Household Sustainability

Household Sustainability

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

The authors engage critically, and constructively, with the proposition that households are a key scale of action on climate change. They confront dilemmas of practice and circumstance, and cultural norms of lifestyle and consumerism that are linked to troublesome environmental problems – and question whether they can be easily unsettled. The work also illuminates the informal and often unheralded work by households – frequently the poorest – in reducing their environmental burden. This important book is critical to understanding both the barriers to household sustainability and the ‘unsung’ sustainability work carried out by householders.

Chapter 5: Warmth

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, climate change, environmental economics, environmental sociology


Keeping cool and staying warm are basic human needs. Throughout most of human history such needs have been satisfied without the central heating and air conditioning technologies that are becoming commonplace. Heating and cooling of indoor, and even outdoor, spaces is rapidly increasing. By 2009, for example, 87 per cent of households in the United States had an air condition- ing unit of some sort, compared with 68 per cent in 1993 (EIA 2011). In concert with this, a narrower range of indoor temperatures is being tolerated than in the past (Healy 2008; Strengers 2008; Biehler and Simon 2011). The recent history of heating and cooling technology uptake is a story of the intertwined forces of changing standards in building design on one hand, and increasing expectations about instantaneous heating and cooling on the other (Ackermann 2002). Far from being a singularly technological achieve- ment, the management of thermal comfort is a sociotechnical process (Klinenberg 2002; Chappells and Shove 2005; Brown and Walker 2008). The ways in which thermal comfort is achieved during warm weather, for exam- ple, have changed remarkably as air conditioning technology co-evolved with changing social norms throughout the twentieth century (Shove 2003). Reliance on artificially cooled air has become more routine. As air-condi- tioned spaces are increasingly sought, buildings are more likely to be designed and built to be artificially cooled. Rhythms of rest and labour have become less attuned to outside weather conditions and more to artificially maintained indoor climates (Hitchings 2010). Siestas, for example, have declined. Air conditioning draws people indoors during hot weather, off the cool verandas and balconies they may have otherwise occupied, changing rhythms of neighbourhood sociability.

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