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Sustainability: The New Luxury with Renovation Angel

Saving money while saving the planet…Sound too good to be true? Not according to Renovation Angel, the nonprofit known for salvaging luxury kitchens and their contents since 2005. Each year Renovation Angel donations prevent 52 million pounds of perfectly good kitchen cabinets and appliances from landfills. How many times have you seen a high-end kitchen replaced because it didn’t meet the homeowner’s design goals? For pros who don’t know, high-end kitchens — appliances and all — can be recycled, yielding tax deductions for your clients. 

Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Renovation Angel, Michael Foti, joins us to discuss sustainability’s role in the world of appliances and kitchen design. Tune in to discover how high-end homeowners, designers and remodelers angling for the next big thing can also take advantage of a unique opportunity to avoid excess waste and give their used goods new life.

This episode of Ask the Appliance Experts is supported by Miele. Discover the full suite of Miele appliances at ajmadison.com/brands/miele-appliances/

[00:00:00] Amy Chernoff: Welcome to the Appliance Experts, a new podcast from AJ Madison Pro that tackles the ins and outs of appliances, making an often confusing and really technical topic, approachable and dare we say, even fun. I’m Amy Chernoff, VP of Marketing here at AJ Madison.  

[00:00:18] Jessica Petrino-Ball: And I’m Jessica Petrino-Ball Editorial Director at AJ Madison. We are the brands in-house experts and we’re on tap to interview installers, builders, renovation pros, and other leaders in the field on all things appliances. 

[00:00:35] Amy Chernoff: Jess, have you ever heard of Renovation Angel? 

[00:00:38] Jessica Petrino-Ball: I have, but I think for a lot of our listeners know, Renovation Angel might be of a new idea. 

[00:00:44] Amy Chernoff: It’s such a brilliant concept. There are thousands of homeowners nationwide that for whatever reason or another, they don’t like their kitchen anymore and they really wanna renovate, [00:01:00] but the cabinets are in perfect shape. The countertops are gorgeous, so Renovation Angel is going into these homes and reclaiming the cabinets, the countertops, even the appliances. Saving them from the landfill and really making them available, to other homeowners to potentially repurpose them so they have a second life. 

The original homeowner that’s remodeling their kitchen gets a huge tax deduction for the value of the kitchen and the secondary homeowner that might be purchasing the gently used kitchen at a fraction of the cost.  

[00:01:39] Jessica Petrino-Ball: How many times have we heard, “how can we make this project less expensive”? 

[00:01:44] Amy Chernoff: I think luxury appliances there are never any discounts on luxury appliances, that’s just the nature of it.You may be able to save a small amount of money with a rebate or something like that, but this is a game changer. 

I think if you have an opportunity [00:02:00] to save money and save the planet Renovation Angel is a great way to do it. It’s a win-win-win all the way around. 

[00:02:07] Our guests today, Michael Foti he’s Vice President of Strategic Partnerships with Renovation Angel. Mike and I go way back. We’ve worked together for many years while he was at the Miele Corporation,  

and we’re super excited to hear his thoughts about how the industry at large can be transformed with a reduced, recycle, repurposed mission. 

So let’s go. Let’s talk sustainability with Michael Foti. 

[00:02:37] Jessica Petrino-Ball: Hey Michael, welcome to the show. 

[00:02:40] Michael Foti: Thank you so much, I’m so happy to be here.   

[00:02:57] Jessica Petrino-Ball: So sustainability, its been such a hot topic in the home improvement space. And we’re really excited to have you talking about your experience and your work with Renovation Angel as well. Why do you think sustainability is a [00:03:00] priority for kitchen remodeling professionals and for their clients?  

Michael Foti: I think it’s so important because a lot of what we do in the renovation remodel space it’s wants, it’s not like it’s a tremendous need in a lot of cases. 

So we wanna have something new, we wanna have something fresh and we wanna enjoy beautiful spaces, but we know that inherently bringing in new product and traditionally discarding the old is a wasteful process. So is there a better way of us introducing new, wonderful things into our spaces and do something responsible with what already exists? 

Amy Chernoff: Mike, do you think more people are concerned about sustainability at large, as they’re thinking about their homes and maybe new projects, or do you feel that, this is something that you’re introducing to the market that is really, innovative and gets people thinking about sustainability in a different way.  

