Sustainability is a do-it-yourself job. Although it goes against all the old-school brainwashing that insists we have to buy solutions from specialists, the information we need to take action can be gotten free from friends, family, neighbors and the nearest computer (in that order). Start at home.
Unlike the do-it-yourselfers—those who boldly fix their own pipes, walls or fences—you don't need a free weekend, a trip to a corporate big-box store or large biceps to start assessing energy savings. All the beginner needs to lift is his or her gaze to look around the house, raising awareness of one's surroundings.
We in this country spend 90 percent of our time indoors. The bright side is that we are not in our cars during that time; the dark side is that our homes are also contributing carbon to the atmosphere. But we can begin reducing the carbon footprint of our dwelling just by measuring a few things.
"What can be measured can be managed," is a workplace mantra. But it applies to our homes when we take a few minutes to measure windows and floor area. Then we can begin (even if we bombed in math class) to discover the rates at which our dwelling wastes energy. With that information we can "plug the leaks" that release carbon into the atmosphere and money into the pockets of PG&E. Don't fret the math. Web-based calculation tools come in all sorts, but I recommend starting with either of two—one for left-brainers and the other for right-brainers.
For left-brainers, there is the original, nerdy auditing tool that goes by the not so sexy name of Home Energy Saver. A free service developed by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, this fill-in-the-blanks calculator leads you, step by step, through a virtual audit of your home, using your zip code, local weather and details about your domicile, whether you live in a McMansion or a garage apartment. When you've typed in the basics, the program pops up with your home's very own chart of carbon-emission reductions and cash savings possible with some changes in household management.
For right-brainers, there is the spinoff website. The same energy calculations framework developed on your tax nickel by the DOE were licensed to private industry in 2009. Microsoft, giving the Home Energy Saver calculators a cosmetic makeover, dubbed their presentation Microsoft Hohm. With the government geek element replaced by advertising sexiness, the Hohm website has strong visual appeal and a simplified—some might say dumbed-down—user interface that makes it friendly and accessible. Both sites work equally well to get you on your way to starting your DIY energy makeover.