#104: How One Custom Home Builder Focused on Green to Drive Demand

by Smarter Building Materials Marketing

This week, Zach and Beth talk with Casey Grey, founder of Conscious Builder, about meeting customers’ needs for specific building products and how he discovers them.

More About This Episode

In this episode, Zach and Beth discuss with Casey about how sustainable and green products are in higher demand with COVID, and Casey gives insight on how he deals with meeting customer needs and finding the demanded products.

Transcript

Zach:

Because of COVID, there's going to be an increase in demand for green, healthy, sustainable products, and we talk a lot about this on the show. But homeowners are demanding socially conscious building products more and more, it's something that we see here at Venveo quite a bit. On today's show, we talk to a builder about how he meets his customer's needs for these specific types of products, and how he finds them.

It's important for us to dig into this, because we want to understand what do terms like green, sustainable, and conscious really mean. And how can you, as a manufacturer, take advantage of this shift and increase in demand because of COVID. All right, let's get into the show.

Voiceover:

Welcome to the Smarter Building Materials Marketing Podcast, helping you find better ways to grow leads, sales, and outperform your competition.

Zach:

All right everybody, welcome to Smarter Building Materials Marketing, where we believe your online presence should be your best salesperson. I am Zach Williams, and we've got a great show planned for you today. I'm alongside Beth Pop-Nikolov as well.

Beth:

We have Casey Grey, he is the founder of Conscious Builder. He has got such great information to talk to us about today, such an incredibly topical conversation for us to have. Casey, welcome to the show.

Casey:

Thanks for having me.

Beth:

So Casey, why don't you start by telling us a bit about who you are, and about your business?

Casey:

Yeah. I'm the founder of the Conscious Builder, as you mentioned. We have a YouTube channel, as well as a podcast. I'm involved in a lot of different businesses, but my main business is the Conscious Builder. We just passed our 10 year anniversary, actually, two weeks ago, so that's exciting.

Beth:

That's exciting.

Casey:

Yeah, things are going really well here, in Ottawa. Married, have a son, almost seven now. As I was mentioning before we hit record, Beth, that he's my greatest teacher because he does what I do and not what I say. So if he has a bad habit, it's probably from me. My wife has a meditation studio, which is all virtual now, being new times with COVID-19 and everything, so I help out with that as well. Been involved in Airbnb. I just love building thing, in general, and businesses are one of those things.

Beth:

That's awesome.

Casey:

So we're having fun, building and creating over here.

Zach:

That's really cool.

Beth:

Can you tell us a bit about the philosophy behind Conscious Builder?

Casey:

Yeah. So where this came from was when we, my wife and I, found out that we were having ... at the time we didn't know, because we left it a surprise, but we were having a baby boy. That really hit home for me.

At the time, I was young, you start a construction company, you're like everybody else. You just want to go out there, and make some money, and do good work. That was basically what I was doing in my younger 20s. I'm like, "I'm a pretty good carpenter, I can do this. Let's go out and see what happens." I worked for somebody else for seven years, it was time to go. Got into it, and then a couple years after that, that's when Natasha and I found out that we were having Sullivan. And then, my whole mindset started to change.

I started thinking, what do I want to do? I know that I have to lead by example. If I'm going to tell this little guy that he can be and do whatever he wants, I have to do the same. That's when everything started to change. Not too long before that, my wife and I started to make some pretty drastic changes in our life, we were getting a lot into personal development stuff. It all kicked off at the Tony Robbins event, and from there, just changed everything. We went to the extreme, we drank the Kool-Aid at the beginning, and then dialed it back after.

But, that was the beginning. It actually started with the book, The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, which led us to Tony Robbins, and so forth. But after that, when I started asking the questions why and what do I want to teach my little guy, the word conscious started coming to us. My wife and I started the Conscious Living podcast, and I did the first half, but she did about 75 interviews in total on that, with people from all over the world. We just started to build from there, and that's where the Conscious Builder came, because the word conscious is really just being aware.

Everything that we do is custom, we're all different. As humans, we have different needs, different wants, there's not one thing that fits everybody. The way we see our role here at the Conscious Builder is to help educate people and give them the information that they need so that they can make a conscious decision. That decision is going to be different for everybody.

