Adrian Grenier, the star of HBO’s hit comedy Entourage and this summer’s film adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada, is relaxing in Brooklyn, tossing around phrases like “off the grid” and “r-value,” the term that identifies insulation’s resistance to heat flow. His Prius is parked in Hollywood, but his biggest commitment to environmental conservation is in the heart of Brooklyn, where he’s building a sustainable home. At this moment, he’s the opposite of his Entourage alter ego, Vinny Chase, who’s much more interested in finding off-the-hook parties than off-the-grid energy sources.
“I was brought up to be respectful and appreciative of the things you have,” explains Grenier, 30, who was raised in Brooklyn by his real-estate agent mom, Karesse, who is part Apache Indian. (Karesse, along with Grenier’s stepfather, Robert Sterling, also owns International Harvest, an organic foods business.) “When I was a kid, she gave me a copy of a speech by Chief Seattle — in it, he challenged the white man’s imperialistic idea of ownership, and it made me understand that caring about the earth is about respecting your friends and neighbors and environment. I have gone through stages of apathy and times of complete unhealthy obsession [about environmental issues]. Eventually I came to something of a happy medium.” Still, that happy medium has him pushing the envelope of sustainable design.
The house didn’t start out as a green project, but as a light remodeling of a landmarked building. Grenier and his mother purchased the home together as an investment, with plans to lease the upstairs apartment and create a crash pad-slash-headquarters for the actor’s music and film company, Reckless Productions, on the main level. But when their contractor broke the news that the beams were rotted, and that it would be easier to demolish the house (while propping up its landmarked façade and roof ) than to rehabilitate the crumbling structure, Grenier seized upon the opportunity to go green. He noticed a nearby café powered by solar panels, and resolved to install them on his own roof. And that was just the beginning.
His mother didn’t know whether to beam with pride or caution her son away from the idea, knowing that green building can sometimes drive up construction costs. “I worried it would put him in too much debt,” says Karesse, who managed the renovation while her son filmed Prada and the third season of Entourage. “Even when I told him that one day he might not be able to afford to keep the house, he said, ‘Well, at least if it goes on to the next person, I won’t have compromised the environment.’ I really couldn’t argue with that.”
Finding green materials turned out to be arduous. “Renovating is daunting enough, but adding the additional research and decision-making to create a greener house makes it that much more stressful,” says Grenier. “I’ll be honest — sometimes I wanted to give up and go with the status quo.” Instead, he surfed the Internet in search of ideas, ultimately finding GreenHomeNYC (greenhomenyc.org), a volunteer organization of professional green building consultants that offers advice to New York City tenants and homeowners on greening up their living quarters. With the help of consultant Lauren Gropper, Grenier was able to direct his contractor to eco-friendly materials for practically every application in the house (see below), from the radiant heating system in the floor to reclaimed oak floorboards and non toxic adhesives and paints.
Grenier gets really excited when he starts riffing on the roof. “We’re painting it a light color so it reflects the sun’s heat, which might allow us to use less air conditioning in the summer,” he notes. “Plus, there’s a state rebate for using solar energy, and I’m tied into the grid — so on days when I make more energy than I use from my solar panels, my bill will get credited for the surplus.”
With the project scheduled for completion in fall 2006, Grenier is already composing a wish list for future green improvements. (“I want to plant a roof garden with plants that can absorb rainwater and prevent runoff.”) He’d also like to include a rainwater collection feature that will allow him to use gray water in the house’s toilets. “You have to literally invest in your environment and in our collective future, with your time and your energy, but also with your cash,” says Grenier. “It’s about putting your money where your mouth is.”
Since Grenier’s star has risen with the success of Entourage, it’s natural to wonder what his character would think of his green home. Might Vinny suddenly hop on the increasingly popular Hollywood bandwagon of environmental consciousness? Or will he continue his oblivious ride on the conspicuous consumption cycle? “Look, it’s fun to play a role,” says Grenier. “But if I have my way, in ten years Vinny will drive a Hummer hybrid.”
DECK OUT YOUR DIGS LIKE AN ECO-STAR
Plenty asked Lauren Gropper of GreenHomeNYC to recommend some resources for green buildings and renovations. The group’s website, greenhomenyc.org, offers an interactive “Ask an Expert” column, where consumers can get product referrals and other information from volunteer consultants.
READ UP: Find the latest eco-friendly gear for your home in Green Building Products: The GreenSpec Guide to Residential Building Materials, published by BuildingGreen Inc. of Vermont and available for $22 at amazon.com.
COME OUT ON TOP: Countertops made from recycled glass skip the damaging mining practices related to natural stones like granite. Icestone (icestone.biz) makes recycled glass countertops that look like granite. Richlite (richlite.com) offers a line of countertops made from recycled paper.
STEP ON IT: Find reclaimed and other alternative flooring sources at EcoTimber (ecotimber.com) or Fine Lumber and Plywood in Brooklyn (mfinelumber.com). Warmboard is a sub-floor product that’s pre-cut with grooves for installing radiant heat tubing (warmboard.com).
WARM UP: Bonded Logic’s insulation is made from recycled denim (bondedlogic.com). “It’s so much safer to install than fiberglass,” notes Grenier. “And, hey, it looks great with a T-shirt or on the dance floor.”
STICK IT: Glue tile using a non toxic adhesives like Tite bond (usahardware.com).
Story by Bari Nan Cohen. This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2006. This story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.