3S WP 2012-09 Foulds et al – A domestic practices perspective on Passivhaus living

This paper uses social practice theory to explore the implications of new low carbon dwellings upon energy consuming practices. The handover period for a small to medium sized UK Passivhaus development was investigated, predominantly using interviews as well as informal observation and participation at key events (e.g. move-in day technology tours, information sessions, post-move-in landlord visits). Evidence showed the introduction of technology could provide scope for certain performances, but did not linearly result in energy savings, as per design intent. The Passivhaus technological configuration contributed to a pronounced nonlinearity and unpredictability due to a messy integration of practices surrounding heating and ventilation energy services – the focus of much of our discussion.

Residents primarily showed a willingness, conscious or not, to refine heating and ventilation practices either to ease worry of unfamiliar technologies and/or to yield the benefits offered by their new residence. Practical understanding seemed pivotal in learning new skills and adapting practices, partly due to minimal and relatively mistrusted institutional guidance.

The dominance of learning by doing in shaping and holding practices together meant misinterpretation was common since understanding was reliant on past technological experience. ‘Misuse’, as a product of past practice trajectories, could be mitigated against through a combination of technological design that aligns with earlier generations of technologies and information provision that is empathetic to the role of know-how and embodied habits (e.g. active participation, regular household contact, seasonal sensitivity). Appreciation of such influences is essential to ensure handover support and technological design enables energy savings and helps fulfil policy ambitions.

Foulds, C., Powell, J. and Seyfang, G. (2012) A domestic practices perspective on Passivhaus living. 3S Working Paper 2012-09. Norwich: Science, Society and Sustainability Research Group.

3S WP 2012-09 Foulds et al