Michael Foti: I think both, [00:04:00] I think we’re at the perfect kind of crest moment where, because Renovation Angel has been in the luxury kitchen, recycling business for 20 years. We really introduced this concept, this idea, but now culturally it’s such a part of our everyday psyche and we see sustainability spoken about and referenced across nearly every industry. People in every space are trying to figure out ways that their organization, that they themselves can be more sustainable, whether it’s through a recycling program, reuse, sourcing, different materials, and people are doing really interesting things. Like I, I think about the fashion industry, they lead in so many different ways. 

[00:04:42] Michael Foti: How many different companies are making clothing out bottles of water that were found in the oceans? Like that that’s super cool.   

[00:04:51] Amy Chernoff: That’s so amazing, isn’t it? Yeah. So Michael, for those, listeners that don’t know what Renovation Angel is, what is it, how does it work?  

[00:04:59] Michael Foti: [00:05:00] Essentially when someone is renovating a luxury space, the idea is they don’t need to discard what is there, if it can be carefully removed and repurposed by someone else. 

Amy Chernoff: Talking kitchen specifically. 

Michael Foti: Yeah, kitchen specifically and at that early stage, even up to the point of when the person is initially specifying the new products, we’re a solution for what should happen with the older goods, the things that are still in good condition still have desirability were built well and can exist in someone else’s home for the long haul.   

[00:05:32] Amy Chernoff: So what are examples of that? Like what kinds of materials? 

[00:05:37] Michael Foti: We will remove an entire kitchen. So, that includes the kitchen cabinets, the countertops, the appliances, the fixtures. We’ll do a very careful extraction of that entire space. It’s not just a sustainable practice to remove a kitchen and have it reuse someplace else, but it’s a financially savvy solution as well because [00:06:00] the person who is donating this kitchen area is donating an asset that has an appraised value to it. Someone choosing to be more responsible with the material that comes out of their home can see savings of $10,000 to $50,000 by working with Renovation Angel on their, removal and, repurpose plan.  

[00:06:21] Jessica Petrino: People often have this idea that it’s going to be too expensive or they don’t know where to begin, or it’s gonna be too cumbersome or difficult to be able to do it the right way. So what steps can design professionals and remodelers take to really make their projects more sustainable. 

Michael Foti: I think what’s happened over the years is we went from, sourcing materials that we knew would last. How many examples do we have of someone’s grandmother having a refrigerator for 40 years. And then we turned into this really churn and burn, lower cost products. 

[00:06:59] Michael Foti: [00:07:00] And I think that’s more expensive than choosing to put in quality from the onset that has additional sustainable features to it. If a dishwasher is using less water in its cycle then, over time that dishwasher is gonna save the cost of water and electric. But I think an even bigger cost is if that product was built to last using quality materials. 

It doesn’t need to be replaced every few years. So you’re making more of an investment upfront that should pay returns, over time. To make the same analogy to the clothing industry, you invest in a quality piece of clothing that’s timeless and you really get a lot of enjoyment out of you’ll end up having that piece and wearing it over time versus something that’s super trendy. 

It’s in one second and it’s out the next and then that just gets discarded.   

Jessica Petrino: Basically, we’re trying to work against the idea of fast fashion kitchens here.  

Michael Foti: It’s a good [00:08:00] way of saying it. Absolutely.   

[00:08:01] Amy Chernoff: Yeah. gone are the days of cheap and cheerful, right? I think, there are ways to include more fashionable items into your kitchen. Maybe through drawer pulls or handles or something that you might wanna update, more frequently as styles change, but you’re going into luxury kitchens and you’re extracting those carefully so that all the materials are maintain their integrity and can be reinstalled in another kitchen. 

So what I think is so brilliant about Renovation Angel is that it catches it on both sides, right? It keeps that luxury, kitchen, that’s in really good shape out of the landfill but it also provides high quality materials that are available, you know, in a secondary market to go into someone else’s home. 

[00:08:43] Michael Foti: That’s right. Yeah. And we’re not talking about something of insignificance either. The average kitchen is 7,000 pounds and without a partner like Renovation Angel, to be able to find a productive way of reutilizing that material, there’s a [00:09:00] hundred thousand luxury kitchens that are thrown away annually.  

You can do the math, you keep throwing away kitchens average poundage 7,000, where is all of this stuff going to go at a certain point and why isn’t it being, upcycled in some way, Like the car industry they have it down, you go to buy a new car. There’s something productive that happens with that old car. It becomes part of the entire deal, the negotiation and that car doesn’t get immediately destroyed. It goes on to have a second life either as it stands currently, or it’s broken down for parts or it’s just stripped of its commodities. 

