Apr 27, 2017 Last Updated 2:06 PM, Apr 27, 2017

Pioneering project launches at affordable homes scheme

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A pioneering social housing project designed to help tackle fuel poverty has been launched at an affordable homes scheme in Northumberland.

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Two Castles Housing Association, which manages properties across the North of England, has turned to game-changing smart home technology in a bid to enhance its ability to build even more energy efficient homes for residents.

With 2.35 million households across England currently living in fuel poverty, Two Castles believes this technology has the potential to shape the way social landlords design affordable homes in the future.

At present all properties in England require an Energy Performance Certificate to inform residents how energy efficient their property is. Assessments are judged on things like how costly it is to heat and light the property, as well as what its carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be.

Using innovative sensor monitoring equipment, designed by leading software solutions company Capita, Two Castles will be able to capture and analyse household data such as air quality, temperature and humidity. The project is one of the first of its kind for the sector and will help tackle overheating and fuel poverty, as well as helping to provide services to vulnerable residents.

Rob Brittain, Property Services Director at Two Castles Housing Association, said: “Being able to afford to keep homes warm is a real issue for too many families across the North of England. The problem is exacerbated in rural communities affected by rising energy prices and high fuel expenditure.

“To tackle this issue, we have formed an innovative partnership with Capita which we believe has the potential to be a game changer for the way our industry designs and builds sustainable, affordable homes in the future.

“Many of our residents tell us how energy efficient their homes are, but once keys are handed over we have no way of demonstrating the actual performance of a property or evaluating which elements are having the greatest impact.

“Using smart monitoring equipment we can accurately test how well a home is performing from its internal energy usage to external building fabric. This will allow us to identify what features are working well, on top of areas for improvement, enabling the homes we build in the future to be as energy efficient as possible for the individuals and families who live in them.”

With offices in Carlisle and Newcastle, Two Castles has a track record for delivering quality affordable housing that meets Code for Sustainable Homes Standards for people in housing need.

Three types of remote sensor monitors have been installed and are being tested at Anick View in Hexham. Alerts from the sensors will be captured on Capita’s OPENHousing platform, where household data will be collated over a pilot period of 12 months. The data will provide Two Castles with an accurate picture of how well each household’s key building features are performing and will work by measuring the actual internal environment of each property, the power used to create this environment as well as external conditions.

Data will be transmitted back to a central computer system using similar technology to a smartphone. If the pilot scheme proves successful, Two Castles hopes to roll out the technology across all new housing stock.

Roger Birkinshaw, Housing Director at Capita Software Services, said: “This project brings the Internet of Things into the home to tackle fuel poverty and record actual property performance. This data will provide Two Castles with the information required to make informed decisions about the condition of the property. Not only is it expected to save money, this project will also educate and change lives for the better.”

The data recorded will also help Two Castles to educate and advise all its residents on ways in which they can live smarter and more sustainably to reduce fuel bills and save them money.

A key element of the project will be gaining feedback from those residents whose homes are being installed with the data capture equipment.

Rachael Hall, who has recently moved into one of the new smart homes, said: “Two Castles told us about the property’s energy efficiency and how this new smart system could help improve energy use now and in the future. We feel really grateful to be here and part of such an important project. We’ve been truly surprised at how cheap the house is to run.

“It’s extremely warm to live here. When you put the heating on, the house gets hot very quickly and stays that way so we only need to use the heating for a short time in the morning and at night.

“As part of the smart technology, we have a touch screen monitor which tells you how much energy you are using at any one time. This means we can monitor our energy usage and cut back on activities that use too much. It really does make you think twice about how you can save energy. Moving here has made a huge difference to our lives.”

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