For some time, anticipation has been building for the capability of the IoT to transform social housing. The path to mainstream adoption has been slow but a mixture of private take-up of devices, the success of early pilots and regulatory change placing digital transformation at the heart of resident safety, is set to change that.
As of 2019, only 20% of social housing providers had implemented an IoT solution in more than 100 homes. Applying smart technology that monitors factors like humidity, Co2 or movement can assist housing providers in making informed decisions whilst upholding high safety standards for their tenants and managing costs. As the sector has seen, the consequences of poor building management and safety can be dire and as the saying goes, ‘wilful blindness can be no defence’.
For social housing there is a range of prospective opportunities that lie in adopting IoT technology, particularly in relation to the safety of buildings. IoT devices in housing could include connected appliances, leak detectors, smart meters, fire safety door devices, lone worker tracking and more.
In the next few years, a driving factor for embedding IoT in homes will be updated safety regulations. The Golden Thread requirement in the latest Building Safety Bill for example, will mean allocating one person within a housing provider who will be responsible for harnessing data to prove due diligence. Furthermore, organisations wishing to align themselves with recommendations from The Hackitt Review will be influenced to make the most out of digital technologies to ensure safety.
“The Internet of Things (IoT) can enable efficiencies for operations and maintenance, but it’s the promise of analytics that offers the most business benefits. The enhanced technology around analytics detects patterns and trends, allowing you to make more intelligent decisions about the business moving forward. Uncertainty is driving firms to look toward best-in-class innovations that offer predictive analytics, fuelling the demand for long-term portfolio planning, risk mitigation and streamlined strategic planning.”
– Brian Zrimsek, MRI’s resident subject matter expert on real-estate tech
How can the IoT improve safety & service in homes?
The peace of mind that smart technology could give providers is considerable. The English Housing Survey revealed that 25% of social renters had never tested their smoke alarms, putting their own lives and others at risk. Smart alarms can detect when batteries are failing or detectors are otherwise faulty, alerting maintenance operatives to replace equipment proactively to protect the resident and others living in their building.
The tech available now is increasingly sophisticated, knowing the difference between danger and a minor cooking disaster and alerting the housing provider accordingly. In the case of the former, smart lighting in communal areas of a building can also highlight routes to safety.
Smart locks can be installed as extra protection for homes with front doors at street-level, moreover if keys are lost, residents can be granted access remotely to their home. In the same way, repair operatives can be let into a home without the residents needing to be present in order to carry out routine safety checks in a COVID-safe way. As teams may become more remote for housing organisations, smart locks could also enable local officers to perform welfare checks if concerns are raised.
Damp, mould & fuel poverty
The link between damp and ill-health is well-documented; when left unchecked it can become a threat to both resident and building safety. Smart sensors measuring humidity and temperature can engage residents with proactive advice to improve ventilation in the property when necessary.
Flagship Homes have already found success in using sensors to inform preventative works to address mould and damp in their homes. Wolverhampton Homes meanwhile, found that providing data to their residents around environmental conditions in the home reduced the risk from damp and mould by 30%. What’s more, residents saved up to 10% on their energy bills.
For housing providers, another opportunity lies in comparing a home’s temperature and humidity data against a resident’s financial vulnerability. Using analytics to spot who is at risk of fuel poverty and in need of support, income teams can access the evidence necessary to build resilient tenancies that keep residents safe.
Coronavirus is a public housing health issue and with IoT having the propensity to build healthier homes, it is an opportunity that cannot be missed. Tools that track when communal areas are crowded, much the same as those seen on commuter trains, could help mitigate the spread of the virus helped by inefficient housing. Similar technology has been deployed across Shanghai and Beijing to measure air quality both inside and outside buildings so people can plan to traverse the cities or stay inside – wherever the air quality is safer.
“If there is one thing that we have learned from the current crisis, it is that this technology is no longer a “nice to have” but an essential part of an integrated approach to public health. It is time we all work collaboratively in the IoT space to accelerate what is already a proven success and seize this opportunity to build a fairer and healthier society.”
As more assets are built and upgraded with fully integrated IoT networks, there will be opportunities for multi-agency collaboration. Further down the line, IoT sensors can feed digital twins of full asset portfolios. Grand plans from the Cambridge Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDDB) call for the establishment of a National Digital Twin Programme, eventually allowing the integration of data between service providers.
Now is the time for housing providers to map out what their organisation could look like with singular adoption of IoT technologies and the benefits to the residents and assets that they could bring. Beyond this, conceptualising being a fully integrated, networked business can mean that housing providers begin moving further towards proactive and preventative asset management that ensures the safety of their residents.