Households are increasingly addressed as a focus of environmental policy, with varying degrees of success in achieving more sustainable outcomes at the domestic level. Part of the problem is black boxing, in which the inherent complexity of households tends to be taken for granted. Here we draw on cultural environmental research to put forward a more sophisticated conceptualisation – the connected household approach. The connected household framework uses the themes of governance, materiality and practice to illustrate and explain the ways everyday life, and the internal politics of households, are connected to wider systems of provision and socioeconomic networks. We introduce ‘zones of friction’ and ‘zones of traction’ to illustrate different pathways of connection between the spheres. Friction and traction can help decision-makers think through the possibilities and constraints of working at the household scale. The approach is illustrated using the example of water, with a focus on the variable success of water tanks in reducing mains water consumption during the millennium drought.