In order to tackle climate change, net-zero targets have been introduced around the globe across local, national and international scales. Reaching net zero is likely to be the most important and pressing challenge our society will face during our lifetimes.
Our homes contributed more than 20 per cent of the UK’s total carbon dioxide emissions last year through the burning of fossil fuels for heating and cooking, and this figure is significantly higher when including emissions from the production of the electricity we use. We all have a responsibility to reduce our emissions and we can play an active role by decarbonising our own homes.
The connected home…
With innovations in IoT technologies, the notion of a connected home could prove a real asset in making homes not only more sustainable, but also more efficient and ultimately safer – with a focus on wellbeing. Substantial progress has been made in reducing emissions in other areas such as electricity generation, with the replacement of coal with greener alternatives such as wind and solar. Our homes, however, have shown little improvement. New, well-insulated homes go some way to addressing this and can use IoT technologies to ensure they are performing as promised.
These technologies are not restricted to new homes, however, and there is a real opportunity to use IoT to improve the understanding of our existing homes. The UK has some of the oldest housing stock in Europe and this presents its own challenge to decarbonisation. Draughty and poorly-insulated homes are more difficult to heat and result in higher emissions. Reducing the energy needs of older homes is crucial both in reducing their carbon impact and in tackling fuel poverty. IoT technologies can identify the poorest performing homes to reduce emissions and help to provide affordable and healthy living environments.
Housing providers are increasingly realising that IoT can bring many benefits through improved maintenance efficiencies, investment optimisation and compliance. Despite this, they often worry about residents’ perceptions if IoT were adopted. For example, they worry that residents might reject the technology for privacy reasons or that they could be perceived as some sort of ‘big brother’ organisation.
The results of interviews and surveys carried out in recent research by HomeLink with dozens of landlords and hundreds of residents, showed that concerns exist on both sides, particularly when it comes to privacy, data ownership and consent.
When delving into the details, there are two key influences that alleviate these concerns; experience of the technology and trust. Through engagement with residents on numerous projects, it’s clear that residents are glad to have adopted this technology (for all the benefits previously outlined) after they have lived with it for only a short period of time. Our research also indicates that those who have greater trust in their housing provider are more accepting of IoT. Trust also extends to social circles; evidence of this is always apparent when scaling up IoT projects – each resident from the initial pilot always puts forward dozens of neighbours and friends for subsequent IoT projects.
Aico’s new HomeLink Environmental Sensors are designed to create better maintained, healthier, more energy efficient homes, placed throughout the home to monitor temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide.
The sensors provide actionable insights into conditions such as mould risk, draught risk, excess cold, heat loss and indoor air quality. Humidity and carbon dioxide monitoring via the HomeLink Environmental Sensors helps to manage the quality of the air in properties, ensuring adequate ventilation and air circulation, and identifying preventable issues such as damp and mould at an early stage.
Understanding of the potential transformative impact that IoT technology could have on the landlord-customer relationships first arose during a GovTech project between HomeLink and Leeds and York Councils, where in-depth interviews were carried out with approximately 100 residents to understand the acceptability and likely engagement they would have with IoT data.
IoT ethics research
This project led to two significant outcomes for HomeLink; first, the development of an app for residents and second, the beginning of an ongoing IoT ethics research programme. It was clear during this project that IoT product development in housing needs to consider the resident as much as it does the landlord. By taking this approach, HomeLink is ensuring that IoT adoption will not only be welcomed by residents but that the potentially huge win-win scenario is realised.
As resident engagement is crucially important when it comes to using IoT technologies within homes, Aico has developed the HomeLink Resident App, specifically designed for our Environmental Sensors, in order to empower residents. Through the app, residents are provided with personalised, user-friendly data and insight into their ‘home health’ through an overall rating, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide data and handy advice on the measures they can take to improve the quality of their home, including alarm testing notifications.
There are many ways in which IoT can transform customer relationships and these broadly fit into two categories:
- Improved living conditions – healthier and safer;
- Financial savings from targeted energy efficiency measures;
- Empowered with data and insights.
Less relationship friction
- Preventative maintenance leads to fewer reasons to visit and call;
- Fault transparency, such as the likely cause (structural or lifestyle) of mould being clear;
- Resident app engagement, such as appointment scheduling and repairs feedback.
The new HomeLink Environmental Sensors, HomeLink dashboard and Resident App adds another dimension to resident safety while helping landlords to meet their strategic goals, creating safer, healthier homes.
Chris Jones is the CEO of HomeLink.