Back to top

Central Heating: Uncovering the impact on social relationships and household management


The recently completed Watcombe Housing Project used a randomised design to assess the influence, if any, of improving housing conditions on the health of residents. This highly-structured quantitative design was transferred as far as possible from a clinical setting to a council-owned housing estate. One outcome was the obvious difficulty this design had in fully capturing the multi-faceted psycho-social dimension of people’s lives that contributed to their emotional and physical health. A small integrated qualitative study identified several potentially important issues relevant to the health of residents which merited further exploration. The present study was thus designed to draw upon these initial qualitative findings and, using semi-structured interviews, explore the social structures, processes and interactions associated with living in cold houses. A more quantitative approach using structured interviews on a larger sample was also employed, integrating with our qualitative survey, assessing generalisability of findings from the Watcombe Project.
The study has demonstrated the validity of the small qualitative element of the Watcombe Project. Most importantly the less obvious benefits, over and above thermal comfort of living in warmer houses, have been reinforced. Thus this much larger and robust study has provided persuasive and publishable findings which add new dimensions to the issues surrounding thermal comfort and concepts to explore in housing research. The complex, multi-level social constructs and influence on relationships revealed here have implications for the strategy of housing trusts, associations, and councils. The study also indicates the need for an increased emphasis on interpersonal relationships, educational attainment and emotional well-being, as outcomes in housing research, to complement health outcomes.