Zach:

What does that look like? Someone comes to you, let's say it's a homeowner. They say, "Hey, I want to build a home, somewhere near you." Are you walking them through a process of saying, "Hey, here are all the materials and decisions that you need to make, as a homeowner, about the different products that go into your home. And, here are common misconceptions." Are you educating them at all about the products? Or, are they coming to the table already pretty well educated, and that's why they're reaching out to you?

Casey:

It depends, it varies. There's different levels. The very first thing that I typically have to start with is people just have no idea how much it costs to do certain things. That's the first part of our process, typically. Especially in building a custom home. It's just not out there, it's not easily accessible. How much does it cost to build a custom home? That's basically why I wrote a blog post on it. At least here in Ottawa, there's the construction cost, which is fairly easy to figure out once you get into the details. But then, there's a lot of other things that go into a building a home that people don't know about, because you've just never done it before. That's the first process.

104 Learning About Green building

Source

Some people are more educated than others. They've just been interested in it, so they put the time into it. Some people say, "Hey, I've been reading about passive houses. I see that you do that. We're really interested in it, for these reasons." But, there's also sometimes people that don't know that there's a difference between a passive solar house, just using the sun, versus a certified passive house. There's a lot of different information out there. But on the flip side, I've had people bring products to us and say, "Hey, we're thinking of doing this." I'd say, "Well, I've never heard of that before, I'm going to look into it."

That's the great thing about being in this position is that I'm not going to know everything. We try to stay up to date, but one of the ways that we stay up to date is just because of having so many conversations with so many different people, there's just so many products out there now, and just navigating through that is part of it. So it's going to vary, and I'm never going to say, "Here's all the information that you need to make," and throw it all at them at once because that's going to be overwhelming. There are hundreds of decisions that need to be made throughout the process, whether it's a renovation or a custom home, and we have to navigate that in the right order. Some people, it's fun to go out and pick materials and pick certain things, but there's a lot of things that need to come before that.

Zach:

You know, one thing we're seeing in the industry is that there's been this escalation around healthy building, especially from a homeowner standpoint. What are the different products that are going into my home, and how does that affect my health? There's not going to be a product out there that stops a pandemic, yet.

I'm really curious to know, are you seeing an increase in demand for your services, Casey? Because there's this light bulb going off where they're saying, "Goodness, I really need to be thinking about this in a way that I haven't been to date?" I'm really curious to know that, because if you're seeing an increase in any way, how that translates to the manufacturer, there's so many different potential ways that that could impact manufacturers across the spectrum in the industry.

Casey:

So I think what I'm seeing ... We're just a small builder, we only do a handful of projects every year, depending on the size of them. But, what I'm seeing, and in watching the market, is that the way people use their homes is different. Now, people need homes offices. We're in the process of designing a home that we're about to start, it's actually two homes, that we're doing YouTube series on. One of them was like, "Oh yeah, now we need an office," because one of the owners, who was going into an office every day, will no longer be going into an office. Now, we need another not necessarily a room, but an area where there's room for a desk to set up and work.

Here, I have a big enough home that I can use this room as an office, but maybe there's opportunities for doubling up rooms. So you have a guest room, murphy beds have come back into style, there's still a lot of really cool stuff, but it also folds into a desk. There's going to be some opportunities for that, where you can not necessarily have to increase the size of your home, but you have to rethink how you use the spaces within your home.

The other thing I'm starting to see is because people are spending more time at home, at least here in Ottawa, people are looking for home pools. Before pools were, "Eh, not that interested," but now everybody wants a pool. That's I'm seeing, anyways, because people are just going to be spending more time at home so they want to make use of that. But then, on the other side, too, they're also looking for cottages or trailers. Apparently trailer sales are going through the roof, because it's the safest way to travel now because you have your own space, that you can just hook onto your truck or SUV, or whatever, and take off with it.

I don't know if there's going to be much change because of this within the house, at least I'm not seeing it. The people who are coming to us are still coming to us for the niche that we already set ourselves in, anyways. We'll see, we're only a few months in, at this point. We'll see what happens over the next 12 months sort of thing.

Beth:

So I'm thinking of our manufacturer listeners, and I'm thinking if I'm them I see health as really becoming not so much a nice to have, but a need to have. There's really growing demand, and even expectation from a consumer standpoint, whether that consumer is a contractor, builder, what have you, of, "I should be able to access healthier options when it comes to building materials."