[00:09:38] Amy Chernoff: Are there other benefits to the homeowner, for donating their kitchen? Keeping it out of the landfill is obviously a very positive benefit of the program. But what else?  

[00:09:48] Michael Foti: Yeah, It’s so interesting because you buy a home and arguably a significant amount of the value in the home lives in the heart of the kitchen and how many people purchase a home [00:10:00] and it’s like, oh, I, you know, I love this house, but this kitchen is not for me. That kitchen could have just been put in by the builder themselves, but now the homeowner wants to put their own mark on that space. 

So really they have an asset that has a value there and we have a process and a program where the person can see that value by way of the kitchen being inspected and connected with an independent third party appraisal to put an appraised value on that space. So yeah, they’re getting a free white glove removal of their kitchen, but they’re also donating a real asset and for that there’s a financial tax advantage.   

[00:10:45] Amy Chernoff: That’s amazing. And, are homeowners able to do this all over the country or do you focus your efforts in a particular region or area?  

[00:10:53] Michael Foti: We absolutely do this nationwide. Our organization started in Greenwich, Connecticut. But every [00:11:00] week we have projects that are occurring nationwide. be it South Florida, California, Chicago, a lot of your, wealth centers that, are doing renovations more out of want than perhaps need.  

Amy Chernoff: Is there a thought that the kitchens that are reclaimed in California would stay in California? I think we’re all very concerned about how can we cut our carbon footprint in that way?   

Michael Foti: This is a really interesting one for us because we have this way of purchasing a pre-owned kitchen or even a showroom display. In what we call purchase before removal. So at an inspection, we can collect all the necessary details, condition, notes, pictures, layout, so that someone can make an educated purchasing decision and figure out whether a kitchen that is currently installed in either someone else’s home or in a showroom can be repurposed in their space. 

[00:11:58] Michael Foti: So that gives [00:12:00] us tremendous power where if we know a kitchen is being removed in California in December of 2022, we would target a customer base on the West coast to repurpose that kitchen instead of it needing to come to the east coast and perhaps going right back to the west coast, because that’s where the buyer is. So that is why this is so critical for us to be brought in at the start of the process, because we can do really, innovative things to productively [00:12:33] move someone’s product and get it into the right hands before it takes too many touchpoint and, travels, back and forth across the country, which isn’t efficient and isn’t very sustainable either. 

Amy Chernoff: So how many kitchens do you think, Renovation Angel has reclaimed in its 20 years?  

Michael Foti: We’ve definitely reclaimed and had repurposed over 8,000 kitchens. We’re probably at about 8,300, at this point [00:13:00] and we’ve kept I think, the numbers probably at about 53 million pounds out of the landfill over our 20 year history.  

[00:13:08] Amy Chernoff: Wow. That’s amazing! But with a hundred thousand kitchens a year, luxury kitchens being flipped, potentially. I like it seems like, getting the word out to, designers and builders, and remodelers that this is available, and beneficial to their clients. So how do you do that? How do you go about. 

[00:13:25] Michael Foti: That’s critical. What we need is we need the industry to understand what this is and utilize our program with their client base. The more people that know that this is available to them, the sooner we’ll get to that project and the less likely that project just purely gets thrown away. We’re competing against the time and the status quo where someone’s renovating a space. Everything needs to be cleared out, so that all the new stuff can come in.  

If we know about that [00:14:00] project before that’s taking place, we can likely save it and productively redirect it.  

Jessica Petrino-Ball: Can you talk a little bit about how design professionals can partner and get involved and be an advocate on behalf of their clients to be able to use your service. 

Michael Foti: Absolutely. And, and we’ve seen this with great partners like AJ, Madison, anybody who’s working at the front end of specifying beautiful new materials, to someone or the trade, knowing that this is a real solution for their client. Like you’re 10 steps ahead of the game. That’s why very innovative people within the industry already know and work with us and why this is catching on so rapidly because we’re trying to do more than just sell product. 

We’re trying to offer people solutions to the way that they live their life to their home, to their children, like how they entertain. There’s so many different factors that go [00:15:00] into making decisions about something that goes in into their house. And I think that by being an early adopter of this best practice, this is a real solution for what needs to come out of that area.  

Jessica Petrino-Ball: Have you found in working with the design community that partnering in this way can really help a designer contribute to their brand identity as a sustainable service for their clients?  

Michael Foti: Absolutely, a hundred percent. [00:15:33] Really good designers, really good trade specifiers. They’re trying to think about, what are the attributes of whatever I’m putting into this space that make it a wise choice for me to advise my client on, what material is it made out of? how will it function over time? 

