In order to slow climate change, we need to cut down on the production of greenhouse gases. What many don’t know: Private homes generate at least as many emissions as industry. The majority (three-fourths) of these emissions come from heating.
As a sociologist at the KlimaCampus, I’m interested in determining the role of routines in heating, as well as how much people already know about climate-friendly alternatives. To get to the bottom of this, I have analyzed two different cases: heating in so-called Smart Homes and in passive houses.
Smart Homes are a relatively new development in which a computer ensures efficient heating – only the amount of heating energy actually needed is used. Passive houses are a bit different, using optimal heat insulation and controlled ventilation to get by with hardly any need for active heating. As these houses retain nearly all of their internal heat, for most of the year passive heat sources like household appliances and even the human body are enough.
For my study I conducted extensive interviews with different citizens of Hamburg who live in either a Smart Home or passive house. I also consulted experts from the construction and energy sectors and made empirical observations at energy concerns and informational events, as well as in passive houses and Smart Homes. The most important finding: People still have a number of reservations about these new approaches, often in connection with their cherished routines and certain myths; for example, many are convinced that you can’t open the windows in a passive house. And many assume that Smart Homes are complicated and take control away from the people who live in them. Another aspect is that heating in passive houses and Smart Homes isn’t like what we’re used to: When it’s cold outside, we normally turn up the heat. In passive houses and Smart Homes there’s no need to, a fact that many find somewhat baffling.
But all that changes once they’re a bit more familiar with these new homes. My study shows that, after just a short time in a Smart Home or passive house, many who were at first skeptical become absolute fans. Most choose to try them out not for the sake of the climate, but because of the lower heating costs, or because the houses are well furnished and located near city centers. Many living in passive houses also choose them because they put stock in social interaction – passive houses are often arranged in small communities with attractive community areas. Further, many of these projects offer reduced rents for tenants with lower incomes. As such, with the right incentive programs, the government could effectively kill two birds with one stone: providing more social housing while lowering emissions.