Ed Begley, Jr. is a six-time Emmy-nominated actor most famous for his role as Dr. Victor Ehrlich on NBC’s long-running drama St. Elsewhere from 1982 to
1988, but ask anyone about him and they’ll most likely identify him as “that green guy” or “that guy who always talks about solar panels” or “the guy who drives an electric car.”
Since 1970, Begley has been making green and energy-efficient improvements to his home to help reduce his role in the California smog and encouraging others to do the same.
Today, thanks to a greater awareness of environmental issues, the man who was once looked at as someone whose ideas and lifestyle were too far out there is now known as the green expert that others turn to for guidance.
“I had no idea I would be known as the Green Guy or that it would turn out at all like this,” says Begley. “Back then, I would hear things like, ‘Yeah, we hear ya, Ed. Electric cars are good. Now leave me alone.’ I was just trying to do what I could to feel better about my role in the smog.”
Begley’s father was responsible for introducing him to environmentalism as a young child. “My dad never used the word environmentalist yet he was one,” Begley recalls. “He turned off water, [saved] string and tinfoil, loved the
outdoors and got me into scouting. He also told me ‘never tell people what you’re going to do. Tell them what you’ve done.’ ”
So in the 1970s, when Begley’s acting career was just getting underway (look for him on old episodes of Laverne & Shirley, MASH, 3rd Rock from the Sun and more) but his bank account was sparse, he began putting his environmental beliefs into action. “I had to do stuff on a very strict budget and it proved to be good for my bottom line,” he says.
Then when Begley wanted to do something about the serious California smog problems, his dad taught him how to take a stand. “He asked me, ‘I know what you’re against, Eddie, but what are you for?’ I knew I was for having an electric car so I bought one,” Begley recalls. “It was cheaper to fuel and service than a regular car, and I did my part to help the smog issue. All the other stuff—recycling, growing fruits and vegetables, composting—are also all very inexpensive to do.”
In 1979, Begley purchased what he called a ‘tiny home’ in Los Angeles with his first wife, Ingrid Begley, and planted a vegetable garden to teach his two young children, Amanda and Nicholas, where food really comes from. He moved to Ojai, California, in 1984 and with more property, he planted more food and added a solar hot water system. In 1988, he moved to the moderate
1936, 1,700-square-foot home where he now resides with his second wife, Rachelle Carson Begley, and his daughter, Hayden Carson Begley. He started a green conversion from scratch in this home, adding compact fluorescent bulbs, an energy-saving thermostat, double-pane windows, insulation and more. With the money he saved from those changes, he added solar electric in the 1990s and then a wind power turbine.
Begley Learns Something New
One might think that Begley couldn’t install any more energy-saving measures into his home or learn anything more, but it took one eye-opening, jaw-dropping home energy assessment to show Begley that he missed something big.
“There are new tools, such as an infrared camera and a blower door, to do a home energy audit, but I thought I’ve done it all already—what are you going to find?” says Begley. “When they were done they said I did ‘pretty good’ and I said, ‘I did great, didn’t I?’ But they told me that the good news was that I had a lot of solar to offset the huge losses that I had. Huge losses?!”
The experts showed Begley that there was a diagonal piece of wood in the wall when the insulation was put in that left a huge gap and allowed air to escape. An air duct had also loosened from the wall, leaving another air escape hatch. But the worst culprit in Begley’s home was an overhang leading down to the basement that prevented light and water from entering but acted like a flue, pulling air out of the home. Begley repaired the problems and is proud of his accomplishments.
“The lesson I walked away from [the energy audit] is that there’s always something you can do with today’s tools and technology,” he says. “As it stands right now, I’m only going to use $600 worth of electricity this year and with another improvement on the solar panels [which is planned for the next couple of years], it will come down to $100 to $200 per year.”
Begley is also looking at recycling rainwater and graywater (water that flows down the sink after the dishes have been washed or a shower taken) to help conserve water.
What he learns in his personal life he wants to teach to others. To that end, in 2007, he and his wife began starring in their own reality television series, Living with Ed, on HGTV, where he teaches fellow celebs, including Cheryl Tiegs, Jay Leno, Larry Hagman, Seth Green and Helen Hunt, how to green their lives and their homes. He has also written Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life (Clarkson Potter) and is the spokesperson for the green design/build company MyGreenCottage.com.
Ed’s most important advice: Start small with anything you can afford and work up from there.
“Now, more than ever, we have to do this,” he advises. “If we have a healthy environment, we have a healthy economy. Everybody should do things for their long-term prosperity that they can afford.”
When he’s not working on environmental issues, Ed still has a hectic acting career. He appeared in The Accidental Tourist, Pineapple Express, A Mighty Wind, Best In Show and For Your Consideration. He’s had recurring roles in the television shows Six Feet Under, Arrested Development and Gary Unmarried.
Of course he wants you to see him on television and in films, but if you call him “The Green Guy” or “The Guy in the Electric Car,” he really is okay with it. It means you’re paying attention.
Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac