Have you noticed your energy bill increase? You’re not alone. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short Term Energy Outlook, the average price of electricity is expected to increase 3.3% in 2023, and prices are already 7.5% higher today than they were in 2021. And energy isn’t the only thing pinching the wallets of Americans – costs at the gas pump, grocery store (and more) are up. If you’re looking to save, you may want to consider some home improvements. In this episode of The Agent of Wealth Podcast, host Marc Bautis is joined by Erin Shine, founder of AttainableHome.com, a company that creates wealth and prosperity through building of modern, sustainable and high quality homes within reach of household incomes.
In this episode, you will learn:
- What it means to be net zero, and what it means to live in a net zero home.
- Low cost DIY projects you can do to improve your home’s efficiency.
- How sustainable upgrades add value to your home in the short- and long-term.
- Useful tips to keep in mind when considering to install solar energy to your home.
- How Erin Shine created the concept of Attainable Home.
- And more!
Disclosure: The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity and content. It is not a direct transcription of the full conversation, which can be listened to above.
Welcome back to The Agent of Wealth Podcast, this is your host Marc Bautis. On today’s show, I brought on a special guest, Erin Shine. Erin is the founder of attainablehome.com, a company that creates wealth and prosperity through building of modern, sustainable and high quality homes within reach of household incomes. Shine has been in the sustainability space his whole career, has started and sold his own 7-figure Inc. 5,000-ranked company, and has been a real estate investor since 2009. Shine’s experience is at the cross-section of energy efficiency, real estate investing and personal finance. Erin, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Marc.
What’s your background and what brought you to the concept for Attainable Home?
I always really loved the theme of environmental savings, business savings and social savings. In some circles, they call it the triple bottom line. I dug into that theme early on and through college, and I ended up getting a degree in finance and real estate. After graduating, I moved from Central Florida to Colorado and got my first job in solar energy. This long journey sort of started from there.
What I do now, with Attainable Home, is sort of a culmination of everything I’ve gone through.
While I was working in solar energy back in 2008, there was a little bit of conflict for me. I loved the environmental part, but the investment was a 22-year investment – that’s when you’d see payback on your money, even with rebates and tax credits. But that first job was great sales experience.
Then, I found energy-efficient lighting, which was a three-year payback on your investment. So I went into that at a company in Boulder but unfortunately they went under in the recession. Two weeks later, I started an energy efficient lighting distribution company that took commercial lighting to e-commerce. I was in lighting for seven years, building up that company. I ended up having a nice exit.
Throughout that time, I was always really interested in real estate investing. I bought my first place in 2009 and sort of rode up that cycle following the 08-09’ recession. I also started learning more about the monetary system and traditional investing, aiming to build on the capital I had worked so hard for over that time.
Creating the Concept for Attainable Home
In the last few years, everyone has been throwing around terms like “net zero” and “sustainability.” You probably see solar energy ads everywhere – and maybe even have people knocking on our door trying to sell solar.
I just wanted to simplify the entire thing to prove that you can integrate traditional real estate investing principles with sustainability. My goal is to sort of clear out a lot of noise around the whole thing.
I got started with Attainable Home right before the pandemic started. I bought a home in Florida and decided to use the The BRRRR Strategy (Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat). I included a typical fix and flip renovation in the strategy, but I incorporated everything I had learned from efficiency and renewables to keep costs down.
Did you sell that property or keep it?
I refinanced it, kept it and now I rent it out. I got a great return on my investments. Just speaking quickly to the renter profile, there’s some benefits that are a win-win and make for more of a partnership than a traditional landlord-tenant relationship. The tenants love the net zero concept, having solar, having an electric car charger, and things along those lines.
Okay. Before we go further, you mentioned the term net zero. What does net zero mean?
What Does It Mean to Be Net Zero
Net zero refers to a state where the greenhouse gasses going into the atmosphere are balanced by the same amount of removal out of the atmosphere. In the corporate world, like in ESG investing, net zero means the same thing, you produce as much as you use and therefore you have no emissions.
Great. Now going back to your first project, how did you incorporate traditional real estate rehab with energy efficiency concepts? How did you get the home to net zero?
How to Improve Your Home With Sustainability in Mind
There’s so much information out there: Two-foot hay bale walls, crazy insulation, an air ceiling, switching out your HVAC system, etc. To keep the budget from going crazy – and in trying to simplify the process – I recommend building a calculator where you can look at your options like a decision tree. Find the cheapest DIY steps you can take.
