W2UP17 – Can Central Heating Installers Influence Householders’ Habitual Space Heating Practices?
22nd October 2015 Faye Wade

Can Central Heating Installers Influence Householders’ Habitual Space Heating Practices?

Faye Wade, UCL


This research investigates the installation process of central heating systems, and how this influences the adoption of the technology by the consumer. Installation is a clearly defined boundary between technology production and its end use. The installer has several roles in this process; acting as a temporary user of the system, contributing to the technology design and acting as an informant to the householder. The installer also has command of the physical parameters of the system, for example, the location of the radiators and thermostatic control. The householder is actively involved in this process through discussing the configuration of the system with the installer, to reach a collaborative technology solution. In light of this, the research presented here argues that we must view central heating installation as a social learning process, which can be crucial in determining the everyday practices and usage patterns of the householder.


(Image from: R.D. Treloar, Plumbing 3rd Edition, Blackwell Publishing, 2010, p. 237)
The domestic sector, that is energy used in dwellings, contributes between 29 – 31 % to total UK energy use (Utley & Shorrock, 2008). Within this, domestic space heating accounted for 58 % of total domestic energy consumption in 2008 (DECC, 2011). The way that people use their heating system, for example the rooms they choose to heat and to what temperature can influence domestic energy use hugely. Rathouse and Young conducted focus groups which demonstrated that householders do not always know how to operate their central heating systems, the quotes below show that sometimes householders cannot even access their controls!


Rathouse and Young also mention that “people reported asking installers, plumbers and engineers to show them how to use their controls and sometimes to set their programmers” (2004, p. 24), clearly highlighting the role of the installer in influencing how the systems are used by the householder. Consequently, it is vital to develop a firmer understanding of the decision-making processes and information exchanges, both verbal and non-verbal; that occur during installation.

Research Questions:
How is the installer’s decision-making process shaped?
How does this influence the configuration of the space heating system that is installed in the home?
How do the installation process and technical configuration of the installed heating system influence the formation of domestic space heating practices?


This research draws upon the theories of science and technology studies, particularly the social construction of technology. The social construction of technology (SCOT) offers a divergence from previous theories of technological determinism, which suggest that technological advancements occur independently of the society in which they are used. Instead SCOT suggests that technology cannot be considered as independent from the society that shapes it. This theory suggests that for any given technology there are a set of relevant social groups who attribute a particular meaning to the technology. For example, with a central heating system two relevant social groups are the installer and the user, amongst others. Consequently, this theory along with concepts of domestication are being used to structure the research and think about the factors that influence the adoption and use of central heating in the home.

Ethnography is being used to understand the interaction between installer and householder when central heating is installed. It is vital to understand the information exchanges, both verbal and non-verbal; that occur during installation. To really understand this relationship, ethnography will be used. Ethnography involves the production of a highly detailed accounts of the social world of interest. In the case of this research, this will take the form of shadowing plumbers on several ‘jobs’ to capture detailed accounts of the interactions discussed above, accompanied by follow up visits to understand the habitual behaviour of householders in relation to their central heating. The ethnographic inquiry will draw upon observations of the installations, informal interviews with installers and householders, and collection of further evidence such as photographs. Document analysis may also be carried out on the documents exchanged, such as instruction manuals and quotations.

Expected Outcomes:
The impact of installers’ decisions on the range of possible occupants’ behaviours highlights the need to understand and inform installers’ decision making processes. Decision support may be provided through several media, for example training workshops or electronic systems. One outcome of this work is to provide the information needed to develop such decision support, aspects of this may include:
The most suitable operating strategy for the individual, considering the level of control they require, the preferred type of control and the most appropriate location for thermostats.
The most suitable central heating configuration for the property, incorporating radiator sizing and location.
Assessment of the information the occupant may require to ensure that they are able to control the central heating system in the most efficient manner, and the most appropriate way to deliver this information.
This project recognises that decision support is required to improve current installation practises.

Project Aims:
To increase understanding of central heating principles.
To research installation practises including:
Existing tools and guidelines in place regarding the most appropriate installation of central heating systems.
Installation and maintenance procedures for central heating systems.
Interaction of installers with domestic clients.
Understanding of the role of the installer in setting occupant defaults for central heating behaviours in the home.
To assess the current regulation of building practises, for example, what information are installers required to give to homeowners? Is this sufficient and how is this regulated?
To study occupant’s requirements of a central heating system – including control strategy, location of control and type of control. Importantly, the work will also cover how this varies between individuals.
To use this information to understand the requirements of decision support for installers.



Key Literature:

Janda, K.B. & Killip, G., 2010. Building Expertise: A System of Professions Approach to Low-Carbon Practise. ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings. Available at: www.eci.ox.ac.uk/publications/downloads/janda-killip-10.pdf.

Killip, G., 2008. Building for a Greener Britain: Transforming the UK’s Existing Housing Stock, Report for the Federation of Master Builders. Available at: existinghomesalliance.co.uk.

Rathouse, K. and Young, B., 2004. Market Transformation Programme – Domestic Heating: Use of Controls. Report ID: RPDH15. DEFRA.

Shipworth, M. et al., 2010. Central heating thermostat settings and timing: building demographics. Building Research & Information, 38(1), pp.50-69.

Utley, J. & Shorrock, L., 2008. Domestic Energy Fact File, 2008. Available at: www.bre.co.uk/filelibrary/pdf/rpts/Fact_File_2008.pdf.


Primary: David Shipworth

Secondary: Michelle Shipworth


Conference poster

Do central heating installers influence domestic space heating practices?

Poster presented at the LoLo 2012 annual colloquium.


Conference proceeding

How can Central Heating Installation Influence Habitual Space Heating Practices?

Paper presented at the 4S/EASST (Society for Social Studies of Science/ European Association for the Study of Science and Technology) 2012 conference on the theme of ‘Design and Displacement” – social studies of science and technology.

Investigating the Installation and Appropriation of Domestic Central Heating Using Ethnography

Presentation delivered at the Lancaster Sociology Summer Conference and Intellectual Party, July 2012.

How do Central Heating Installation Procedures Influence the Adoption of the Technology by Householders?

Presented at the Behave 2012 conference on behaviour and decision making related to energy consumption and a sustainable future.




The Influence of Central Heating Installers on Space Heating Practices

A short presentation delivered as part of a “Sustainability: Concepts and Materiality” interdisciplinary workshop held at UCL.