By Ian Napier, Switchee commercial director and co-founder

Statistics from National Energy Action (NEA) show more than four million households in the UK live in fuel poverty.

A fuel poor household is defined as one which needs to spend more than 10% of its income on all fuel use and to heat its home to an adequate standard of warmth.

Living in fuel poverty can have a significant impact on one’s life. A spokesman for NEA said: “Fuel poverty often results in social isolation, which is a risk factor for depression. It also means families may need to choose between heating and spending on food – and as a result, children can be malnourished.”

However, since the abandonment of UK Government funded schemes, such as the Zero Carbon Homes policy, implemented to improve insulation and efficiency, there has been a wave of new technologies focused on improving domestic energy efficiency.

The introduction of IoT technology has made data and insight available to consumers and landlords that was never previously accessible.

Smarter homes, smarter heating

Over the past decade, IoT devices have transformed the way we communicate, travel and work. More recently, IoT devices have begun improving the housing sector – catalysed by the UK Government-backed scheme to offer every household in the UK a smart meter by 2020.

In recent years, smart thermostats have become more readily available to UK homes, whether owned or rented. These devices allow greater control over domestic heating and are capable of building heating profiles that ensure the heating is switched off when you leave your home.

What’s more, over time a smart thermostat can learn a household’s weekly routine, automatically adjusting heat settings to user preferences and shutting off the heating when no-one is home, avoiding energy wastage and unnecessarily high bills.

Switchee, the first smart thermostat made specifically for social housing, uses five sensors that monitor temperature, light, motion, humidity and air pressure. Sensor readings are passed to a secure cloud where a proprietary algorithm processes information to produce key performance indicators (KPIs). These KPIs provide targeted, cost reduction insights for landlords, displayed on a live client-facing dashboard. This provides social landlords with an unrivalled insight into their housing stock, which was never previously possible.

Switchee data tackles fuel poverty by alerting housing providers when domestic temperatures drop below a safe winter level. Steps can then be taken by tenant liaison officers to address the issue before it worsens. This is particularly effective in improving the safety of vulnerable and elderly tenants, whose health is most at risk from colder winter weather.

Mould, another major issue in social housing, can be tackled using humidity data that detects conditions where mould can develop, such as damp or condensation, caused by poor ventilation. With this insight, maintenance teams can take preventative measures to stop mould becoming a health risk to tenants or causing costly damage to properties.

In short, smart thermostats are contributing to the shift from reactive maintenance to more proactive approaches, saving housing associations money and helping to improve the tenant experience.

Data – the possibilities

IoT devices present data which can be used by businesses to take a more informed approach to tackling fuel poverty.

The data collected from a smart thermostat can be analysed to give unprecedented layers of insight that provide domestic KPIs, such as heating system diagnostics, mould growth and insulation quality. Meanwhile, occupancy data can be used to optimise heating settings, to reduce energy consumption and address fuel poverty.

Gathering data from smart devices in domestic dwellings across the UK can reveal ways to improve living conditions, reduce energy consumption and ultimately, combat fuel poverty in the long-term.