Exploring the role of professional heating engineers in shaping the energy consumed through domestic space heating, and discussing a future research agenda

Speaker: Faye Wade # University of Edinburgh

20th Feb 2017

15:30 - 17:00

Staff room, 6th floor, Chrystal Macmillan Building.

In seeking to achieve reductions in the energy consumed through the built environment, policy-makers have, to date, either focused on the built form of properties and the efficiency of the technologies in them, or the actions of building occupants. However, the construction professionals and various actors who are fundamental to creating these environments have been largely overlooked. My research argues that the detailed investigation of such professionals is essential for understanding how their practices can influence the energy consumed through the built environment. Further, ideas from Science, Technology and Innovation Studies are of particular value in interpreting these activities. Most recently, I have developed these arguments through my PhD research, which investigated the installation of domestic central heating systems.

Heating engineers contribute to the selection of heating technologies, install these devices and act as an informant to householders. They perform these tasks on a daily basis, infiltrating and influencing domestic space heating practices as they do so. Indeed, these actors have been identified for their role in shaping users’ understandings and use of the central heating products installed in their homes. And yet, heating engineers, and installation practices, have not previously been subject to any detailed academic enquiry. Considering that space heating accounts for approximately 60% of emissions from domestic properties, recognition of these interactions is key if we are to meet government 2050 targets to reduce emissions by 80%, on 1990 levels. Knowledge of the socio-technical negotiations that take place during installation is essential if we are to understand the social practices that form around this energy consuming technology. Empirically, this research used an in-depth ethnographic approach coupled with qualitative interviews to both witness first-hand how this process takes place, but also to capture the detailed views of those within it. This exploration included shadowing and interviewing those involved in heating installation, as well as spending time with manufacturer sales representatives, in plumbers’ merchants, and participating in manufacturer training days.

In this presentation, I will detail some of the findings from the analysis of this varied dataset, and describe the ways in which this energy consuming technology is negotiated into position in the home. I will also describe how I would like to develop this research agenda here at Edinburgh, to encompass some of the different actors and technologies that are so influential in shaping our energy system.