Is there a sector, when you're working on a house, that you really see a massive opportunity for one specific type of material, or one specific space, there's just not that go-to product yet, that you're just waiting for somebody to come in, and bring a killer product for any of those solutions?

Casey:

There's nothing that I'd necessarily say. There's so many products, like I was mentioning, out there. I think there's an option for everything right now.

One of the things that we don't deal with is furniture. There's a lot of regulations around furniture, and fire retardants, and all sorts of stuff that needs to go into that type of stuff. The same with the finishes on the furniture. At the same time, another thing we were talking about before, is as long as people continue to purchase ... You vote with your money.

Whatever you buy is what manufacturers are going to continue to produce, I get it. I think what we have to do as consumers is ask better questions. There's a lot of labeling out there, but a lot of labeling, I don't even know what it means. Just because it's got a picture of the world and it's green and it says eco-friendly, what does that mean? I don't really know. But, I'm that person who asks those questions.

To give you an example. This is outside of the green, but we won an award last week for Best Builder in Ottawa, but we don't know this company who awarded. Oh, we never heard of it so I started to look into it. I was like, "How did you choose us as the winner?" We did a video on this, too. It just doesn't make sense. We're not promoting it, because we don't know what it means.

Beth:

That's funny.

Casey:

Sure, it looks good.

Beth:

That's great.

Casey:

We are the best builder, but what does it matter? I think as consumers, we need to look into those things. Just because there is a label on something, you need to look into what it actually means. What are the materials, the products that were used in manufacturing whatever it is?

I think, as manufacturers, if you can make that easily accessible to everybody, and not write it like a lawyer where only you can understand it, I think that would be huge. Because if I can't understand as a person who's trying to guide a homeowner, how are they going to understand it? There are a lot of things that I try to navigate ...

Even in the cabinet industry, if you can find me good green cabinetry, actually, that's done without formaldehyde, and doesn't have all these crazy terms that I have no idea what they mean. Just send me something that's healthy, formaldehyde free, doesn't off gas, no VOCs. Or low, I understand sometimes it's hard to do no VOCs. But, any cabinetry type products would be ideal. Paint's already there, it's the cabinets I find are tough. But, I think it'd be really neat. There are some cool countertop products out there, but they're still on the higher end for price point so people still end up going with granite, or quartz, or something like that, just because it's still nice, it's durable, and it's still affordable. But as soon as we get into recycled products or anything like that, the price starts to go up and it's harder to find.

Zach:

I think you're bringing up some really interesting points, and I want to dive a bit more into that, if I can for a second, Casey. Because you just mentioned a couple different product categories that, clearly yes, this fits your ideal project type, or this ideal product. Then, there's a few other ones like cabinetry, you said you haven't been able to find something that really fits what you're looking for.

I guess what I'm asking here is, can you give me some criteria around how are you evaluating products? What are you looking for, across the board? And, what are your customers looking for? Because I know that may be hard, because what's in paint is different than what's in, let's say a countertop. But, is there some sort of standard that you, as a builder, that you're trying to check a box when you're searching for new materials or, if you're listening to a manufacturer give you a pitch on why you should use the product?

Casey:

Yeah. For something that I'm looking for is obviously the indoor air quality. If we're putting something into a home, I'm aware of the VOCs so I want to know how that product was manufactured and what chemicals were used, if any, in doing that. How is that going to affect the people who are living in that house?

104 Spending Time Indoors

Especially now with COVID, I don't think people realize that, on average, we spend over 90% of our time indoors. Either you're in your house, you're getting into a car or some sort of motor transportation, for the most part. Not everybody, some people bike and that sort of stuff. You go to a building, which also inside, and then you work inside. You're hardly outside, at all. Now, maybe we're getting rid of that building and the transportation portion, but I'm sitting right here, at my desk, for multiple hours every single day, inside of my home. If I have products that are not healthy, then that's harming my health every single day.

Maybe, the effects where it's harder to understand, it's harder to grasp the long term effects because maybe it doesn't affect us for 20 years, but everything does start to affect us. So I'm looking at that, that's why if that was easily accessible, that information, as to what was put into it, and write it in plain English that my seven-year-old son could understand, who you can now see in the background.

