As of November 2021, Barnet Homes has over 3,000 properties connected to the Aico-HomeLink IoT platform, accounting for 20 per cent of its total housing stock. The technology has demonstrably saved people’s lives and generated net savings. Following a smooth roll-out, Barnet Homes has confirmed it will complete a full roll-out of 15,000 homes by 2025.
For every £1 invested, at least £2.70 will be saved
A comprehensive business case identified cashable savings of £8.9m. There were also further safety, compliance and reputation-related savings of £16.9m but these were not included in the business case in order to take a conservative approach. Some examples of the savings include:
1. Increased asset lifetime
The average time an alarm spends on the ceiling is estimated to be seven years. This is short of the 10-year recommendation given by most reputable manufacturers because contractors, installers and asset managers err on the side of caution when replacing devices to decrease the risk that alarms go out of date on the ceiling.
The main examples given are for EICR tests; because these are five-year cyclical programs, alarms found to be over five years old are automatically replaced to prevent them from falling out of date prior to subsequent visits. While this approach improves compliance, it can be more financially and environmentally costly. The Aico-HomeLink platform provides transparency about average alarm replacement ages and provides asset managers with complete transparency of alarms that are out of date, greatly reducing non-compliance risk while enabling a data-led, strategic and targeted approach to replacements.
2. Reducing visits
Physical annual smoke and CO alarm tests are often no longer needed. While most of these checks were completed concurrently as part of gas servicing, there are still costs associated with them.
3. Improving safety and compliance
Improvements include better compliance reporting, reduced risk of fines, reduced legal expenses, fewer and more efficient repairs/callouts, and lower probability of reputational costs associated with accidents resulting in a near-miss, injury or death.
Gavin Bass, senior compliance manager, Barnet Homes, said, “We suspected that this product could improve our services from an early stage and, after a small pilot, we committed to a sizeable initial deployment to really test the system. There are now many people within Barnet Homes using this system and as we roll it out across our entire stock, it has become business as usual.”
Peter Chapman, project manager for fire safety, Barnet Homes, said, “We received a CO alarm notification followed by an alert that the alarm had been removed. We sent an engineer who immediately disconnected the cooker and reported the highest recorded level of CO he had seen in his career. It was extremely lucky that no one died as a result. Surprisingly, the resident didn’t realise it was a CO alarm and had been doing this for some time.”
Based on conservative metrics, the business case is strong, but the primary motivation for Barnet Homes is the potential to improve the safety and healthiness of its residents’ homes. For example, by the time 1,000 homes had been connected, Barnet had already identified three homes that had low levels of carbon monoxide and one home that had high levels. In every case, the housing provider immediately sent an engineer to fix the problems.
Barnet Homes’ Bass said, “Carbon monoxide was already required as part of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. We now have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that our homes are free from CO and CO alarms will soon be a legal requirement. We can also see IoT solutions such as this becoming a legal requirement in future because it’s the difference between ticking boxes and assuming you know, and actually knowing 100 per cent. In reality, this means saving money and lives and we have seen the reality of this already.”
Industry 4.0 refers to a new phase in the industrial revolution that focuses on interconnectivity, automation, machine learning and real-time data. It has already transformed many other sectors, from manufacturing to automobiles and aviation. Cars or jet engines without data analytics and sensors are now rare and homes are rapidly following suit.
While Barnet Homes leads the way, many other housing providers are on the same trajectory for IoT adoption. This is more evidence that industry 4.0 has arrived for housing providers in the form of compliance.
To date, Aico-HomeLink has already brought online IoT solutions for nearly 14,000 social housing properties in the UK and this number is growing all the time. Based on feedback from customers who are currently scaling this technology, Aico-HomeLink will have at least 50,000 live homes by the end of 2022 and 750,000 by the end of 2025. There are currently over 20 large housing providers that have either reached full scale or are on the path to a full IoT roll-out.
Given the dramatic improvement in compliance that IoT sensors provide, this is clearly a ‘horse to car’ moment for our sector. IoT enables housing providers to know that they are compliant, not simply hope that they are. This is an evolution from the previous cascade of ticked boxes and reports to simply getting alerts when things go wrong and being assured of compliance in real-time at all other times.
Some of the questions that can be answered much better with IoT, analytics and software:
- Are homes fitted to the right specification?
- Have the alarms been tested?
- Are the alarms ‘in date’?
- Are alarms being replaced close to the 10-year mark?
- Have any alarms been removed?
- Are your homes free from CO?
The road ahead
The plan for Barnet Homes is to cost-effectively install the gateway in all homes by 2025 as part of its ongoing LD2 upgrades. Beyond this, its plan is to roll out the new HomeLink environmental sensors to at least 100 homes in the near future. These sensors will be essential in tackling several emerging compliance challenges covered in legislations such as the Homes Act 2018 (e.g. damp & mould, ventilation, thermal rating and energy efficiency). An additional benefit to Barnet Homes of having the Aico-HomeLink gateway installed across its stock is that it would be very inexpensive and little effort to deploy these sensors across its 15,000 homes.
Barnet Homes’ Bass said, “We can see huge value in the environmental sensors. From improving residents’ health and wellbeing to ensuring we’re compliant with things that are very difficult and expensive to measure such as the locations and causes of damp and mould.
“It is clear from the housing ombudsman’s report that housing providers are expected to take a proactive approach to solve these problems; non-compliance will no longer be tolerated and legal claims for disrepair are likely to increase. The sector needs to get on its front foot and there aren’t many options.”
Chris Jones is CEO of HomeLink (Aico).