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How IoT is saving the social housing sector

Nick Sacke, Head of IoT and Products at Comms365, looks at the ways in which IoT can be used to create smarter, safer social housing.

As the demand increases for more affordable social housing across the UK, the pressure is on for social housing associations to adapt to a dynamic landscape. Accessibility, rising maintenance costs and tenant safety are just some of the challenges facing both housing associations and their tenants. The opportunity for IoT technology in social housing can be transformative, with the potential to make developments safer, more energy-efficient, and cheaper to run.

Organisations and consumers are already implementing smart technology into their offices and homes – and social housing associations (HA) aren’t far behind. There are several pilot projects being rolled out by HAs, and the initial results are encouraging. However, despite common operational challenges across the sector, not one technology solution fits all scenarios. This means that stakeholder education and various considerations need to be addressed in the planning phase before the work can begin. Head of IoT and Products at Comms365, Nick Sacke, looks at the ways in which IoT can be used to create smarter, safer social housing.

Maintenance and resource allocation

According to Gartner, by 2020 utilities will be the largest use case of IoT endpoints, totalling 1.17 billion in 2019, increasing 17% in 2020. The integration of smart sensors within residential properties will inevitably boost this adoption.

Smart sensors can be used to measure and gather data from numerous property management parameters including temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, noise and movement. This data can then be shared with providers who can feed it into the network, benefiting tenants who can control their bills through increased controls and access, and HAs, who can use the data insights for predictive maintenance, allowing for more effective resource allocation. For example, sensors can identify whether humidity levels are creating an environment for damp and mould, which if left, would incur repair costs and potentially cause health issues, leading to more expenses over time. But this insight isn’t just limited to tenant spaces; IoT devices can alert to incorrect parking across emergency exits and fire lanes, bin fill levels and lighting loss. In turn, this implementation enables HAs to become responsible landlords, providing improvements to tenants’ homes and the quality of their day-to-day life.

Implementation

The greater the volume of data harvested from individual properties, the more trending and predictive analysis can be undertaken, leading to enhanced accuracy and forecasting, combined with new data visualisation techniques.

A key consideration in the deployment of multiple IoT devices is that they are able to utilise a common communications network infrastructure to connect and deliver data to applications in the cloud. Standards in Low Power Wide Area Networks such as LoRaWAN and Narrowband IoT have emerged globally, and are helping device manufacturers to produce products that conform to these communications protocols, making large deployments easier to deploy and manage in large geographic areas, enabling a holistic view across estates of devices. If these standards and methods are followed, overheads for device management and reporting can be minimised.

Another important consideration is cultural acceptance of ‘smart’ technology in the home. Despite the operational and cost efficiencies of IoT, for tenants, privacy is a prime concern. The idea of 24/7 monitoring can make tenants nervous which may affect their willingness to embrace or approve the use of these devices in their homes. This, therefore, is an area that HAs need to be mindful of and ensure they are addressing in the planning phase in order to pre-empt any tenant-requested adjustments.

With the demand for more energy-efficient housing on the rise and the latest government green standard for new build homes already in place, the expectation for more intelligent homes is increasing. We, therefore, predict that in the years to follow, IoT- based property services will be much more agile, responsive and offer a dynamic set of services that are more tailored to tenants’ needs. Properties that are better managed and highly cost-efficient to run result in happier, safer tenants. The vision and objective for this type of technology intervention is to allow housing stock to connect seamlessly to facilities management and operations, exchange relevant data for insight and action, and deliver safer, smarter, economical and environmentally conscious social housing.

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