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‘The best house possible’: The everyday practices and micro-politics of achieving comfort in a low-cost home

posted on 2023-05-24, 06:25 authored by Gabriel, M, Rooney, M, Phillipa WatsonPhillipa Watson

In this chapter, we explore the diverse ways in which people achieve comfort within their homes and the possibilities for sustainable adaptation of low-cost homes. We are interested in the tensions that arise between competing desires for home comforts (warmth, security, affordability and belonging) and reduced energy use, with the latter itself being increasingly viewed as a source of personal satisfaction and comfort. Following social practice theory (Shove 2003; Shove et al. 2007, 2012), we understand the home as a socio-technical achievement, rather than a container in which social action takes place. This approach re-sets analytical distinctions between physical dwellings and social inhabitants, and instead traces the interweaving of human and nonhuman actors (heat pumps, furniture, pets and ornaments) in the process of achieving and managing the comforts of home (Shove 2003).

The findings presented in this chapter draw on research with residents who participated in a government-funded home energy-saving program, Get Bill Smart, in Hobart, Tasmania. We begin by discussing how comfort and energy practices are mediated by money in financially constrained households. We then present a sample of vignettes that illustrate the diversity of comfort priorities and how people’s feelings of comfort are affected by the presence of other actors, human and otherwise. Here we report on competing comfort priorities and the dynamic nature of home living in order to make sense of the potential for and barriers to adapting dwellings and practices within the home. Following Head et al. (2013), we identify specific sites of ‘traction’ (i.e. opportunities for change) and ‘friction’ (i.e. resistance to change) that we observed when engaging with low-income households about home energy saving. The stories we report on contribute to an understanding of why it is that a particular energy-efficiency installation might work well in one home, but be disruptive or ineffective in another.

Finally, we reflect on the discord we observed between the Get Bill Smart project team’s architectural and environmental aspirations for the ‘best house possible’ (a phrase used by one of our participants, Susan, to describe her home) in terms of thermal performance and energy efficiency, and the lived experience of the families who were making ‘the best house possible’ under constrained financial circumstances. Here we identify tensions between, but also possibilities for greater integration of, environmental and social outcomes associated with dwelling maintenance and adaptation.


Publication title

Housing and Home Unbound: Intersections in economics, environment and politics in Australia


N Cook, A Davison, L Crabtree






School of Social Sciences



Place of publication

London, UK



Rights statement

Copyright 2016 Nicole Cook, Aidan Davison and Louise Crabtree

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Other culture and society not elsewhere classified; Environmentally sustainable energy activities not elsewhere classified

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