Zach:

That's great.

Casey:

It would be great.

I guess the other thing that, at least I'm looking at, is if we can support locals. If there's a manufacturer that's not necessarily in the same city, but within 500 kilometers, let's say, that would be great for some products. Maybe there's one manufacturer, but they have different centers all over the country. Who knows? But that's another thing that we'd be looking at. So it'll be different, maybe what we recommend here. Obviously the cabinet company is going to be different here than if we were building in another city, for example. I think those are really the top two things, in terms of products that would go in.

When we get into mechanical products, like ventilation and that sort of stuff, that's going to be a little bit more difficult. At that point I'm looking for, has it been tested? How long has it been around? What are the reviews on it? Are there any issues with it? That sometimes just takes time. I've been one to test out products in my house and they didn't work out, or the company decided to close, that doesn't work out very well. I can't recommend something that's brand new, it's hard. If the homeowner wants to do it, I'm totally on board with that. But then my reaction is, "If it doesn't work out, I can't be responsible for that. So if you want to try this product, then sure, I'm all for it." But, it's hard for me to recommend something that hasn't been around for a certain amount of years. Because we have our warranty, too, that we need to abide by.

Beth:

From a manufacturer's standpoint, who is doing a good job of creating messaging that targets you, messaging that resonates with you, or selling their product to you and the homeowner?

Casey:

I don't know, to be honest.

Beth:

That's okay. I don't know is an okay answer. You don't see a lot of ads, what?

Casey:

No. I think the ads that are popping up on my feed these days are trucks, because I was looking at a lot of trucks and stuff. Yeah, I'm not seeing ads.

Zach:

Well, maybe if I could ask the question this way. What manufacturers do you see that do a good job at making it really simple? If you were doing research for the home, let's say a homeowner brings you a product, or if you're trying to research a specific product for a project you have coming up, who have you seen recently that's done a good job at making it really simple for you to understand man, that's the exact right product?

Beth:

Yeah, that's a good way to say it.

Zach:

You've spoken a couple times about how people use lawyer-speak, and I totally get why they do it. They do it because they don't want to get in trouble, they don't want to get sued, and I get that. Who is doing a good job at speaking to you the builder and homeowner?

Casey:

One of the products that comes to mind is Maibec. Have you heard of Maibec wood siding?

Zach:

I've heard of them. I don't know them very well though, no.

Casey:

M-A-I-B-E-C. They recently bought out CanExel Siding as well, which is a manufacturer. This is different, this is outside. I'm less concerned about the off-gassing of a product that goes on the exterior of a home. Obviously, I don't want it to be harmful to the people creating the product, that's going to be a business that they'll have to manage within them, obviously. So I'm not 100% sure what the off-gassing is for the product because I've never looked into it, because it's an exterior siding product.

But, they do a really good job of saying, "Look, here's our product, here's our warranty, it's really simple." Obviously they have a longer warranty claim, but for the most part it's, "This is what your warranty covers." It's FSC certified wood, and they only offer so many profiles, and the warranty changes depending on the profile. They've done a good job on their website of making it really clear.

Zach:

That's great. We'll make sure we link to that in the show notes as well, for our listeners who want to check out their website.

Casey:

If anything else pops to mind, I'll let you know.

Beth:

That's okay.

Casey:

I'm trying to think of something inside. We use a lot of ROCKWOOL Insulation, now.

Beth:

Yeah.

Casey:

Partly because they're somewhat local, but I like their product for insulations because it's not extremely expensive in comparison to fiberglass. I think it's about 25% more, it works about the same but it doesn't have all the fire retardants that fiberglass has. When it gets wet, it doesn't lose it's R-value and it doesn't grow mold, because it's rock. It's made from mineral wool. That, in the types of homes that we do, makes a lot of sense because if we have a wall that's 12 inches ... The wall that we built, without the masonry, was 19 inches thick.

We don't want water to get into that, we do everything we can to prevent any moisture of any kind getting into the wall assembly, but we have to assume that moisture will get into that wall assembly. And at that point, what's going to happen? How is it going to dry, what's going to happen to the insulation? That sort of stuff. Those are the things that we'll look into, something like rock saw makes a lot more sense.

Beth:

As we wrap up, I'd love to hear from you where you see the healthy construction industry heading?

