New research project set to document the social history of home heating

18th October 2023

New research project set to document the social history of home heating and show the way to a fairer future

A new project by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University aims to document the social history of home heating in Britain as the era of fossil fuel heating comes to an end.

The Justheat project invites the public to contribute photos and memories to an archive capturing the social and cultural significance of home heating in living memory across four countries: the UK, Sweden, Finland and Romania. Researchers say our emotional attachment to the fireplace remains strong, even as cleaner heating technologies like heat pumps become more common.

The project coincides with the end of an era with the sale of house coal for domestic use banned in England earlier this year. The phase-out is part of efforts to improve air quality and meet carbon emissions targets.

While coal dominated home heating in the UK for over a century, researchers say that its demise is bittersweet, particularly in coal mining areas.

Early findings from oral history interviews, suggest that although an emotional connection to the fireside undoubtedly still exists, there were heavy costs associated with open fires. These include greenhouse gas emissions, poor indoor air quality caused by burning solid fuels in the home, and intense daily labour of keeping fires burning which placed a heavy burden on women, in particular.

Project Leader, Aimee Ambrose, Professor of Energy Policy at Sheffield Hallam University said:

"As we stand on the cusp of great change, it's important we don't lose sight of the role home heating has played in our lives."

“These lived experiences will help put policy makers designing low carbon heating transitions in touch with their consequences for our everyday lives, helping to create a fairer future for home heating where the negative impacts of technological and digital innovation are understood and addressed.”

Justheat is funded by the Collaboration for Humanities and Social Science in Europe (CHANSE). It brings together an international interdisciplinary team of social scientists, artists, historians and architects all interested in how changes to home heating impacts daily lives and how this plays out across time and place. The research aims to promote an inclusive approach to the transition to low carbon heat sources.

The Justheat project explores the history of heating in Britain and its impacts on health, gender roles, labour, and culture. Submit photos and memories to justheatproject@shu.ac.uk.

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