Smart heat controls: are social landlords warming to IoT heat technology?

Nigel Ebdon of Secure Meters UK Ltd explores the significance of ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) technology and how social landlords benefit from smart heat controls

Social landlords are investing in IoT technology to better measure and manage energy use including home energy efficiency, tenant health, safety and welfare, and asset management.

Secure Meters UK Ltd was keen to better understand market expectation and need, so in early 2018 we commissioned a broad survey of UK social asset, sustainability and energy managers. It has been interesting to observe that once housing professionals grasp the fundamentals of home sensor and IoT technology they are alive with ideas on how to deploy it across their housing stock. In particular, they comprehend the potential duel value of IoT. Tenants benefit from greater control, improved customer service and a more responsive, better-informed landlord. Landlords on the other hand are able to make better, evidence based decisions, improve service delivery and efficiency and better manage assets.This is certainly true of smart heat controls where tenants can reduce heating bills through increased control via smart phones, while landlords use remote access to data to better maintain boilers and identify issues such as high humidity and over and under heated homes. The following breaks down three key questions from the report, along with reaction from Southern Housing Group’s senior home energy advisor Patryk Szczerba. Patryk and the London based housing association have been assessing a 20 home smart heat control pilot installation over recent months.

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF SMART HEAT CONTROLS

Interestingly, at a time when cost and efficiency savings are perceived to be at an ever increasing priority for landlords, tenant support and welfare related benefits came out on top, in particular reducing bills and tackling fuel poverty. Patryk Szczerba comments: “I’m actually not surprised by this. Although it is the asset management value of smart heat controls that could potentially save landlords significant money over time, the most obvious upfront benefit is reducing tenant fuel bills. “This is the starting point for many landlords: can the cost of heat be reduced without compromising the quality of warmth in the home? If the answer to this is yes, then it’s a massive tick in the box.”

WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL ASSET MANAGEMENT BENEFITS OF SMART HEAT CONTROLS?

We have been long aware of the damaging impact of humidity and subsequent mould growth, and Secure Meters has recently partnered with the University of Southampton’s faculty Engineering and Environment to better understand the problem.

Patryk agrees: “Mould growth is often an expensive, perennial and ongoing problem for landlords. Firstly, there are health implications for tenants exposed to mould growth for prolonged periods of time – including nasal lung conditions, asthma and allergies in children.

“Removing and stopping mould growth isn’t always a simple process and often requires a combination of tradespeople and services to fix it. This can include the complaints team, housing managers, surveyors and contractors.In the meantime tenants may have to be rehoused. It all mounts up. “Smart heat controls should be able to assist in a number of ways. Firstly, it can alert us to the homes with problematic levels of humidity, allowing us to take preventative action before mould growth takes hold.”

Patryk further explains: “Secondly, it should provide my team with the information needed to have an informed conversation with the tenant. If we can see that humidity is spiking at say meal or shower times, we can suggest ventilating the bathroom or putting lids on pans.”

WHAT ARE THE MAIN BARRIERS TO THE ADOPTION OF SMART HEAT CONTROLS?

The two main barriers to adoption identified are the upfront capital investment required to purchase and confusion over various technologies.

The issue of CapEx isn’t a surprise, and in our experience landlords would rather spread the cost by paying monthly for managed services – with guarantees that products will be maintained and kept up-to-date as part of any contracts. With solutions evolving so quickly you can understand why landlords are anxious to avoid purchasing ‘yesterday’s technology’.

Patryk comments: “Smart heat controls should provide ongoing financial, environmental and social benefits – and this return should be balanced against upfront costs. However, keeping upfront capital costs as low as possible definitely makes purchasing easier, and most landlords now prefer to pay for new solutions as an ongoing service funded by the value they deliver.”

“There are a lot of different connected home technologies out there from a growing number suppliers, and in an ideal world they would all be able to integrate and work together, but landlords understand that’s never going to be the case.”

Patryk concludes: “As well as conducting their own trials to test and compare various new technologies, landlords are also sharing pilot and installation data. This should prove reassuring to landlords and speed up mass adoption of the right solutions.”

Nigel Ebdon is the market development manager at Secure Meters UK Ltd