Water in the UK: Changing patterns of water use in high-use households

   Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering

  ,  Wednesday, October 05, 2022  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Co-funded by Northumbrian Water Group (NWG), this project supports the improvement of the company’s water efficiency strategy and helps the water industry move beyond conventional retrofit and behavioural interventions towards a sociotechnical regime that’s capable of securing future water supplies. The successful candidate will conduct a mixed-methods study to understand how and why patterns of water use are changing in high use households and develop and trial interventions to deliver substantial demand-led changes in water use.

The project will involve multiple methods; including secondary analysis of NWG’s existing smart-meter data and market research on high-use households to identify clusters of households and particular practices of interest (e.g. hyper-cleanliness). Of equal importance will be primary research (for example, surveys, ethnographic home tours, and focus groups) which will further existing data by providing a practice-oriented perspective (see Browne et al., 2014) to understand water use. Then, using the Change Points toolkit (Hoolohan and Browne, 2020) and informed by a review of existing interventions from across the sustainability spectrum (e.g., car-free living experiments, Cool Biz, Veganuary), the candidate will use emerging insights to develop and trial interventions to reconfigure water use in homes and maximise reductions in demand. The evaluation will focus on understanding the barriers and opportunities to adopting, scaling up and rolling out such interventions to other households within and without the high-water using cluster, including how a range of stakeholders could support and increase the efficacy of these interventions.

Research objectives

·        To identify clusters of high-use households and explore practices that characterise patterns of water use.

·        To understand how and why water is used, how variations in practice are produced and the factors that aid or inhibit less water intensive ways of living.

·        To co-design and trial a practice-focused bespoke intervention for high-use households using the Change Points approach.

·        Evaluate trial to increase understanding of issues around adapting and upscaling to other high-use households including ways to identify diverse segments of households where substantial water savings may be feasible.


In addition to an academic thesis and journal papers (2), this project will deliver:

·        Interim reports (3 monthly) to share with project supervision team (UoM and NWG) and advisory team (anticipated to include a relevant industry and policy partners).

·        Presentation at key academic and industry conferences (e.g. International Water Association Annual Conference, Waterwise Annual Conference)

·        Primary data on how and why water is used in high-use households.

·        Open access report on workshop proceedings.

·        At least one intervention designed, piloted, and evaluated.

Supervisory input will be provided by the official UoM supervisors and the NWG lead. The successful candidate will benefit from being part of both the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation, two world-leading centres for interdisciplinary climate change research. The successful candidate will have access to unrivalled specialist expertise and opportunities to develop transferable skills and enhance their future employability. In addition, the University of Manchester offers an extensive training and development package to support the effective completion of a PhD.

Candidates should have a good first degree in geography, design, sociology, business or other relevant social science subject. Candidates must also have good written and analytical skills and a strong interest in sustainability practice and policy. A demonstrable knowledge of qualitative research methods is essential. Educational, project or work experience relating to water governance, sustainable consumption and/or interventions design Is desirable. Evidence of project management and collaborative research is also desirable.

Please send a CV and cover letter to before making a full application through the University of Manchester online application form.

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact. We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder). 

Funding Notes

This PhD is co-funded by the University of Manchester and Northumbrian Water Group. This is a 3.5 year studentship to start in January 2023 that will cover fees at the Home rate and provide a tax-free stipend at the standard UKRI rate (£16,062 in 2022-23). EU students who hold settled or pre-settled status and meet the residency requirements for Home fee status are very welcome to apply.

How good is research at The University of Manchester in Engineering?

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

Email Now

PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs