Apr 19, 2023

How can digital tech support healthy homes?

Coastline Housing in Cornwall has collaborated on a research and innovation project called Smartline, which has included the installation of smart sensors in some of their homes. We asked Smartline to share the details of their interesting and pertinent project:

How can digital tech support healthy homes? That was the question Smartline [1] set out to answer when the project started six years ago. Little did we know that tackling damp and mould – or rather, preventing it from developing in the first place – would become such an urgent issue following the tragic, avoidable death of toddler Awaab Ishak.

In 2017 we installed sensors in approximately 300 Coastline homes. The sensors gather data on temperature, relative humidity, and air quality. Six years on, we have a unique (and very large) dataset: real-time, real-life data gathered in social housing in a low-income community in Cornwall over an extended period. Alongside the sensor data, surveys have helped us to build a richer understanding of people’s lives.

Using sensor data for research, stock management and proactive customer support

Our team has used the data to research how conditions in the home affect our health – how air quality affects asthma [2], for example, or how fuel poverty affects people’s physical and mental wellbeing [3].

Meanwhile, a digital dashboard [4] allows the Coastline Housing team to monitor conditions inside the homes. This means they can spot readings that might indicate a problem and follow up with customers. This has helped them to take better care of the properties and offer an extra helping hand to customers where needed.

This technology has huge potential

“Technology reinforces the need to intervene as quickly as possible when things are going wrong and helps target resources when they are most needed. With the breadth and volume of new technology emerging and available it is becoming an essential rather than a nice to have. I would go as far as saying that if you are a landlord and have no technology in your homes, you probably know less than half of the real situation of your customers – and this is not a good position to be in.”

Mark England, Coastline Housing

A word of caution

Sensor technology has progressed hugely since we set up the Smartline project, making it cheaper and more accessible for housing providers to use as part of their business as usual. While the tech has the potential to help landlords make better use of resources, it cannot replace individual support and must be backed up by human capacity. Be ready for surprises, and be prepared to act on what you find.

Smartline would of course not have been possible without the voluntary participation of Coastline customers, and tenants do need to be consulted and involved throughout – it is their data and their home, after all.

What’s next?

The University of Exeter will continue to work in this area. This includes the SenseWell project, working with local health and housing providers to test the potential of sensor technology to support older people’s health and independence at home.

About Smartline

The Smartline project is a collaboration between the University of Exeter, Coastline Housing, Cornwall Council, Volunteer Cornwall and the South West Academic Health Science Network. It is funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

[1] https://www.smartline.org.uk/

[2] https://www.smartline.org.uk/asthma

[3] https://www.smartline.org.uk/fuel-poverty

[4] https://www.smartline.org.uk/sensing-the-home

Image by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash


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