This paper examines household responses to sustainability issues and adoption of energy saving technologies. Our example of solar hot water systems highlights the complexity and variability of responses to low-carbon technologies. While SHW systems have the potential to provide the majority of household hot water and to lower carbon emissions, little research has been done to investigate how SHW systems are integrated into everyday life. We draw on cultural understandings of the household to identify passive and active users of SHW systems and utilize a model that illustrates how technology use is dependent on inter-relations between cultural norms, systems of provision, the material elements of homes, and practice. A key finding is that households can be ill-prepared to make the most of their SHW systems and lack post-installation support to do so. Thus, informed and efficient use of SHW systems is hit and miss. Current policy is largely aimed at subsidizing purchase and installation on the assumption that this is sufficient for emission reduction goals. Our analysis provides evidence to the contrary. Areas we highlight for policy and practice improvement are independent pre-purchase advice, installation quality, and practical guidance on system operation and interaction with patterns of hot water use.