I'd seen advertisements for the latest reel mowers that made them sound like precision instruments, not the clunky beast I pushed as a teenager. But when I gave the display model a spin across the sales floor, I was disappointed. The reel felt clumsy compared with my corded electric model, which I can easily maneuver with one hand. I got back in the car empty-handed and drove home.
As I pulled into the driveway, I had the sinking realization I'd been off on a fool's errand. I didn't know exactly how foolish until the next morning, when we added up the numbers. I'd driven 24 miles in search of a more Earth-friendly mower. PJ had driven 27 miles to visit a friend in an assisted-living facility. We'd used 32 kWh of electricity and 100 cubic feet of gas to cook dinner and dry our clothes. Our total CO2 emissions for the day: 105.6 pounds. Three and a half times our target.
"Guess we need to try harder," PJ said.
We got some help in Week Two from a professional "house doctor," Ed Minch, of Energy Services Group in Wilmington, Delaware. We asked Minch to do an energy audit of our house to see if we'd missed any easy fixes. The first thing he did was walk around the outside of the house, looking at how the "envelope" was put together. Had the architect and builder created any opportunities for air to seep in or out, such as overhanging floors? Next he went inside and used an infrared scanner to look at our interior walls. A hot or cold spot might mean that we had a duct problem or that insulation in a wall wasn't doing its job. Finally his assistants set up a powerful fan in our front door to lower air pressure inside the house and force air through whatever leaks there might be in the shell of the house. Our house, his instruments showed, was 50 percent leakier than it should be.
One reason, Minch discovered, was that our builder had left a narrow, rectangular hole in our foundation beneath the laundry room—for what reason we could only guess. Leaves from our yard had blown through the hole into the crawl space. "There's your big hit," he said. "That's your open window." I hadn't looked inside the crawl space in years, so there could have been a family of monkeys under there for all I knew. Sealing up that hole was now a priority, since heating represents up to half of a house's energy costs, and cooling can account for a tenth.