Degree Name

Master of Environmental Science – Research


School of Earth and Environmental Sciences


This thesis explores the household sustainability dilemmas and challenges surrounding hot water and winter warming of older, social housing tenant households in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. Hot water and warming are generally identified as two of the key contributors of Australian household greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, Commonwealth and State energy efficiency policies target social and low income households through the provision of education programs and auditors to help households improve energy efficiency, save money and the environment by lowering emissions. Yet, research repeatedly suggests that education alone is inadequate to sustain behavioural change, and low income households are already the most resourceful in terms of household sustainability. Drawing on a cultural geography approach to household sustainability – which emphasises the connected household – the thesis aim is to better understand the challenges and dilemmas that older, social housing tenant households face in space and water heating. Questions that guide this thesis are: What are the sustainable household implications of common sense practices of keeping warm in winter and using hot water? What governance structures inhibit and enhance sustainable household practices? How does the materiality of buildings or water, person and space heating technologies work for and against household sustainability? To explore these questions the project recruited a total of twenty five households, across three different tenant housing complexes (brick units, brick villas and fibro cottages) and employed mixed-qualitative methods, discourse and content analysis. The results chapters identify the culture of frugality surrounding the way in which older social housing tenant households keep warm and use hot water. Attention turns to the household sustainability dilemmas and challenges that older social housing tenant households face to keep warm in winter, and minimise their use of hot water through the notion of zones of friction and traction. To conclude, the thesis outlines policy recommendations from the results.