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Patterns of Water (2013)

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This report contains the findings of survey research on the patterns of water using practices in households across the South and South East of England. Following a ‘practice based’ approach to water demand, this research takes practices as the unit of analysis when exploring water use – rather than attitudes, behaviours or simply ‘litres used’ – and highlights how this changed unit of analysis allows for a deeper understanding of the routines and habits of everyday life that lead to domestic water consumption – washing and personal hygiene, doing the laundry, gardening, cooking etc. The main results of the research are presented for household water infrastructure and technologies, for each of the separate water using practices, and for how the practices overall interrelate with one another. The final section then discusses the key implications of the work for contributing to designing interventions and to techniques for forecasting future water demand, pointing the way to future research and applications.

Executive summary

  • This report contains the findings of survey research on the patterns of water using practices in households across the South and South East of England.
  • Following a ‘practice based’ approach to water demand, this research takes practices as the unit of analysis when exploring water use – rather than attitudes, behavioursor simply ‘litres used’ – and highlights how this changed unit of analysis allows for a deeper understanding of the routines and habits of everyday life that lead to domestic water consumption – washing and personal hygiene, doing the laundry, gardening, cooking etc. A practice approach highlights the diversity of dynamics shaping domestic water demand and can help bring new insights into how to construct interventions, and into the future trajectories of different practices and levels of water consumption.
  • The research involved an 1800 respondent survey, conducted in the south and south east of England in the summer of 2011. This survey focused on the range of practices in which water is implicated in the home, in particular, personal hygiene and care, doing the laundry, gardening, cooking and washing up, cleaning the home and other water using activities such as car washing. The survey included questions to probethe ‘materials, meanings and skills’ of everyday practice associated with water, such as an audit of water consuming technologies in the home and garden, detailed questions on routines and performances of practice, and collected other data such as socio-demographics, presence of meter, and a suite of questions exploring other environmental habits.
  • Analysis included both descriptive statistics and cluster analysis techniques to explore the diversity of water consuming practices and to reveal common variants of each practice, identifying similar and recurrent ways in which people in the population perform, in particular, personal cleaning, laundry, and garden watering. Qualitative, face to face semi-structured interviews were conducted with 22 of the survey participants, adding valuable details to our understanding of the patterns observed in the quantitative survey data and the complexities of and reasons behind them.
  • The sections below in this executive summary draw out the main findings presented in the report. The main results of the research are presented for household water infrastructure and technologies, for each of the separate water using practices, and for how the practices overall interrelate with one another. The final section then discusses the key implications of the work for contributing to designing interventions and to techniques for forecasting future water demand, pointing the way to future research and applications.