One improvement that’s beneficial is air sealing. Your home is essentially leaking air all the time through gaps in the home, so working to create exceptional air sealing will save energy costs and keep you more comfortable in the home.
LED lighting is another improvement I recommend. It produces less waste light and more useful lumens than other lighting technologies, improving energy efficiency and increasing financial savings.
If you replaced all the lighting in your office, school or other facility with LED lights, you could see as much as a 60% to 70% improvement in your overall energy efficiency.sitelogiq.com
Habit changes can go a long way, too. But like I said, you’ll want to go through a decision tree of basic efficiency upgrades and assess them in investment terms. What will your ROI be? Take care of the low hanging fruit first, then consider the bigger projects like adding solar.
For example, in my first Attainable Home, I found that it made more sense to add solar than to add a new HVAC system or do insulation. That’s because my number one goal was ROI and payback. Some people might want to do more environmentally friendly upgrades, but it just depends on an individual’s goals and home situation.
For someone that doesn’t have the background and experience that you have in this space, but still wants to do a project like this, do they have to build their own calculator or are there calculators out there?
I haven’t found a calculator out there that gets it all done, so that’s actually something I’m working on now. But on the Attainable Home website, you can find a ton of articles with information to help someone with less experience or knowledge in this area. We actually have an ebook – free download – that has a bunch of cost-efficient DIY projects that can lead to more sustainable living. But this is why I started the company, because it can be confusing to someone just starting out.
How Sustainable Upgrades Add Value to Your Home
Now, the return on investment that you were talking about… is that on the energy savings, or does doing these projects add value to the actual home?
Great question. The answer is yes to both. Some of the value to the home is based on opinion. If you’re trying to sell your energy efficient, zero bill home, some prospective buyers will care. Some may not. But let’s take solar, for example. Studies have been done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratories, Zillow, and other sources that show that solar, on average, adds about 3-4% to your home value. And that’s just solar.
And then, there’s the ROI on the energy savings. I helped my parents’ neighbor improve her home with sustainability solutions and three months later, she was net zero. She was very happy, not only because of the environmental impact but because she had just retired, and just began living on fixed income.
In our current economy, energy bills are going up, gas prices are going up… so much as you might think of a bond, fixed income or stocks over time, over a couple decades of average returns of 8-10%, this produces much of the same thing. So if you’re going to stay in the same home for a while, you can lock in your energy rates now. Treat it as sort of a risk-free bond.
Tips for Investing in Solar Panels
Specifically with solar projects, we hear about the rebates and tax credits out there. Are they still as good present day as they were earlier on in solar? What is the ROI on solar panels?
So I want to make a couple of notes on solar specifically. Again, at Attainable Home, solar energy is only considered after efficiency projects because it is expensive, and it can be a big trip wire if you don’t do it correctly.
One, you want to be very careful about leasing or renting solar panels. When you lease solar panels, you actually create a liability on your roof that somebody else owns. Within some of these solar panel contracts – and I’m not saying it’s every company – they have crazy payoff amounts. It can be double what they actually paid for their equipment to put on your roof. Essentially, it’s a form of a lien on your house that can actually detract from the value of your home, preventing you from selling it or refinancing it.
So generally, owning the system – whether you finance it or pay cash – is the best move. If you own the solar panels but finance the cost, just make sure your ROI is higher on the energy savings side than the financing side. That’s a net gain.
The other point I want to make is in order to clear out all the noise, the most important solar metric is the cost per watt installed. If you’re interested in installing solar, that’s what you want to ask the company for – What is the cost per watt installed? It’s like going to the car dealership and asking for the out-the-door price.
I’ve actually sat in with friends in many solar proposal presentations, and there are a lot of bells and whistles – upgrades, batteries, etc. But all you really need to know is cost per watt.
Can we walk through one of the Attainable Home renovation projects? Start to finish, what were some of the lessons you learned? What were the goals for it? Did you achieve them?
Sure. So I found a home in the Cape Coral area of Florida listed for $200,000 right before the pandemic started. I purchased it, and my goal was to prove that you could not only power the entire house with solar, but power at least one electric car. In my case, a Tesla Model 3 that drives 10,000 miles a year.
