And so 20% to 25%, but I felt like I was already doing the research. Now if you’re working with an interior designer or somebody who’s doing less of the legwork, you can just specify to them and then it costs you no extra time.
Mary Beth [00:14:42]:
Because that’s part of their job. So I did it because I’m a nerd and I really wanted to understand it better. I’m also a little bit of a control freak, and so it was helpful for me to really own the process start to finish. And now I feel like I know a lot about renovations and home construction. You want to talk to me about slab versus raised foundations? Don’t threaten me with a good time.
Mary Beth [00:15:03]:
I’m so excited to see your resume after this. So excited for page four of your resume.
Of like, other hobbies and skills.
Mary Beth [00:15:11]:
Other hobbies and skills.
That’s what it will be.
Mary Beth [00:15:14]:
So if somebody’s just getting started though, and can’t do it all, if they could do one thing, maybe two, what do you recommend? What’s going to have the biggest impact?
I think picking your spots and knowing really the scale of your project. Where can you spend more, where can you not spend more? You could honestly start by leading with the tax rebates if you want to just defray the cost as much as possible. What are the things that you get the best benefit from? From the utility companies and from the government. You can start there. So I think you give yourself one or two things and know that it’s not going to be perfect. Like I mentioned, I still have yet to find eco-friendly handles and so you’re not going to get it everywhere. Pick one or two things and know that there’s going to be probably compromises along the way.
Mary Beth [00:16:02]:
So in terms of impact though, if you’re thinking let’s go artificial turf versus eco-friendly appliances, which one would you pick? If you could only pick one.
Probably, because of California, artificial turf. Because of such a large amount of water usage. And unless you have like a really old washer and dryer, they’ve been steadily getting more and more efficient and are using less and less water. But it’s almost like you could pick “Do I care most about energy or do I care most about water usage or do I care more about toxic chemicals?” You end up having to make those trade-offs.
Mary Beth [00:16:40]:
Yeah, but those are the questions to kind of ask yourself in terms of – you can’t do it all or don’t have the opportunity to. How do you want to approach it?
Yeah, I really appreciate that question because I actually haven’t thought about it like that. But if I had to prioritize the things, I think water usage and reducing water usage was the top priority.
Mary Beth [00:16:58]:
Yeah for California, makes a lot of sense.
For California, we end up paying so much for water, we don’t have that much of it. And so really reducing that. And so every step along the way we reduced water usage. So that’s killing the lawn, that’s doing a tankless water heater, that’s doing low flow toilets, it’s doing low water use washer and dryer, et cetera. So we did that everywhere. And so I didn’t really think about it like that. But reduction in water was the most important all the way down to what are the nice things, what are the bonus things.
Mary Beth [00:17:29]:
So now that you’re close to almost moving back into your home, even though you might not have –
I might not have a kitchen by the time we move in, but I’m going to be there. So we’ll be in like a camp stove in the backyard. I’ll be like, this is great, this is great.
Mary Beth [00:17:43]:
Is there anything you do differently?
Good question. I think in the beginning you talk about how much it is and how overwhelming it is. And I felt like in the beginning I was so overwhelmed that I just wanted to sit down and it felt like, “How am I going to make all of these decisions?” Because the decisions also are not in a vacuum. The floor that you decide also has something to do with the cabinets that you decide that also has something to do with the fixtures. And they’re all so connected that it can seem super overwhelming. So I’d say, if I could go back and do anything differently, I would A) be more gentle on myself and just know that it’s a crazy process and that it’s just not going to be easy. And so prepare for that. And I think the second piece is really having a better sense of how the construction flow goes so that you can help prioritize certain decisions. So if you get a bid from a contractor to do a renovation or build a project, what have you, they’ll have like a payment schedule and that payment schedule coincides with how they do the work. And so with each of those steps going through and be like, “Okay, what are the decisions that need to be made by this date? When do you need the items that go into this decision?” If you start your project and you’re looking at paint when they’re still doing foundation work, you’re not doing it in the right order. So I think by doing it that way, it gives yourself a more manageable chunk of things to focus on without looking at the whole project and immediately feeling overwhelmed.
Mary Beth [00:19:14]:
Got it. That’s really smart. And then talk to us a little bit about how you navigated a home remodel and also having a happy marriage.
So I got to give my husband huge kudos to this because he didn’t care so much about the things. He knows that I’m going to research things so thoroughly that he’s like, you got it. He actually described it at one point. I was like, “Are you okay if I’m just making these decisions?” And he’s, “You know, the way I see it, I’m the Vice president, and you’re the entire Senate, so you can do all the legislative things unless you’re stuck, and then I can come in and break the tie.” And I was like, “Oh, that is great.” So I’ll bring things up to him and show him things, but he’s not as involved in the day to day, and yet I really wanted him to be engaged, and it was just too much for me to handle. And so we figured out things early on that he could own, and I would be like, “I’m out of it.” So he did all of the audio, all of the electrical, all of that was his domain. And I’m like, I’m not going to be involved at all.
Mary Beth [00:20:21]:
So I recognize that’s a pretty unique situation, because in most of these situations, you’re doing it together.
Mary Beth [00:20:28]:
I think just figuring out, “What is the decision that we need to make? What are the things that we care about as a couple?” and then making the decision from there, knowing that it’s not going to be perfect.
Mary Beth [00:20:38]:
If perfect is your goal, you will be disappointed. What my husband and I kept coming back to is like, “This is going to be so much better than it was before.” Instead of, “Oh, it’s going to be perfect, it’s going to be such an improvement.”
Mary Beth [00:20:50]:
Yeah, that’s a great mindset.
It lets you off the hook, where it’s like, “Oh, my God, my entire life is going to be ruined because I picked the wrong tile color.” It’s like, “No, get over it.” It’s going to be so much better because you now have room for two people in your bathroom instead of one.
Mary Beth [00:21:06]:
Especially for the size of the two.
Especially for, like, two giants. But it was a great process, and I learned a lot, and it was also very encouraging to see the amount of companies that are putting the environment first and as the core to their business. I ended up even reaching out to a couple of CEOs of some of the smaller companies and giving them feedback like, “Hey, I really appreciated how you guys have approached this. This information was super helpful. It was an encouraging experience.”
Mary Beth [00:21:37]:
She did. She forwarded me one of the emails from one of the people, one of the CEOs she reached out to. She did do that.
People need to be applauded for doing it right.
Mary Beth [00:21:44]:
Neela and I do reach out to CEOs when we need help. Just companies that will track your email down. We have that in common. So thank you for giving us a peek behind the scenes. We will link to the blog that Neela wrote and then also link to the remodeled pictures of the house as, like, down to the studs.
Down to the studs.
Mary Beth [00:22:03]:
Down to the studs. There’s so much that can be done here, whether big or small, decisions and seeing the work that you put into it has just been – in addition to running a company and a family, I bow down to you. Thank you for sharing.
I’m also just crazy, but appreciate it.
Mary Beth [00:22:18]:
Okay, you heard it here first.
Thank you for interviewing me. I hope everybody can take away one or two good nuggets.
Mary Beth [00:22:27]:
All right, we’ll see you next time.
Mary Beth [00:22:31]:
Thanks for tuning in to today’s episode of If Money Were Easy. If this is the year that you want to expand what’s possible with your money, and you can use some professional guidance along the way, head over to abacuswealth.com/getstarted, and schedule your free consultation.
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