Inviting Interaction – Explorations of the district heating interface for people
District heating provides more than half of the homes in Sweden with heating and hot water and have the potential to play an increasingly important role in the development towards fossil-free energy systems – yet it is rather unknown by the public. To understand why this is the case and to influence the situation, this research aims at exploring the district heating interface for people.
In the first part of this research, I explored the interaction space of people and district heating in two research studies: (1) a diary study focusing on the role district heating plays in everyday pursuit of thermal comfort and (2) an interview study focusing on people’s ways of making sense and making use of district heating. The findings seem to suggest that district heating provides basic heating in a uniform manner, but that additional means often are used to achieve thermal comfort. The use of additional means, in combination with infrequent interaction with the heating system due to lack of (perceived) control over the heating, seems to obscure services available with district heating. Especially in apartments, people have been excluded from the district heating system in the sense that they do neither get any output (in the form of e.g. information or feedback) besides the district heating services, nor are they able to give much input (in the form of e.g. control) to the system. One reason for this is that heating costs generally are included in the rent.
In the second part of this research, I integrated the findings from the first part into three possible directions to suggest how to redesign the district heating interface for people. The first direction represents making use of district heating in more ways than what is currently available. The second direction concerns enabling residents to be informed of the status and in control over the processes in the building’s central heating system as well as in the district heating system. The third direction is about designing means for thermal comfort and pleasurable thermal experiences through indirect use of district heating.
Prior to this work, attempts of raising awareness about district heating have addressed people in their role as citizens through information about the beneficial characteristics of district heating. Instead I have tried a different path. The three design directions address people in their role as residents, occupants, and users by focusing on the services offered by district heating. Findings from an exploratory field study with prototypes based on the third direction seem to suggest that district heating services can be utilised to invite people to take a more conscious role with regard to their building’s heating system. Yet, for that consciousness to reach beyond the building’s heating system to the district heating system, the connection between the two systems must be very clear. The district heating interface for people could in this way be redesigned to invite interaction.
means for thermal comfort