In urban studies and in energy policy there is much debate about the relationship between energy demand and the density of residential areas, measured in units such as those of population/ha or population/km2. A different approach is presented in this paper. Rather than evaluating the relative merits of compact or sprawling urban forms, the focus is on the spatial configuration of the infrastructures, appliances and systems of provision on which city life depends. An interview-based study of households living in the same extremely ‘dense’ neighbourhood in Hanoi, Vietnam, shows how practices of cooling,laundering and cooking (and the energy demands associated with these practices) are shaped by material arrangements that exist within the home and that also stretch far beyond. The conclusion that supply and demand are constituted across multiple spatial scales has practical implications for urban design, and for how the relation between energy demand and density is defined and understood.