I do think that the person who’s already thinking in that way, benefits by also presenting a recycling solution. But we feel that this should be a part of the [00:16:00] sales process. Just like you trade in your car. There’s a dance at the car dealership of, “Hey, what’s the value of the car that I’m trading in and how do we work that into our current deal?” 

[00:16:09] Jessica Petrino-Ball: And ultimately that consumer surplus can go toward the project in investing in a higher quality appliance package, for example. Perhaps they were looking at one line of product, but they could really upgrade and get into a better package. That’s built to last with better features and better energy efficiency overall. 

Michael Foti: Absolutely. If Renovation Angel is doing a project that homeowner is going to save $10,000 to $50,000. This is crazy statement, but the average luxury kitchen appliance package is probably what, 30, 40 grand? 

Jessica Petrino-Ball: For luxury? Absolutely! 

Michael Foti: So right there, your entire appliance package could be free of charge. If you think about the savings that you’re getting by handling the material in a recycling fashion. 

[00:16:59] Amy Chernoff: I think [00:17:00] the key here is having awareness at the beginning of the planning of the project versus the end, right? A lot of research goes into the materials that will be used in the kitchen and the designer and the builder has a lot of influence around the planning, the space arrangement. and those types of things, thinking about this in the early stages of planning, really makes a difference in whether or not it can be reclaimed. 

Once they bring the dumpster to your driveway and they’ve demoed the kitchen, it’s game over, that’s it? Yeah, Are there any brands that offer, incentives for customers to, utilize Renovation Angel to reclaim their luxury kitchen?  

[00:17:40] Michael Foti: Yes, we’ve definitely seen some adaptation from leading manufacturers, retailers that want to use this as part of their best practice and will offer an incentive for doing so Miele for instance, they introduced, a Miele recycling rebate [00:18:00] program, where if you recycle your kitchen, you save by way of tax reduction. 

Also through a free removal of that space, but they’re also offering a 10% discount on a new Miele appliance package. So they’re recognizing, “Hey, the Miele a customer may have a quality kitchen already in their home”. So let’s make sure that gets diverted in the right way and if the person chooses to do so, let’s offer them an incentive to get into a great new Miele appliance package that they also know will last and benefit that client over the long haul.  

Amy Chernoff: I know there are a lot of local resources where materials can also be, reclaimed and donated. I know we’ve worked very closely with, Habitat for Humanity in many markets, their restore environment, which is, fantastic place to get both new and used, home building materials, especially for DIYers. We’ve also been [00:19:00] repurposing, scratch, and dent refrigerators for community fridge projects, around the country, to help with not only sustainability and keep the refrigerator out of the landfill, but also to provide, mechanism for the community to donate, excess food in their community for, neighborhoods that may have some food insecurity, but do you have any other tips?  

If you’re not sitting in a luxury kitchen or maybe you’ve just purchased a new home, any other thoughts or ideas on how in your local community, you might be able to, recycle or reuse those materials?  

[00:19:33] Michael Foti: I really like this question. And I like the position that we’re in to, to answer this because we’re trying to put ourselves out there as leading the charge, “Hey, here at the, top echelon, here’s what can be done in a space”, but it just opens up a person’s mind to what’s possible.  

So we become that much more thoughtful. In our own space, on our own projects with what can be done. and I hear every single day, [00:20:00] someone gave something to a neighbor, gave something to a friend, removed the kitchen and dropped it off at a habitat restore, decided, “Hey, I don’t actually need to throw this area out. 

I can reuse some of my kitchen cabinets for my garage and store tools in it”. 

[00:20:16] Amy Chernoff: Basement, laundry room, the places where you might wanna have cabinetry. Also, it depends on the quality of the construction of the cabinets themselves or the countertops, for example, you could always put new doors on them also, right?  

Like you could reface them if you’re using them in the laundry room or the basement for storage or the garage, paint them, change the hardware, change the door surfaces. So Jess and I are super, focused on understanding what the industry as a whole is doing around sustainability and products that save natural resources, as well as save money. But I think Renovation Angel has a very unique angle that, you know, we really feel that getting the word out. So more people [00:21:00] are aware of this service. There’s such a benefit, to the homeowner, to the design and build, contractor that’s working on the project and then hopefully the secondary market where you’re able to, pick up, materials at a much lower cost than if you bought them new. 

I think the whole little ecosystem is brilliant.  

[00:21:19] Michael Foti: Yeah. What I like is that we can be friends to everybody and everybody benefits from doing things a better way here.   

