Domestic energy consumption continues to generate a significant proportion of the UK’s carbon emissions. Since the start of the century, considerable investment has been made in increasing household energy efficiency and promoting energy conservation. Despite this, emissions from gas heating sources remain unchanged, and energy consumption is rising in some areas. This has implications for not only climate change policies but also the related fuel poverty agenda. While previous research has confirmed that residents’ behaviour is a key driver of consumption, detailed understanding of household members’ motivations remains limited. Given the predicted ongoing reliance on gas for domestic heating, understanding these dynamics is essential if progress is to be made in both reducing gas-generated emissions and making inroads into tackling fuel poverty.
Key research Question
The project considered whether targeted advice and guidance provided when upgrades to gas-fired boilers were being installed could positively influence household members’ behaviour with regard to more effective use of the heating system and the adoption of wider energy efficiency practices. In doing so, it sought to prove or disprove the belief that a major heating system upgrade is an optimum point at which to influence behaviour and also to discover what types of intervention would be most successful.
Summary of activity
Data were generated through interviews with 20 households who had received a boiler upgrade under the Affordable Warmth strand of the Energy Company Obligation programme in the Bath and North East Somerset local authority area. Interviews were completed pre- and post-intervention. An action research element asked participants to construct their own Action Plan outlining the changes they would make. Data on consumption were collected, including infrared thermography and meter readings. Demographic data on household members were also collated.
The research provided evidence on household energy behaviours and identified possible reasons why reductions in gas use and greater efficiency had not been achieved. It suggested that neither printed information nor verbal advice from an installer or engineer was particularly useful for reducing gas use. Heating control mechanisms often formed an important barrier.
However, the use of participatory techniques such as action research and collaborative planning alongside targeted, tailored information suggests that interventions targeted at key moments can be effective in reducing consumption, stimulating other energy efficiency behaviours and driving increased confidence in operating heating systems.
Multiple models of behaviour change, including social practice theory, are necessary for researchers to understand the complex interactions of motivations among household members.
Work that targets installers and manufacturers to make heating systems much more user-friendly is essential. Programmes of behaviour change and energy efficiency must operate in conjunction with retrofit and other practical measures.