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Contemplating data capture

by on February 17, 2014

Over the past wee while I’ve been thinking more carefully about the empirical work in the Smarter Homes project. Of course, I put together a methodology in my initial funding application, but that was really only an outline and significant thinking is still required. This thinking was greatly accelerated by my recent visit to Delft, hearing about all their exciting ongoing projects, but has also been shaped by involvement in TEDDInet, and discussions with a group at Edinburgh: IDEAL.

In my discussions with the wider academic community one of the things I’ve realised is that most of the other similar-ish projects to mine are being done in large multidisciplinary teams (often incorporating lots of ‘smart’ real-time data collection techniques). Whilst working in teams brings its own challenges, it does also bring many benefits, particularly sharing the work load and responsibility. It also offers the opportunity to consider different ways of thinking about the same issue, potentially generating creative and novel ways of understanding these issues. What I’m hoping to do is capitalise on some of my developing links in order to gain some of the benefits that working with others can bring – for instance, can I select fieldwork sites and participants in line with another project so that recruitment is a less onerous task? These are the types of questions I am asking myself at the moment, but in looking for data collection synergies I need to be careful to maintain the independence of my project and ensure that I am collecting data, and working with research participants in order to answer my own research questions.

In any case, I have now added substantial detail to my methodological approach (and have passed the hurdles of ethical approval and risk assessments). What I found most interesting in seeking out this detail, was the extent of similarity between households in the UK and Netherlands. For instance, according to the latest Eurostat data (Dec 2013) the UK and the Netherlands share a similar distribution of dwelling types:

For both, more than 50% of the housing stock is comprised of semi-detached houses (Netherlands 61.2% and UK 58.9%), and they rank amongst the highest in the whole EU-28 for the proportion of the population in semi-detached properties.

Moreover, it seems that the UK and Netherlands also share similar tenancy patterns, particularly in relation to the proportion of owner-occupied dwellings (both are just very slightly less than the EU-28 average). This is a significant proportion of the total housing stock and is interesting because arguably, home owners have the greatest capacity for changing the fabric of their home (i.e. improving energy efficiency).

Perhaps a further key similarity between the UK and the Netherlands is that both have a high cost overburden rate (i.e. the percentage of the population living in households where the total housing costs represent more than 40 % of disposable income) at over 14% (higher than the EU-28 proportion of 11.6%). Again, this potentially offers some implications in terms of capacity to spend money on improving energy efficiency.

The data on energy consumption also demonstrates a few similarities. For both the UK and the Netherlands, space heating constitutes the largest area of consumption.

One might argue, therefore, that I should be most concerned about trying to understand the expectations about space heating. But what this graph does not show is the change in consumption over time. Indeed, there is recognition that lighting and electronic appliances constitutes a growing area of consumption. These trends can be explained by greater energy efficiency improvements for space heating than for other uses, because of building regulations and the diffusion of more efficient heating appliances; in addition, there is a multiplication of new electrical appliances. Indeed, a recent EST report ‘Powering the Nation’ demonstrated that energy use by electrical appliances is higher than ever expected. Moreover, the efficiency gains in these products is apparently being cancelled out be increasing ownership of these items. For instance, ‘small appliances more than doubled their share of the total consumption for appliances and lighting, from 18% in 1990 to 39% in 2009’ ( p. 42).

As I move closer towards finalising my data collection plan, these are the types of issues I am considering in terms of working out which types of dwellings I want to research, and the types of activities undertaken with in them that I want to understand.

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