Jessica Petrino-Ball: How many times have you heard, A consumer or a builder or designer say, “Hey, how can you help me get this appliance package to be less expensive? How can we make this kitchen less expensive?” As trade professionals, it’s something that comes up all the time. Where of course everyone wants that new, beautiful luxury kitchen, sometimes you know, it’s costly or it can extend beyond one’s budget. 

[00:21:56] Jessica Petrino-Ball: And so I think that tax incentive is super  

[00:22:00] powerful. And for the specifier, for us as appliance professionals and for the design community, just having knowledge of just another tip on how to save is really special.  

[00:22:12] Michael Foti: I think it speaks volume for the person that is introducing this to their client. They’re in the know, they know the industry best practice. They have their clients best interest in mind and they’re thinking about a solution for the space overall. This is a win for everyone. And then on the flip side to this all, there’s a growing group of people in this country, either for price point considerations or even a sustainable reason that they want to reutilize preexisting material into their own home. 

It’s the same person that would never go out and buy the brand new car off the lot. Like they’re always gonna buy a pre-owned car and they maybe can afford that [00:23:00] new car, but there’s a, reason they’re choosing to buy something pre-owned and I think that’s really interesting. And I think that there’s going to be a continued growth in that sector and they’re not really being served.  

Jessica Petrino-Ball: In the home improvement space, especially, in the furniture market. For example, you can always go to Craigslist or Facebook marketplace or there’s there. 

So much activity in that secondhand market. as someone who is an expert in home appliances, in addition to cabinetry and other finishes, what do you think makes a home appliance sustainable?   

Michael Foti: A product should be produced with recyclable material and a product should be built with enough quality that it’s not going to be almost immediately replaced. I came from Miele myself and I know that Miele’s ethos was, they were gonna build and test appliances to withstand 20 years of life. 

[00:23:58] So their design [00:24:00] was timeless. the parts were meant to last. So I think when you come at it from that angle, you’re creating a sustainable appliance because it’s going to exist in the person’s home and delight them for a significant amount of time and that goes beyond just the features that appliance, has within it, such as, you know, low energy use and minimal resources being spent.  

Amy Chernoff: These appliances are big purchases. [00:24:28] Should I have as much consideration as you have for making a new car purchase? Meaning what does the company stand for from a sustainability standpoint in their manufacturing processes? Packaging, all the way down the line. We need to look to the companies that we’re purchasing products from and make sure we really fully understand, where they stand on sustainability and down the entire supply chain. Well, I we need more forward thinking, companies and individuals like yourself, Mike, and Renovation [00:25:00] Angel to help move that forward. the industry, as a whole, know, would benefit from that.  

Michael Foti: I certainly appreciate that.  

[00:25:08] We want to be extremely accessible to the industry and be a real partner and real solution. So, so we’ll put our money where our mouth is. I’ll even put out my, my cell phone number and my email address to call, text, email, wanna save and salvage more kitchens and we want to help the industry on their clients, project. So literally I can be emailed at [email protected] and my mobile is 973-650-7748. I’d love to, to speak to anyone about what we’re doing and, how we might be able to work together.  

[00:25:44] Amy Chernoff: Thank you so much for joining us today. This certainly was very informative  

Michael Foti: You’re the leaders out in the industry and I’m so honored to be able to work on different opportunities and projects together. I love working with you guys.  

[00:25:59] And I think there’s a [00:26:00] lot more that we can do here.  

[00:26:02] Jessica Petrino-Ball: and now for our ask the appliance expert takeaways. 

One, Having a process in place like a renovation angel partnership can help design professionals develop their own sustainable business If recycling the kitchen is a priority, sure to contact renovation angel early in the process before the old kitchen is removed. 

Two, a world where luxury appliances have a fixed price, Partnering with Renovation Angel is a huge potential savings for remodelers. The average donated kitchen gets a tax credit Between 10 and $50,000. It also saves on demolition and removal costs. 

Three, When shopping for new appliances and finishes, look for brands with saving, practices, energy star certification, and products made from high quality Tested to last a long time and  

Four. [00:27:00] To get amazing appliance content guides and the latest trends, go to aj madison.com/learn for more information. 

[00:27:09] Amy Chernoff: Thanks so much for listening.  

AJ Madison is part of the SURROUND podcast network. 

Check out our show notes and discover other architecture and design [email protected] That’s podcasts with an S.  

Catch us next time for a conversation about laundry room design with one of our favorite people, Grace Buly Hunt, home and design editor at Lux Interiors and Design.  

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