11. Sprinkle Smarter
Lawns are sponges. In a dry month they can absorb three or four gallons of water per square foot. To keep yours from using more than is necessary, adjust the sprinkler heads so that they hit nothing but lawn, and water only in the early morning or at night, when evaporation is slower. The Family of Southern California Water Agencies‘ Web site can help calculate how long to run them. Then buy a sprinkler controller that automatically adjusts to changes in the weather—which ensures that your grass will get water only when it needs it—from HydroScape Products (8103 Canoga Ave., Canoga Park, 818-712-0050) or Ewing Irrigation (2327 Federal Ave., West L.A., 310-479-9533).
12. Power Down
Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gases in the country. The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power gets 48 percent of its electricity from dirty-burning coal, and demand for electricity here is growing by an estimated 1 percent per year, thanks to population increases, more homes using air-conditioning, and all those electronic gadgets (that plasma TV you’ve been eyeing can consume more than twice the energy of a standard model). The biggest power drain of all? Your fridge. When you’re in the market for new appliances, look for the Energy Star rating, which means they’re extra efficient. The water and power departments of Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Burbank offer rebates for many, and you can claim a federal income tax credit of up to $300 if you buy an air conditioner with a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of at least 13.5.
13. Return to The Natives
A lot of the plants homeowners choose have no business being in this desert clime. They require huge amounts of water (and time). If you’re sprucing up your garden, put in drought-tolerant plants or, better yet, drought-tolerant native plants. Select the right ones, and you won’t need to amend the soil. You’ll also receive a bonus. “You will see native birds you have never seen before,” says Carmen Wolf, program director at our favorite local source for natives, the Theodore Payne Native Plant Nursery (10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley, 818-768-1802). The staff can provide the names of landscape architects and designers who specialize in Xeriscape, the term for gardens with minimal water needs.
14. Rethink Your Floor
When it’s time to refloor, think twice about using oak. It takes a long time for those trees to grow. Bamboo is a sustainable alternative, since the plant regrows in about three years after being harvested. Brenden McEneaney, manager of Livingreen (10000 Culver Blvd., Culver City, 310-838-8442), an eco-conscious home and design store, is particularly keen on cork. “It’s resilient, durable, and warm, and there are lots of different looks and styles,” he says. Harvesting it doesn’t kill trees, either, since it comes from the bark of the cork oak and regrows. Other nonwood options include tiles made from recycled rubber and flooring made from a combination of aggregate from quarrying and fly ash, a waste product of power plants. If only traditional wood will do, make sure it bears the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label, which indicates that it is grown and harvested responsibly.
15. Change Your Commute
Hear us out. Skipping your auto commute merely one day a week will reduce your CO2 emissions by an average of 800 pounds a year. Californians recently voted to issue $20 billion in bonds to get you around the city without your car. If you’re dead set against taking mass transit, try L.A.’s Rideshare program, which helps employees of participating companies locate car pool partners. You might qualify for gift cards from Target and other stores. If you’re an occasional driver, you could give up your car altogether: The Flexcar auto-sharing program has more than 25 low-emission vehicles ready for members to pick up from locations throughout the city. Unlimited mileage, gas, and insurance are included in the rate of $10 per hour.