Ed Begley Jr.’s Hidden Gems

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The actor shows Bluedot Living the secrets of his green home.

Ed Begley Jr., the beloved actor and environmental activist, is explaining, indirectly, the importance of being flexible in his relationship to his wife, Rachelle, with whom he always seems to be playfully sparring.

“First of all, when we started dating I vowed I’d never get married. Next I vowed I’d never have another kid. I had two kids [from his previous marriage]. Zero population growth. And she argued three people, three children is still zero growth. I went, ‘Okay.’ So we had a child.”

But when it came to his beloved house, Ed was more firm. “This one you will never win on: I will definitely, definitely never move. And she just wore me down.” His old house was small and noisy. “She finally wore me down, we moved. And of course I’m elated with my daughter, I’m very happy that we’re married, and I think I like the house more than her even. It’s fantastic. I never, ever wanted to move. I was in that house twenty-six years. But now I’m in this place and it’s just fantastic.”

Touring What You Can and Can’t See

He’s not lying. Built to the couple’s exacting specs from 2013 to 2016, the house is fantastic: large, comfortable, and tastefully decorated (an Ed Ruscha hangs on the wall, the artist an old friend of Ed), on a leafy Studio City street. But it’s not lavish. And the truly fantastic stuff is everything you might not see. Solar panels (both photovoltaic and for hot water) on the roof and a battery bank on the garage, of course. But also a gray-water system and an underground 10,000-gallon rainwater cistern to irrigate the yard, both food plants in the garden and native, drought-tolerant landscaping. A steel frame within hyper-insulated twelve-inch thick walls. Recycled plastic fencing. Double-paned windows. Quartz countertops. Energy Star appliances. Smart thermostat. Dimmable LED lighting. On-demand hot water. Reclaimed wood floors (“You can tell that it’s reclaimed. You see these little gaps, that for me is not a bug, it’s a feature. It proves to people it’s not just regular wood you get at Home Depot. It has character to it.”). Tile with post-consumer recycled content. Two Teslas and an e-bike in the garage (Ed is a famous proponent of electric cars).

It all adds up to a LEED Platinum certified home. “It really all began with closet space,” he recalls. They found a house that had the requisite storage, but it wasn’t up to their sustainable standards. “Our intention was to do a remodel,” Ed says and points to a massive shade tree dominating the rear yard, “but because of this beautiful old oak tree, the solar panels would have only gotten photons half the year. So I realized we’d have to move up to a second story.” The old frame wouldn’t support a second story. “So we had to do a total teardown to a vacant lot.”

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Ed is thankful for that tree. “It was a good thing that we couldn’t [remodel],” Ed says. “The tree saved us in many ways. By just being a tree and putting out oxygen and taking in CO2, it did us a favor. Retaining groundwater, it did us a favor. And then the idea of getting me to move to this place, it’s a bigger house but it’s less energy bills, because it’s all LEED Platinum. … It’s super, super efficient. So she gets all her stuff that she wants, French Mediterranean design, she gets all of that. And I get to have all the stuff hidden in the walls that nobody ever sees.”

Surprises in Efficiency

As Ed continues his tour of the wonders hidden in the walls, what impresses most about the house is that everything was thought through. For example, most houses have a lag time between turning the handle and the water being hot, resulting in wasted water. In Ed’s house, a sensor knows when you walk into the kitchen or a bathroom and activates a small pump that begins sending hot water to the faucet so it’s ready when you are, without the waste.

Perhaps the cleverest detail is the pool heating system. They sited the pool to get plenty of sun, but Rachelle wanted it warmer and didn’t want to see solar panels in the yard. Ed noted the roof was already packed. “Go up with me if you think I’m lying, there’s no room on the roof,” he recalls telling Rachelle. The solution was black tubing installed on the back of the photovoltaic panels on the roof: A small, efficient pump sends pool water up and through the tubing, heating the water and cooling the panels, making them more efficient. “That’s the two-fer you get; [PV panels] lose fifteen percent of their efficiency when they get hot. Now you’re keeping that efficient panel going, and you’re getting free hot water.” Ed happily, “The pool is ninety-three degrees, all from the sun.” 

house with pool
The Begley’s back yard, with vegetable garden watered with saved rain water, and pool at 93 degrees for free. – Photo by Sonya Isenberg

While all these green features may sound extravagant, Ed and Rachelle emphasize the frugality of it, despite sometimes high upfront costs. The “running costs” of a house like theirs is much lower in the long run. “Good for the environment, good for my pocketbook. Just the way I like it,” Ed says.

On building a green house and lifestyle, Ed points out that there are money-saving sustainable and money-saving strategies for every budget. “You can do it on my budget, which is a good number, it’s a nice budget to work with. You can do it the way I did it my whole young life when I had very little money. I did the cheap and easy stuff first, and I put my money back into my pocket every month as a broke and struggling actor.”

Visit Begley Living for more of Ed and his family’s “inspiration for a sustainable lifestyle.” He even has a line of eco-friendly cleaning products (on Amazon), including for pets.

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Jim Miller
Jim Miller
Jim Miller, co-editor of Bluedot San Diego and Bluedot Santa Barbara, has been an environmental economist for over 25 years, in the private sector, academia, and the public service. He enjoys sharing his knowledge through freelance writing, and has been published in The Washington Post and Martha’s Vineyard magazine. He’s always loved nature and the outdoors, especially while on a bicycle.
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