MR. CLEAN LET ED BEGLEY JR. SHOW YOU HOW TO LIVE THE GREEN WAY.
FOR AN ACTOR whose list of credits on screen, stage and TV - especially TV - seems to be a mile long, Ed Begley Jr. sure is green.
And he's OK with that label. He even likes it.
Begley, best known as surgical resident and surfer dude Victor Ehrlich on ``St. Elsewhere'' and this weekend starring in ``Life on Liberty Street'' on the Hallmark Channel, has been active in the environmental movement since the first Earth Day in 1970.
``It started with recycling, it started with driving an electric car, it started with composting and buying all biodegradable soaps and everything,'' he said. ``But it was much more than that. I'd been a Boy Scout, and so I had a certain reverence for the land and nature.
``The No. 1 reason for why I did all this: Growing up in smoggy L.A., specifically the smoggy San Fernando Valley. I'd just had enough by 1970.''
Begley, son of a popular film and TV actor, was born in Los Angeles and spent his childhood summers here while his home base was Long Island, N.Y.
``We came out here every summer in the '50s and '60s, and it was just choking, horrible smog,'' he recalled. ``It never got better - it only got worse and worse.''
Begley, now 54, still makes his home in the San Fernando Valley, dividing his time and energy between his livelihood and his efforts, small and grand, to do right by his planet. Last week he received an inaugural Artivist Award for his dual career as both an artist and activist.
He not only talks the talk, with a depth of knowledge about power grids and volatile organic compounds, he also walks the walk - literally.
If he needs a manageable quantity of groceries or desires a fussy cup of coffee, he takes a short hike from his Studio City home to Ventura Boulevard. He can hop his bike to a job at Universal Studios or CBS' Radford lot, or he can grab a city bus or the Metro Red Line for farther destinations. Next fall he'll be able to walk his daughter, Hayden, to school for her first day of kindergarten.
To a visitor the house appears, well, normal from the street. Then one reaches for the gate in the picket fence. Look, Ma, no splinters! It's made from recycled plastic milk jugs. The front yard is a rustic garden and orchard whose bounty includes Anna apples, figs, artichokes, rosemary and - this is the Valley - lemons.
Green house effect
Begley is happy to talk about his home's eco-friendly features. And he offers suggestions to get others on board, not with arm-twisting, guilt trips or unbending militancy, but with a genuine gusto that comes from a rewarding personal experience.
``What I urge everybody to do, and this certainly affects middle- and low-income people: Pick the low-hanging fruit first,'' he said. ``You get a lot of personal satisfaction, you have a big impact on the environment, and it's good for your pocketbook.
``By the low-hanging fruit, I mean buy compact fluorescent bulbs. You can get six of them for 12 bucks at Costco now. Get an energy-saving thermostat. They're 100 bucks, and they're very easy to install yourself actually.''
And, budget-conscious readers, he has done the math for you.
``In much less than a year, you're going to be in a profit on that light bulb you spent $2 on instead of $1 for regular incandescent,'' he said. ``I've got bulbs in the other room that are still burning from the '80s. I've named them.''
In his garage is a solar water heater, which is set at a toasty 129 degrees. And on the backyard side of his roof are the photovoltaic panels that convert sunshine to energy banked in batteries.
Begley recommends a net-metering solar energy setup, which costs about $10,000 after state and local rebates. During the sunny hours, solar panels cause the electric meter to run backward, essentially crediting that negative usage to the homeowner's Department of Water and Power account. In the evening, the meter runs forward on DWP kilowatts, charged at the cheaper off-peak rate. The utility bills for the net kilowatts used.
Another option: ``You check a little box on your DWP bill: 'I want the Green Power for a Green L.A. program,' '' he said. ``They're going to buy new power out in the marketplace that comes from solar, wind or geothermal, and they're not going to buy coal or nuclear with the money you put into it.
``It's going to make green power programs cheaper over the long run, and it's just going to be a wonderful end to the sort of stalemate over the chicken and the egg: We can't have more solar because it's so expensive. Why is it so expensive? Because so few people do it.''
When he was single, his electric bill ran about $100 a year. Now with Hayden and wife Rachelle Carson (he has two grown children as well), it's a few hundred dollars a year, all of it Green Power because he requested it and was willing to pay a slightly higher rate for it.
``People ultimately don't care how you do it, they just want a cold beverage in the fridge and a warm place to sit and have dinner. And if you can do it efficiently, if you can have a super efficient heating and cooling system, if you can do it through good insulation and incentive programs to do so, people are fine with that.''
When he isn't on foot, bike, bus or subway, Begley gets around in his all-electric Toyota RAV4, which has a range of 80 miles, enough for two round trips to LAX with juice left over. For longer road trips, he trades cars with Rachelle. Last week he drove to Phoenix for a shoot in her Toyota Prius hybrid and got over 58 miles per gallon.
``$12 to Phoenix, $12 back. Now you can't buy a Greyhound ticket to Phoenix for $12,'' he said. ``Forget the environment - it's cheap.''
He makes use of some simple tools, such as the solar oven in his back yard that heats up to 375 degrees by focusing rays with the same type of reflective panels George Hamilton might use to even out his tan. But Begley admits he enjoys modern conveniences as much as the next guy. When Hayden was an infant, he considered the landfill issue and water usage in arid Southern California when weighing cloth versus disposable diapers. He wasn't crazy about adding so much plastic to the landfills, but they used disposables anyway.
``Let's be clear: Rachelle wasn't going to do the cloth,'' he said. `` 'No way in hell,' I think were the words.''
As long as he's been at it, Begley still finds improvements he can make to save energy or cut waste. This spring he replaced his old wood picket fence with the one made of recycled plastics. It's pricier than wood or vinyl, but Begley sees it as a solid investment. For more information, go to www.ecoproducts.com.
``You never have to paint it. No termites ever,'' he said. ``The fence that was here was from the '70s. This fence could be here for my grandchildren. I can't imagine what would ever happen to this fence.''
Although he installed attic insulation when he moved in years ago, he still was frustrated by the drafty feel of the house.
``This is a challenge, to take a 1936 house and do a retrofit to make it energy efficient. Good luck, because there's cracks all over,'' he said. ``Even with my solar and efficient everything, I was using more natural gas in the winter than I had hoped and taxing the solar electric system in the summer with cooling.
``And finally I drilled into one of the walls - there's no insulation! none! Not a little, not poor insulation, none! People moved here years ago from Cincinnati or wherever and thought, well, it doesn't get cold here like it does back East. Yeah, but it gets hot! A Thermos works both ways.''
So he recently had insulation blown into the walls and realized another benefit - it makes a nice barrier against street noise. If that's not a viable option, he suggests deciduous trees near the house for roof shade and wall-hugging creeping fig or ivy on heat-radiating stucco.
For Begley, it's easy being green.
Valerie Kuklenski, (818) 713-3750
(1 -- cover -- color) ON THE COVER: Ed Begley Jr.'s white picket fence is made from recycled plastic milk jugs.
(2 -- 4 -- color) Clockwise from above, Ed Begley Jr. charges his all-electric Toyota RAV4; solar panels on the roof help to dramatically lower his electric bill; and homemade compost nourishes his garden.
Charlotte Schmid-Maybach/Staff Photographer