As the colder months creep closer, how can housing providers use sensor technology to target disrepairs and establish healthier homes?
In 2018, 17,000 people died because they couldn’t afford to heat their homes. And the following year, four million properties were found to fall short of the minimum requirements of the Decent Homes Standard. Sadly, this year with the cost-of-living crisis and energy prices skyrocketing, these numbers are expected to be much higher.
The Decent Home Standard currently covers all social housing, excluding leasehold and shared ownership properties. The standard aims to “bring health benefits to tenants and reduce health inequalities”, although it is currently under review until autumn 2022 to “understand if it is right for the social housing sector today”.
Currently, a property is considered a safe and decent home if it meets the current statutory minimum standard for housing, is in a reasonable state of repair, has reasonably modern facilities and services, and provides a ‘reasonable degree’ of thermal comfort such as effective insulation and efficient heating.
Future-proofing properties with technology
However, millions of people live in homes that don’t provide their most basic needs; homes that are too cold or too hot, that are unsafe, that are too expensive to heat, that are overcrowded and homes that have poor or unaffordable digital connections. According to Ageing Better, those properties are most often occupied by older people, those with existing health conditions, people on lower incomes and those from ethnic minority groups.
With the majority (80 per cent) of the UK’s housing stock built before 1990 and only 4,700 properties having an ‘insulation age’ of 2013, the age of the UK’s housing stock is one of the key drivers for disrepairs. Subsequently, there has been a 90 per cent increase in disrepair cases brought against housing providers by their tenants, and likely to increase even more if further regulation is enforced.
But when one in five excess winter deaths can be attributed to cold homes, and with exposure to damp and mould for extended periods exacerbating or inducing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, it’s vital that steps are taken today to not only support short-term solutions but also to future-proof properties to create healthier homes.
Identifying hidden disrepairs
The Housing Ombudsman’s 2021 report, ‘Spotlight on damp and mould – It’s not lifestyle’ encourages housing providers to take a “data-driven, risk-based approach to damp and mould” to identify and anticipate interventions before a disrepair claim is made.
The report recognises the challenges for housing providers in tackling the issues, such as overcrowding, poverty and the age and design of homes, but it says they need to “find their silences” where complaints aren’t being raised despite other indicators suggesting that there might be problems.
Data is the key to giving these silences a voice, equipping housing teams with the insights needed to identify current or potential disrepair problems in properties. Unobtrusive IoT sensors (capable of detecting factors such as temperature, humidity, movement or water leaks) can be installed in tenants’ homes to provide real-time data.
Installing intelligent IoT technology is also a key step to supporting ‘net zero’ targets and is already required for the PAS2035 retrofit standard to provide continuous data on internal temperature, relative humidity and fuel usage in properties.
Proactive protection and prevention
The next generation FireAngel gateway enables housing providers to offer a level of protection and preventative measures never seen before in home safety. The gateway is ceiling mounted, occupying the same footprint of a smoke alarm, and it can be integrated with grade D1 alarms so no extra wiring is needed.
This gateway incorporates temperature and humidity sensors as standard to monitor the two main indicators of damp and mould. The gateway also caters for the inclusion of third-party Zigbee-enabled devices, allowing housing providers to create bespoke networks. All of the data gathered is uploaded to FireAngel’s Connected cloud platform to generate insights around the most vulnerable tenants and properties.
Potential environment-related problems can be identified before a repair becomes expensive while simultaneously pinpointing tenants who may need further help.
FireAngel Connected offers substantial insights via its own dashboard yet it also deploys open-source APIs which allow full integration with housing providers’ existing databases and business applications. Combining real-time data from property environments with other systems, such as maintenance team schedules, enables housing providers to actively review property environments and allocate resources more effectively.
Jeff Gascoigne is a specification manager at FireAngel.