Zach:

Pressure, because there's a lot of people who are going to make product decisions and product development decisions based on what you're saying.

Casey:

I think because there's so much information out there, because you're doing what you're doing, and there's other people out there educating, everyone's putting all sorts of information out there, people are just becoming more aware of these things. I think healthy is something different for everybody, but what we aim for is healthy, comfortable, and efficient homes.

104 Building Healthy Homes

Source

By building a comfortable home, by default it's going to be an efficient home. Now, the healthy portion of it can vary, depending on the products that go into the home. But also, in the way that it's built. If it's not ventilated properly and you make it extremely airtight, then you could have some issues for sure. Or on the flip side, if it's not done very airtight and there's lots of leakage, well then you could have all sorts of mold issues. Depending on where you build, there's different things, too. I think in general, people are becoming more aware of those things.

I don't know, people are still fixated on the efficient side of things. I don't think a lot of people are thinking of the health side of things, personally. At least, not the people who reach out to us, for the most part, are but we're building for the 1% of the 1%. It's a different demographic, for sure. But, I think as the younger generation grows up and starts to have kids like us, we're part of the younger, they're thinking those things.

My son is sleeping on the most expensive mattress in the house, because it's organic rubber, and organic material, cotton made here, in Ottawa actually, from a company called Obasan. Actually, if you want a link, now they're a great company, too. Everything they do is organic, and they're local for anybody here. We were gladly going to support them. We have Obasan pillows, too, and a duvet that I ended up buying at a silent auction.

I think people more aware of those things, but it is still more expensive. I think my message, I don't know how many consumers there are ... But, I guess anybody who manufacturers who are listening to you are also consumers. I think if you're trying to sell something, it's the same sort of thing. Where are people going to put their money? Actually, I'm going to share a story.

So I was sitting at a table, doing a roundtable, trying to figure out how to get prefabricated exterior energy retrofits out to the mass market. I'm sitting around a table with manufacturers, with other big builders. We did this test pilot project with National Research here in Ottawa, and sitting around that table was all people who were promoting efficient builds, efficient homes. We need efficient homes, they need to be more efficient. Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency, that was everything. Save the environment, and save the world.

I'm in a different house now, we had sold our past house. But at the time I said, "All right, you're all here trying to figure out how to do this, and how to get people to spend their money on it. But, where are you spending your money?" I said, "Who here lives in a passive house or anything?" I was the only one that put up my hand. I said, "Who here is driving an electric car?" Nobody put up their hand, except for me. If you're not putting your money where your mouth is, how do you expect other people to put their money where their mouth is?

Beth:

That's good.

Zach:

Mic drop, right?

Beth:

Yeah.

Zach:

Hat off to you, to force the conversation.

Casey:

I think that we forget that we are also consumers. If we are not spending our money on something, that means we don't believe in it. Why do we expect other people, or how do we expect other people to do that?

Beth:

I think that's great.

Casey:

I think that comes back to leading by example, and the greatest lesson my son is teaching me is exactly that. If we want the best way to influence people is to do it yourself, and prove to people that it's worth it.

Beth:

I love that, I think that's really smart.

Zach:

This is awesome.

Beth:

Yeah, smart. I love it.

Zach:

Casey, for our listeners out there, what's the best way for them to connect with you? I know you mentioned your YouTube, and we'll make sure we link to all this. But, what's the best way for them to reach out?

Casey:

Yeah, probably just through our website, if you go to theconsciousbuilder.com. We're basically everywhere, if you Google the Conscious Builder, we should pop up. Through our website, you'll find a link to our YouTube, to our podcast, you can contact us through the website or email our general inbox there. My inbox gets full so send it there, and then I get a message from my team. Obviously, you can message through Instagram, and Facebook, and all the stuff that we do there. We do have Ceilidh, who's running all that for us, so they're not posts being done by myself. But, anything that's technical questions that come through there, I answer those, those are all being written by myself. Sometimes I'm a little bit late, but I try to get to them.

Zach:

Awesome. Well, this has been great, Casey, thank you so much for coming on the show. And if you want more great content like this, go to venveo.com/podcast. Until next time, I'm Zach Williams alongside Beth Pop-Nikolov. Thanks everybody.

Show Notes

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