Home-ing in on domestic energy research : home comfort and energy demand
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Climate change has become a major concern for research and policy in recent decades, and housing has been an important area to tackle as globally this sector accounts for roughly a quarter of energy demand, and its resulting carbon emissions (Staffell et al., 2015). Behaviour change campaigns constitute a significant strand within government responses to reduce carbon emissions. However, on the grounds that environmental impact has little to do with individual’s intentions, there is growing interest in the ordinary, rather than the extraordinary (e.g. pro-environmental values), and the socio-material transformation of collective conventions (Shove, 2010). Research emerging from this ‘practice turn’ is often underpinned by evidence of changing expectations of comfort that undermine improvements in energy efficiency (Hitchings and Lee, 2008; Walker et al., 2016). Notably, research indicates that it is increasingly common for indoor environments to be maintained within a narrow range of temperatures through mechanical heating and cooling, which has significant implications for energy (Shove, 2003). While these practice-informed studies have successfully offered new avenues for intervention in sustainable consumption, home comfort has been rather narrowly investigated and has often been equated with thermal comfort. Yet expectations of home comfort and household management decisions are much more complex and multifaceted than the desire to be sufficiently warm or cool. A focus on thermal comfort has arguably trivialised other meanings of home comfort that might also be significant to understanding patterns of domestic energy demand. The aim of this thesis therefore was to develop a concept of home comfort to inform understandings, debates and policy related to domestic energy demand, and this thesis presents data from whole-household interviews, house tours, ideal drawings and home energy adviser interviews to address this aim. A key finding of this thesis was that home comfort is a sense of relaxation and wellbeing, which results from companionship and having some sense of control in the home. Broadening out understandings of occupant satisfaction to account for some of this complexity draws attention to householder’s perception of the space per person ‘needed’ to facilitate comfortably sharing the home with others. Engaging with the trend towards increasing space per person is important because it has the potential to reduce energy demand for space heating without falling back into emphasising technical intervention or questioning the standardisation of thermal comfort. Furthermore, householder’s actions to reduce domestic energy demand were found to be tightly, if implicitly, linked to expectations of home comfort and processes of homemaking. It is important to remember that changes to the home are not simply the result of financial rationalisation or attempts to improve thermal comfort. There is certainly scope for the concept of home comfort to inform understanding of domestic energy demand and to highlight alternative strategies to ‘steer’ towards more sustainable forms of everyday life.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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