Towards a circular home: Exploring opportunities for design to support households in sustainable resource use

Abstract: Our use of natural resources has grown dramatically in recent years, with negative consequences for both the environment and human health. At home, resource use in the form of energy, water, food, and material objects may be related to a wide range of everyday practices as well as changes to, and adaptations of, our home environments. Thus, we as households play an important role in contributing to a less intensive use of resources. Even so, support is needed in the form of solutions that enable both reduced environmental impact and satisfaction with our homes. The research presented in this thesis aims to identify opportunities for more sustainable resource use at home. This has been addressed through the investigation of home-related resource use relating to households’ practices, lifestyles, and decisions concerning the home. The research has also explored design implications to support households in minimising their resource use and analysed households’ experiences of sustainability-orientated solutions for the home. Two field studies have been conducted. Study A investigated daily use and renewal of domestic kitchens and explored design implications to improve kitchens from a circular economy perspective. Qualitative data was collected in the form of interviews and a focus group, complemented by a diary or a short survey. Study B investigated perceptions and acceptance of demand-side management in residential space heating, to support an increased share of renewable energy. This study collected mainly quantitative data through a diary tool, complemented by surveys. The findings reveal that home-related resource use depends on a multitude of practices, preferences, choices, and contextual factors. In both studies, it seemed that dissatisfaction with the home environment may lead to additional resource use. For instance, kitchen renovations or practices to improve thermal comfort which either use energy or lead to energy being wasted. In the kitchen,design was found to play an important role, both in supporting sustainability in everyday kitchen practices and in allowing needs and preferences to be met over time, with little impact on the environment. Identified opportunities for increasing the circularity of kitchens were: improved technical and functional quality, timeless design, acknowledging emotional values, allowing aesthetical upgrades, allowing functional upgrades and repair, systemic changes and new business models, and increasing awareness of environmental impacts connected to kitchen renewal. Regarding demand-side management in space heating, perception and acceptance were found to depend on factors such as set indoor climate conditions, timing and magnitude of the load shifts, communication, and control. To conclude, this thesis contributes insights into home-related resource use from a household perspective and highlights opportunities for design to enable greater levels of circularity and renewable energy use at home.