Prohibitive cost is a readily available and very legitimate excuse for those reluctant to go green. Hybrids are considerably more expensive than non-hybrid cars. Installing solar panels on the roof or putting in triple-paned windows can't exactly be done on the cheap.
Yet, while the average Joe may not be able to reach the highest levels of energy efficiency in his home or auto, he likely can afford a house call from Green@Home.
After all, it's free.
Green@Home is an energy-awareness program started by Acterra, a Palo Alto-based environmental nonprofit, formed in 2000 by the merger of the Peninsula Conservation Center Foundation and Bay Area Action. It receives funding mostly through grants.
Green@Home keeps costs down through a large base of volunteers, who can opt to work out in the field doing house calls, in the office or to get the word out by sending e-mails, making phone calls or walking door-to-door in the community.
Project volunteers are educated about efficient habits, given instruction on how to install basic energy-efficient devices and shown how to adjust and maintain household appliances to minimize power consumption.
After the two-day, eight-hour course volunteers must commit to two house calls each month. During house calls they will provide Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City and Sunnyvale residents with free home-energy audits -- recommending energy-saving actions to the resident and even installing three compact fluorescent lights or one low-flow shower head for no fee.
Replacing just one showerhead can prevent up to 806 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year, according to Twana Karney, program director of Green@Home. It can also save the consumer anywhere from $22 to $197.
"One of the things that people are usually surprised about is how much energy is used in the heating and transport of water," Karney said, observing that it takes energy to pump water to and from a given house. Power is obviously used in heating water, she said, but even when the dishwasher isn't running or no one is using the sink, the water heater is still cranking away.
Saving energy can be as easy as turning off the gas when going on vacation or turning the temperature down a smidge for daily use.
Curbing wasteful habits is just as important as purchasing and installing efficient equipment and devices, Karney said. "Reducing shower time from 20 minutes to 10 minutes -- things like that. This is really easy and fairly painless to do."
To illustrate her point, Karney points to lighting, which she estimates accounts for about 20 percent of energy use in the home. Compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs, have gotten plenty of press over the last several years. Still, people may be surprised to learn that switching to strictly CFL lighting can reduce a household's annual carbon footprint by 1,055 pounds and save homeowners as much as $140 a year.
Sunnyvale-resident Sabine Axt, a Green@Home volunteer since October 2007, was certainly surprised when she learned just how much energy she was wasting with her home's incandescent bulbs. She was similarly amazed to learn that simply cleaning the dust off of her refrigerator's cooling coils could make the appliance much more efficient.
"I wanted to do something that I'm passionate about," Axt said of her decision to volunteer for Green@Home. "I live the green life as much as I can and I see a lot of people not thinking about it in their daily life." As a house-call volunteer she enjoys helping people realize the "really simple things they can do to make a difference."
Green@Home has more than 100 volunteers currently, but the organization can always use more. Karney hopes that some volunteers will be recruited and many more Palo Alto residents made aware of the program during Saturday's Red Meets Green event. Hosted by Acterra, Palo Alto Neighborhoods, the Community Environmental Action Program and the City of Palo Alto, the event aims to bolster emergency preparedness along with environmental awareness.
Participants will meet at Mitchell Park or Rinconada fire stations at 9 a.m. and take to the streets distributing literature on how to best prepare for an emergency as well as information on ecologically friendly home practices and how to get involved in the local environmental movement.
"For the solution to climate change we need every person involved," Karney said. "It's like when you vote. You may say one vote doesn't make a difference. But when everybody votes, you are able to elect the candidate you want."
For Axt, Green@Home, and environmental action in general, is definitely about making a difference. But it is more than that. "It's infectious," she said. "It's even more fun than I imagined."
As is the case with all trends, the environmental movement has seen its fair share of companies touting the "green" moniker without actually doing anything that might be considered green. The best way to sniff out such "greenwashing," Karney said, is to just do a little research. "Acterra is all about bringing positive actions to people and creating a healthy environment."
Green@Home is currently funded through July 2009, but Karney hopes the program will continue well beyond that date and expand to most Peninsula cities. The goal, she said, is to save at least 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per home.
In addition to Green@Home, Acterra has five other environmental programs all aimed at creating a greener globe. ACTerra Green works to unite businesses, schools and faith groups to adopt greener practices; Be the Change trains those in emerging leadership positions on how to make better environmental choices; the Stewardship Program provides those interested with an opportunity to get hands on in local conservation projects; the Business Environmental Awards publicly recognizes Bay Area businesses doing their part to protect our habitat; and Fiduciary Programs provides funding for many environmental projects.
What: Red Meets Green outreach program
When: Saturday, Jan. 31, 9 a.m.-noon
Where: Meet at Mitchell Park (Middlefield Road at East Meadow Drive) or Rinconada (Newell at Embarcadero roads) fire stations, Palo Alto
Info: Visit www.acterra.org or e-mail email@example.com.
What: Green@Home training
When: Thursdays, Feb. 5 and Feb. 19 or Wednesdays, Feb. 11 and Feb. 25, 6:15-9:45 p.m.
Where: Palo Alto
Info: Visit www.acterra.org or call Liz Muir at 650-962-9876, ext. 350.