Designing Eco-Friendly Homes: An Interview with Activist and Actor Ed Begley, Jr.

Environmental activist and actor Ed Begley, Jr. talks to Log Home Design about eco-friendly home designs.

by: Leah Kerkman | Log Home Design

Ed Begley Jr., environmental activist and actor Why is eco-friendly home design so important?
It’s building smart for the future and acknowledging that we’re all in it for the long haul. I started making green choices in 1970 when I was a struggling actor and on a very modest budget. I didn’t expect to start saving money right away, but I knew I was making a good decision. It’s the best choice you’re going to make—for yourself, your children, our environment and our financial well-being.

And guess what? The price of energy? Call me a psychic—it’s going to go up. But if you build right, it’s not only good for the environment, but it’s good for your bottom line. That’s what I’ve found in every green decision I’ve made. Some of it was a longer payback; some of it was really quick.

What sort of materials and systems does MyGreenCottage use?
They use sustainable materials: All of the lumber is FSC [Forest Stewardship Certified]-certified and they build with the highest insulation possible given the particular design you’re going for. And you’re not just restricted to one kind of green spaceship design or something. They’ll build adobe cottages, Victorian homes, California-style homes—they’ll do it all. You’re not limited to something that’s just environmentally sound but won’t work within the aesthetics of your region. You have options.

They also consider all decisions to get the highest LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] rating, so they’re going to try and use local materials; they’ll include the most solar that’s possible; and they’re going to get the highest Energy Star rating on the heating and air unit. Everything that you can do to make it a greener house.

Were you surprised to find that building with logs is environmentally friendly?
I have to admit, I was very surprised when I looked at the web site and saw the log option. I went, “Wow, how does this qualify as green?” But it’s all FSC-certified lumber. And we’re not talking about whole logs. They use sections of a log with insulated, sustainable materials on the inside.

What are some green design elements that are used in these homes?
Passive solar. They’re going to look at your land and determine the best way to site your home. They want to know what the trees are like around there; they want to know the latitude and longitude. You’re going to get the greenest home with the best passive solar, with the best design in every way. They’re going to look at it all holistically and consider everything to help you make the best decisions.

Most people think of solar panels and living “off the grid” when it comes to green homes. But what’s the new face of environmentally friendly housing?
I think the new hierarchy for most people is working within a budget and starting on your design by picking the low-hanging fruits first—the stuff that’s going to get you the most bang for your buck. Let’s start there. Let’s all agree that the most energy-efficient lighting is going to get you a lot of bang for your buck. Installation is going to do the same; a smart thermostat; passive solar design. It’s really just pennies on the dollar for what you’re going to get back in a few scant years from just a south-facing overhang that’s going to let that winter sun come in as you get close to the winter solstice and during the summer months it’s going to keep the sun out. And you’ve got a natural way to heating when you need it and cooling when you need it.

You start with all of that stuff. And then you go and include the bigger ticket items if they’re appropriate, like the solar electric and solar hot-water heating. And we’re so lucky nowadays. We’ve got so many choices for heating and air conditioning, for appliances that are Energy Star rated. A few years ago, we didn’t have those. There was one or two good Energy Star rated refrigerators. Now you have a wide array of options and wonderful brands to choose from.

Aside from energy efficiency, what are some other elements to include in a green home?
There’s so much to consider. There’s passive solar design. There are all of the appliances. There are the materials you use. And getting as much stuff locally as you can is important, too. If there are materials like rock that you can get locally, incorporate that into the design of the house or the design of the garden. You can get extra LEED points for the things you can find locally.

It’s also a good idea to use low-VOC materials and the least toxic stuff in your home with the least amount of off-gassing. You know most people think that the hazardous waste sites in the their neighborhood is the most dangerous place, but the worst hazardous waste site in not always just near your home, it’s IN your home: it’s under the sink, it’s in the carpet material and the flooring material. Avoid all of those things and look for materials that are the most environmentally sensitive.