Last week I got what I believe is a sure sign that the green world is slowly moving mainstream: My father sent me an e-mail proudly displaying the new rain barrel he had installed on his patio. Later that day, he told me how excited he was when he realized it held enough to water all the flowers and plants inside and outside his water-starved North Carolina active-adult home. He was practically giddy.

The reason I see this as promising is because my parents are like a lot of Americans--they're not early-adopters, they don't line up to buy the latest thing just to have it, and they wait until a product is proven--and its price drops--before making a commitment. (When I was a kid, we were the last on my street to get a microwave and I was the only high-schooler without an answering machine.) So when it comes to greening their home beyond recycling and light bulbs, my parents aren't exactly clamoring for carbon credits or tearing up their lawn to install a geothermal system. When they had to replace the toilet, they went ultra-low-flow; the replacement dishwasher is Energy Star-rated. In other words, they're like most homeowners: approaching green ideas one practical step at a time.

Proof of my point is the one gadget my parents own that they got before I did: a GPS system. Their relatively early adoption of "Jill," as they call her, wasn't about showing off for their friends or jumping on a bandwagon. It's because it just plain makes sense for a 60-something couple who love to take road trips with no agenda. The rain barrel is the same way. Facing water restrictions, as well as coming to grips with our future water reality, my father realized it was the smartest way to conserve his beloved flower beds. He'd love to go full-on green and deck out his roof with solar panels, but he knows that, for now, this is one step that makes sense for his lifestyle, his wallet, and his beliefs.

Going all-out green is great, and certainly we're showing the way, in degrees, on the pages of EcoHome. But for those existing-home owners who aren't ready or can't afford to make more dramatic leaps, practical choices make a lot of sense. What's more, taking a one-step-at-a-time approach can be the least overwhelming way to make changes. Sure, a rain barrel is one drop in a vast environmental bucket, but it's also another completed leg in an ongoing journey. For others, that first step could be efficient windows, a tankless water heater, or high-efficiency HVAC.

Eco-friendly renovations don't always have to be all-encompassing. They must be, first and foremost, practical. Find out what hits your clients in their wallets and in their hearts the most and start from there.

Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.