I started working on the home using the information I found from a bunch of different YouTubers. I knew I wanted to do air sealing and gap ceiling, but I had a lot of other questions to answer:
- Which appliances need to be replaced?
- What does HVAC payback look like?
- Should I swap out the water heater to heat pumps?
It took me a good six months and $100,000 to do the renovations. I don’t claim to be a fix and flip expert by any means, so I did work alongside contractors and handymen. Then, I refinanced it.
Before I share the numbers, I want to state that the timing on this project was favorable, since the economy had this sort of inflationary tailwind during the pandemic. I had no idea that real estate would explode like it did. So I want to be completely honest that any mistakes I made were covered up by the inflationary environment. But that was just pure luck.
So anyway, I spent $300,000 (the price of the home plus renovations), including solar, and then I refinanced it. The interest rate was 2.99%, and I put 20% down on the refi. I think the refi value was $375,000, so I got some value and not others. For solar, I got about half my money back. The solar system was about $16,000 after tax credit. But I made up for it in other ways, like energy efficient hurricane impact windows, which are big down here. So I got a bit of equity back.
Would you like me to go into the savings numbers on the actual efficiency?
Cool, so… These are 2021 year one numbers. We modeled the home to spend $1,800 a year on the energy bill. That’s what it had used. I was able to subtract about 20-30% of that because of the efficient work we did.
A big improvement was the heat pump/hot water system. I switched out the old coil tank with a new heat pump, and that saves $400 a year in energy. Coincidentally, that’s enough to power the car for an entire year. It’s crazy – you swap your hot water heater and can power your car.
So I subtracted the efficiency savings and then added back the car usage, updating the numbers. I compare this using typical car miles per gallon that you would use for gas and electric. There are all sorts of variables, but at the moment the house is saving $1,700 per year just from just solar powering electric, instead of from the grid.
Then, if you have an EV, let’s say a Model 3 at 10,000 miles a year, you figure out how many watts it uses per mile. That saves $1,300 a year in gas. So if you have an EV plugged in, you’re saving $3,000 a year.
Just the solar ROI in Florida was 12.6% ROI year one, eight year payback on your money. Not too bad. And that’s the trick. You do efficiency first and then your solar, you can spend thousands less on solar because you don’t need as much. If you finance it four or five percent, you’ve still got a net there of 5, 6, 7, 8% like a bond that you’ll have forever. And I think it would help that people might know that the solar panels now, really well built, have a 25 year warranty. They still produce about 80% efficiency after 20 years. So the solar tech continues to get incrementally better. And then the electronics have a, I forget the warranty actually, but it’s 10 years on the inverters and stuff like that. So the equipment itself is very, very solid and you can kind of treat it like a 15, 20 year bond or more.
And so when you add in the EV for instance, on this one, it’s a 19% ROI year one. And then when you go out to year five, the whole thing’s about 25% return and then it keeps getting better because of typical inflation and rate increases, but yours is locked in now. And then the other cool thing, one more number here would be factoring in the home value increase. So I just assumed I put 300,000 into the whole thing, 3% gain on the home value. That’s 9,000. So the net costs on the solar when you subtract out the equity is I’m showing 7,200 here for the solar and sort of equity factored in which is a 74% ROI year one cost for solar, factoring in all the benefits. And so that’s how I kind of do it. And this is one of the calculators I built and how I look at it, but trying to again, integrate the traditional real estate metrics and in terms of selling it, I’m just going to keep it. People love the place. It’s a great wealth builder over time, the net zero stuff attracts better quality tenants. They love it. And the numbers look better too.
And where does Attainable Home come in? Are you a consultant to people doing these projects? Are you planning on raising money and doing these projects on your own? What’s the plan for the company going forward?
Well, we’ve already got a big blog with about 500+ articles. So we’re really focused on offering a lot of content to people because, on a personal note, I’m not going to be living in the homes myself. I’d rather work with people, either one on one or in an online course. I want to keep working with people who are interested in doing this themselves.
That’s great. Well, we’re just about out of time. Erin, I’d like to thank you for being on The Agent of Wealth Podcast. How best can someone reach out to you to find out more about what Attainable Home does?
Awesome, thanks again. And thank you to everyone who tuned into today’s episode. Don’t forget to follow The Agent of Wealth on the platform you listen from and leave us a review of the show. We are currently accepting new clients, if you’d like to schedule a 1-on-1 consultation with our advisors, please do so below.