The 'meaning' behind household rainwater use: An Australian case study

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Journal Article
Technology in Society, 2015, 42 pp. 179 - 186
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© 2015 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Suburban rainwater tanks have the potential to reduce household mains water consumption, but simply installing the technology does not mean rainwater is automatically incorporated into everyday practices. Exploring how rainwater is conceptualised in contrast to mains water, and the way it is used in household practices, provides insights into why rainwater tank households may not be using less mains water than households without tanks. Water saving strategies that promote rainwater tanks tend to focus on installation rather than how, why and where rainwater is substituted for mains water. While there is the assumption that rainwater tank households use less mains water, an investigation of rainwater practices have revealed influential social and cultural factors that extend far beyond installing a new technology. Drawing on a household water study involving 21 interviews and 1425 surveys in the Illawarra region, Australia, practice theory principles provided insight into how rainwater was conceptualised, revealing the 'meaning' of rainwater as an influential factor informing its everyday use. The historical, cultural and emotional meanings of rainwater contribute to shaping its use in everyday practices. Rainwater means different things to different people and it is this spectrum of meanings that inform the range of practices, and volumes of use. This study highlights opportunities for increased integration of rainwater into household practices, which may broaden the perceived uses and usefulness, reshaping it's meaning over time.
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