Housing Project in Scotland Launches IoT Pilot Focused on Energy Use, Safety

The project, billed as a "smart neighborhood" technology test, will monitor energy usage inside apartments, as well as the buildings' water and safety systems.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
May 10, 2016

A handful of technology providers teamed with a Scottish housing provider, River Clyde Homes, last month to launch a pilot project to evaluate the use of Internet of Things technology to reduce energy consumption and improve safety at a social housing project comprising a small neighborhood called Broomhill.

Social-housing programs provide homes to residents with low income or disabilities, as well as to the elderly or other individuals who have difficulty finding affordable dwellings. It is similar, in some ways, to public housing in the United States. Generally, social-housing landlords are nonprofit organizations that funnel profits into maintaining existing homes and financing new ones. Social-housing complexes are financially regulated by housing authorities, such as England's Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR), and are partially financially funded by their respective national governments.

A graphic shows the type of data River Clyde Homes will collect through its pilot.
Broomhill, which is made up of 666 units, including townhouses, multi-story apartment buildings and three high-rise buildings, is located in Greenock, a town of 45,000 residents, northwest of Glasgow. River Clyde Homes is hoping the Broomhill IoT pilot will provide a means for it to more easily monitor the community's energy usage and safety systems. If it does, the nonprofit may deploy the technology permanently and expand it to more of the 6,000 properties it manages.

Webthings, a U.K.-based IoT sensor module manufacturer, has provided approximately 300 multi-functional IoT devices that are being installed in both occupied and unoccupied dwellings at Broomhill to monitor a wide range of things.

Vibration, temperature and humidity sensors are being installed inside elevators with the goal of helping River Clyde Homes to better understand their usage patterns and improve their maintenance in order to avoid breakdowns, since both residents and contractors (who regularly perform work on unoccupied apartments or communal areas) rely on the elevators. Elevator maintenance is a major cost issue for the landlord.

Temperature sensors are being added to communal water tanks in order to ensure that the water is stored at safe temperatures. This is being done in an effort to prevent the growth of Legionella bacteria in the water, says Sharon Fleming, a lead associate consultant for business intelligence software provider HouseMark and the architect of the pilot project. Older people and those with respiratory disorders are especially vulnerable to contacting Legionnaires' disease, so landlords such as River Clyde Homes are concerned about outbreaks.

Positional sensors on communal fire doors will alert personnel if the doors have been left ajar for long periods of time.

Inside an unoccupied building, the sensors are being evaluated for public-safety uses. "Unoccupied apartments, particularly in the low-rise dwellings are hot-spots for break-ins, [and they are sometimes used] as a route in to other dwellings," Fleming says. The empty units are sometimes vandalized as well. Motion sensors and ambient noise sensors are being placed strategically in an unoccupied building at Broomhill, she adds, and will be combined with video surveillance.

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