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Home energy renovations: Tearing down the gender walls

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Tjørring, Lise. “We forgot half of the population! The significance of gender in Danish energy renovation projects.” Energy Research & Social Science 22 (2016): 115-124. DOI: 10.1016/j.erss.2016.08.008

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Understanding why some households pursue home energy renovations while others do not requires a close examination of how men and women use their homes in different ways. A better grasp of gender differences within the household could encourage more people to renovate their homes.

Governments are increasingly turning to home energy renovations as a means to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. Unfortunately, many government initiatives aim only to reduce the financial burden and technical complications of performing home energy renovations. They tend to ignore the different roles and lifestyles of men and women within the household. This oversight hinders the widespread adoption of energy renovations.

Initiatives that account for gender differences within the household could generate more home energy renovations. Lise Tjørring, a researcher from the University of Copenhagen, investigated the link between home energy renovations and gender in a study published in Energy Research & Social Science. For the study, Tørring interviewed one home energy advisor and ten households pursuing home energy renovations in the Danish town of Sonderborg. She chose to focus the study on fewer families so that the interview process for each family could be more in-depth. She argues that Denmark serves as a valuable case study because of the country’s high level of gender equality. Any relationship between gender and energy renovations found in Denmark will likely be more pronounced in other countries with less gender equality. In this way, Denmark forms a baseline with which to gauge other countries.

Tjørring found that men and women in a household make decisions on home energy renovations together. During the decision-making process, they both referenced their daily home practices to argue for specific types of energy renovations. For example, women tended to advocate for renovating the rooms they use most frequently, such as the kitchen and the bathroom. They also often opposed switching the home heating system to wood pellets because it would require hauling heavy bags of pellets.

This led to the second conclusion of the study: home practices often conform to traditional gender norms and this constrains the actions taken by men and women. Men primarily perform home maintenance. Since home energy renovations are considered home maintenance, renovations are deemed to be “men’s” work. Meanwhile, “women’s” work consists of domestic activities such as cooking, laundry, and cleaning.

Recall that men and women reference their home practices when deciding on energy renovations. This finding, combined with the finding that labor within households is gender-specific, indicates that home energy renovations often fall into the man’s sphere of responsibility. This leaves little space for women to engage in the energy renovation process.

Tjørring provides three suggestions for how to better engage women in energy renovation projects. First, government initiatives for home energy renovations should tailor their outreach to women in addition to men. Second, entrenched gender roles in the household need to be challenged. Third, gender and gender-specific household practices should be the starting point for thinking about energy renovations, and not peripheral to the process.

Home energy renovation initiatives ignore the social complexity within a household at their own peril. This study demonstrates how gender affects home energy renovations and the decision-making process. Both men and women reference their daily home practices in deciding which renovations to pursue. These home practices typically conform to gender norms. Understanding these linkages, and deconstructing gender norms, could increase the rate of home energy renovations.