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Washington Area Residents Take Green Living to the Extreme, Perturbing Families

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A green-living expert from Eco-Coach, Inc., gives a room-by-room home audit to teach a home owner how to improve energy efficiency and living habits. Video by Fan Bu/washingtonpost.com

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To which his family might say: Small?

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"I drew the line at keeping a bucket in my shower," said his sister, Ava Khalsa, who lives in an apartment in the basement. She was refusing her brother's idea to keep a five-gallon bucket in the shower to catch the water that bounces off her and then use it to do the laundry. "He was like, 'It's simple.' And I was like, 'No. I'm just not doing it.' "

She also occasionally disobeys his rules about used to-go containers: "I just don't want to deal with cleaning it out. . . . I'm like, 'I'm throwing this out.' "

For Iklé-Khalsa's wife, his push for green living has affected a much bigger decision.

"I'm 40, so my clock is going boom! Boom! Boom! Sometimes, I just roll my eyes and go, 'Come on, honey, think about who our child could be!' " said Mimi Iklé-Khalsa. But her husband says a second child could have too high an environmental cost. "We've had the discussion of, 'If we have another biological child, it means we never fly,' " and do other things to offset the child's carbon footprint, she said.

But theirs is an extreme case, even among the region's greenest households. Many spouses and children said they support what the family environmentalist is trying to do . . . but they're not above snickering as he does it.

"When we're going down a hill, he's like 'Okay, watch this! Watch this!' " said Helen Ross, 15, of Columbia, whose father, Brian Ross, delights in taking his hybrid Honda Civic down hills and watching the display show his sky-high miles-per-gallon rate. She says it's a worthwhile thing to do, even if it's a little dorky: "He says, like, 'Oh, woo! Fifty on the way down!' "

Sometimes, being the non-green member of the family has its benefits. After Amanda Hartle of Northwest Washington hired a local expert called the "Eco-Coach" to scour her apartment for objectionable products such as detergents, bleach and plastic containers, she gave many of them to her sister. "She doesn't care about going green yet, and she lives right upstairs," Hartle said.

Usually, however, the process involves giving up things. Like heat.

"It just feels cold, and then I [went] into my friend's house and they had the heat on, and I was like 'Oh, my God, that feels so good!' " said Sophie Barnet-Higgins, 10, of Mount Rainier. Her parents keep the thermostat at 54 degrees on winter nights, and Sophie often begins her day by warming up in front of a stove burning corn kernels.

"It's kind of easy to put up with it," Sophie said. "I mean, we've been green for a long time, because I don't even remember when we had the heat on all the time."

But even in families in which everybody agrees that green is good, things can be pushed too far. Signs of resistance turn up: a fiance who starts eating dinner out after repeated nights of locally grown organic salad. A child who pleads to have Hot Wheels-trademarked Valentine's Day cards instead of home-made ones, despite the evils of their plastic packaging.


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