Lessons from a local history of domestic heating in the UK

Open access available here

Published online today by Energy Research and Social Science

This article, which I co-authored with Dr Lenneke Kuijer, uses detailed analysis of historical change across infrastructures and practices reveals processes underpinning increasing demand for heat in UK homes. It draws on archive work, oral histories and focus groups as part of our work with the DEMAND research centre. Highlighting how phenomena including spatial differentiation within the home, processes of automation and the emergence of novel practice fuelled demand for heat, it demonstrates how a focus on patterns of practice reveals new insights into energy demand, including new insights for contemporary energy policy.

Open access available here


Indoor climate control forms a major share of residential energy demand. Policy measures to curb this demand tend to focus on energy-efficient technologies. However, while the energy efficiency of domestic heat provision in the United Kingdom (UK) has increased considerably over the past century, demand for space heating has increased as well. This paper offers a distinctive explanation of increasing levels of domestic demand for space heating. It is grounded in a case study on changes in social housing design and use in the UK between 1920 and 1970. Based on detailed analysis of the co-evolution of housing circumstances, heating provision and patterns of everyday practice, the paper argues that increases in demand for space heating can be understood as a spreading of such demand over domestic space and time. In explaining this spread, it identifies three key contributing processes, comprising: 1) materialisations of ideals of separating domestic activities; 2) delegations of work and control to infrastructures and appliances; and 3) shifts towards more indoor, sedentary activities. It closes by considering how understanding these processes historically can inform contemporary energy policy to curb domestic energy demand for heating, and how the distinctive approach taken has implications for energy research

Author: Matt Watson

A Human Geographer at the University of Sheffield, interested in how everyday human action and social orders make each other, with implications for sustainability and wellbeing.

One thought on “Lessons from a local history of domestic heating in the UK”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s