Domestic energy use study: to understand why comparable households use different amounts of energy

Client:
DECC
Start date:
February 2012
Completed:
October 2012

Domestic gas consumption in the UK can vary dramatically between households. The top ten per cent of gas users consume as least four times as much gas as the bottom ten per cent. Quantitative modelling by The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) – based on the property, household income and tenure – has so far been able to explain less than 40% of this variation.

In order to begin to understand the unexplained portion, Brook Lyndhurst were commissioned by DECC to undertake qualitative research exploring the day-to-day lives of the people that live in those houses so as to build a rich, people-centred picture of how energy is actually consumed.

Seventy households participated in the research, all of whom lived in 3-bedroom, semi-detached properties in suburban locations. Half the sample was identified at the beginning of the study as being ’High’ gas users and half as ’Low’ gas users, defined as being in the top or bottom decile. The research comprised a programme of semi-structured interviews conducted in participants’ homes, involving house-tours and a variety of exercises designed to allow the research to explore everyday life in each home. This was followed by an easy-to-complete diary exercise over an eight week period; unobtrusive temperature monitoring; and follow-up interviews.

Drawing on data gathered throughout the study – including energy performance certificates (EPC), Annual Energy Statements, gas bills and meter readings – the final review of households classified 28 as High and 25 as Low gas users. Analysis of the differences between these otherwise comparable groups forms the mainstay of the research findings.

The research reveals wide and in many cases intriguing variations in behaviours that have consequences for gas consumption. However, it did not appear that High and Low gas users had particular behaviours that made them easy to identify as High or Low. Instead, each High or Low gas user tends to have a cluster of very ordinary behaviours that happen to culminate in high or low gas use. There are, it seems, many different ways to be a High or Low gas user.

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