Poplar HARCA knew it needed to make its residents’ homes safer, greener and healthier, and it was also looking for better ways to manage its housing portfolio.
The beginning – Tech, meet human ingenuity
It all started when Peter Marcus, Poplar HARCA’s assistant director of research, development and transformation, wanted to prove that the air-conditioning in the housing provider’s offices was too cold. This led him to build a Raspberry Pi gateway (think of it as a DIY device) that could connect to sensors and measure temperature and humidity.
Poplar HARCA realised that this technology could be used in its residents’ homes. It started exploring IoT solutions and saw how they could be integrated to unravel the many problems faced by housing providers.
It identified that tackling fuel poverty would make a real difference to people’s lives and that this was something a monitoring solution could do, besides tackling some of the wider strategic issues that it faced, particularly decarbonisation and the asset management costs associated with condensation and the overall condition of its housing stock.
The challenge – Evolving to scale
There were a number of barriers to rolling out what Poplar HARCA already had to every home. The Raspberry Pi gateway (while very impressive) took time and required an effort similar to that of any DIY project, and there were questions surrounding CE marking and ensuring that whatever device went into each home complied with the applicable laws.
The housing provider tried other comparable technologies only to find that these were impractical and out-of-date, delayed (or had unrealistic time frames), intrusive or temporary.
One example is the data-logging fan being marketed as a solution to resident-driven condensation, which requires data to be downloaded to a USB stick. This means having to collect it, download/upload the data and analyse it for any trends, and then repeating this cycle, or removing it after a certain period, thereby denying relevant parties the chance to gain an understanding in the long term.
The middle – Testing and use-cases
The partnership between Poplar HARCA and HomeLink can be split into three phases, two of which are explored in this section.
The first phase (mid-2019) involved the deployment of sensors to test and learn, validate the stability of connectivity and ensure that any previous concerns were not an impediment to the project.
The second phase (February 2021) included a larger roll out, this time to look at specific use-cases:
1. Ventilation, fuel poverty, indoor air-quality monitoring & void detection
60 environmental sensors (40 humidity & temp. sensors and 20 humidity, temp. & CO2 sensors) along with 20 gateways were installed in 20 homes. To test this use-case, ‘problem properties’ and other ‘listed’ properties were chosen to explore inefficiencies and test various interventions.
2. Mould monitoring & intervention
36 sensors and 12 gateways were installed in 12 homes for the mould use-case. Properties and residents were chosen according to who called in with a mould complaint. Instead of sending the usual ‘condensation & mould data logger’, the HomeLink kit was installed, comprising three environmental sensors (covering humidity, temp. & CO2) and one gateway.
The second phase also included a large update in terms of the overall solution provided by HomeLink. Poplar HARCA’s residents had access to the brand-new (at the time) HomeLink app which gave their residents the opportunity to take control of the health of their homes, as well as a considerable number of updates to the HomeLink portal.
The outcome – An all-in-one connected home solution
1. Custom notifications
With the portal configured to send notifications via email to specific departments within Poplar HARCA, the right people were notified when a relevant medium or high risk was identified or if an event required further investigation.
Elizabeth Williams, assistant director of asset management, Poplar HARCA, said, “While still at a relatively early stage, Peter’s project already has tangible benefits for our asset management. In properties where the HomeLink devices are fitted, we can support residents before mould proliferates which benefits their health and reduces our costs – this is a great achievement.”
2. Fuel poverty detection
Poplar HARCA discovered a resident struggling with fuel poverty after noticing the ‘insight’ being raised on the portal. It inspected the property and found that the resident was only heating one room in their property to save electricity. Poplar HARCA was able to intervene and provide advice and support.
3. Void detection
The housing provider successfully identified two empty properties because of the void detection ‘insight’. It confirmed that the residents had definitely left and re-let the void properties.
4. Time & cost savings
Replacing ‘condensation & mould data loggers’ with environmental sensors has meant reduced costs, effort and time for Poplar HARCA’s repairs team because no repeat visits were necessary to collect and analyse the mould situation. The housing provider could act remotely, intervening physically only after residents had attempted all other methods of reducing the risk of mould. Poplar HARCA also reduced visits and callouts to intervene or give advice because the HomeLink app provided residents with information to help them prevent mould from occurring in the first place.
5. Happier & healthier residents
The app gave recommendations to improve conditions such as reducing indoor air pollution, optimising the temperature within one’s home, reminders to test their smoke and CO alarms and other tips related to improving their health and safety.
The end… is really just the beginning
With the use-cases validated, the third phase (full-scale rollout) of the project has begun. As of January 2023, Poplar HARCA has 391 properties with IoT devices installed, 2,877 rooms are being monitored and 3,231 devices are now connected.
Future use-cases include retrofit validation and energy monitoring to reach net-zero goals, as well as ensuring Poplar HARCA’s smoke and CO alarms are connected to the HomeLink platform to ensure a holistic view, eliminating visibility gaps and unifying ‘insights’ that will increase the health and safety of its housing portfolio.