25 Ways to Go Green Without Going Insane


16. Reduce Runoff
Each day in Los Angeles 100 million gallons of polluted urban runoff enter the ocean, according to the city’s sanitation department. To reduce your contribution, start by adjusting your sprinklers (see step 11). Don’t wash your car on the street or your concrete driveway, where the water (and soap and grime that was on your car) ends up in the sewer. Wash it on the lawn, or let the pros do it at the car wash, where the water must be treated before entering the sewer. If your rain gutter downspouts drain onto concrete, redirect them to your garden. If you’re ready to redo your driveway, earn your wings by installing something permeable, such as interlocking pavers or pervious concrete, which has a more textured look than the traditional kind. About 15 to 20 percent of it is air, so water flows right through. To find a contractor certified to work with pervious concrete, contact the California Nevada Cement Promotion Council (714-694-0800).

17. Clean Your Wheels
A typical car spews 19 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere with every gallon of gas it uses. Then there’s the smog that car exhaust creates, which is linked to asthma, heart disease, and as many as 9,000 deaths per year in California. Can’t swing a hybrid? Simply taking care of your car (keeping the tires properly inflated, making sure the air filter is clean, getting regular tune-ups) will improve mileage and reduce emissions. Or buy a used diesel and take it to Lovecraft Biofuels (4000 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-644-9072), where the engine can be tweaked to run on both biodiesel—which is made from modified plant oil, a renewable resource, and produces far fewer pollutants than regular diesel—and on plain old vegetable oil, which burns even cleaner.

18. Till the Lawn
Upgrading your sprinklers is a start. Here’s a more radical suggestion: Do away with your lawn altogether. “You can replace turf with just about any plant or shrub and cut water use by two-thirds,” says Lynn Lipinski of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Lawns also tend to be doused with herbicides that can be harmful to your health end dusted with fertilizer that winds up nourishing deadly algae blooms once it reaches the sea. A better option: native ornamental grasses and sedges, which are low maintenance and provide beautiful texture. Some even deliver a similar look and feel of conventional lawns. The best selection is at Greenlee Nursery (257 E. Franklin Ave., Pomona, 909-629-9045). After all, owner John Greenlee did write The Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses.

19. Buy Renewable Energy
The business of green energy is just emerging. To spur growth in that segment of the power grid and to shrink your carbon profile, you can pay a small premium—about $3—on your LADWP bill to purchase energy from wind, solar, biomass, hydroelectric, and geothermal sources. The energy you buy doesn’t go directly to your home; rather the agency will derive that much less juice from traditional sources. Pasadena Water & Power, which gets its renewable energy from wind turbines, has an option to offset your total electricity consumption for about $12.50 extra a month.

20. Heat Less Water
Water heaters gobble up energy to make your shower toasty. They also have a habit of wasting energy by letting heat escape. (A telltale sign: Your heater is warm to the touch.) Insulating the thing with a water heater jacket—most hardware stores carry them—can reduce such heat loss by 25 to 45 percent and shrink your water heating bill as much as 9 percent. However, if your model is more than ten years old, you’re better off replacing it and grabbing a rebate from Southern California Gas Company. For ultimate efficiency, get a tankless system. El Segundo-based plumber Ken Ballentine, who specializes in tankless water heaters, says that hardware and installation will cost between $1,800 and $3,800. But the comparatively tiny units heat water on demand, so you’re not keeping a huge tank of water hot at 3 a.m. for naught, and you can expect to trim your gas bill by as much as half.