We consider operators arising from regular Dirichlet forms with vanishing killing term. We give bounds for the bottom of the (essential) spectrum in terms of exponential volume growth with respect to an intrinsic metric. As special cases, we discuss operators on graphs. When the volume growth is measured in the natural graph distance (which is not an intrinsic metric), we discuss the threshold for positivity of the bottom of the spectrum and finiteness of the bottom of the essential spectrum of the (unbounded) graph Laplacian. This threshold is shown to lie at cubic polynomial growth.