New tech to test air quality in council homes

Partners confirmed for trials to get underway in Leeds and York.

air quality trials



Two councils are taking part in research as to how technology could be used in council properties to improve indoor environmental conditions and air quality.

The aim is the improve the health and wellbeing of council tenants, and provide councils with real-time information to assist with property management and the provision of better quality accommodation.

Led by Leeds City Council and the City of York Council, the project is part of the GovTech Catalyst programme, which enables public sector bodies to harness new and emerging technologies.

The academic partner in the project is The Mackintosh Environmental Research Unit at The Glasgow School of Art.

And Glasgow-based building performance technology company arbnco, has been awarded funding by Innovate UK to explore how the sensor technology it currently provides to the commercial and public sector real estate market could be adapted for use in domestic properties.

Also on the project is fuel poverty charity National Energy Action whose social researchers will engage with council tenants to examine preferences, needs, parameters and whether they would be ‘comfortable’ with in-home sensor technology.

Numerous studies have linked poor air quality to an array of damaging health effects, and the World Health Organisation estimates that breathing in polluted air results in approximately 7 million deaths per year.

Indoor environment technology is being pitched to councils as aid to to detecting issues such as damp before they start to negatively impact tenant health, reduce costs on repairs and maintenance, and highlight whether certain types of build quality are more susceptible to environmental problems.

It can also help to inform whether they need to reconfigure properties, such as through the provision of communal drying spaces.

NEA will also help to build up a picture of energy vulnerability status across council properties.

Statistics from the 2016 English Housing Survey, show that 15.6% (63,858) of social housing tenants across the Yorkshire and the Humber region were living in fuel poverty; making up almost a quarter (23.7%) of all fuel-poor households in the region.

Together with the councils, the project hopes to be able to utilise data gathered from sensor technology to better support tenants, and understand what interventions might be necessary to manage indoor environment and energy use more effectively.

Research will study the varying property archetypes and examine construction methods to develop a ‘risk factor index’ that identifies the most appropriate parameters to measure health and wellbeing in properties.

The academics will focus on  key indicators of common issues within housing such as black mould, fuel poverty as well as any issues that will affect specific groups such as the elderly or those with long-term conditions.

“Finding ways to reduce energy consumption and improve indoor air quality has never been more critical,” said Prof Tim Sharpe, academic lead on the project.

“This is a great opportunity to use our research expertise to help Government and Industry partners explore how innovative technologies can be developed to better understand living conditions in homes, and have positive impacts on energy consumption and health,” he said.

Simon West, co-founder and director at arbnco, said air quality was rapidly becoming one of the biggest societal concerns of our time.

“The impact of projects like this one could be critical in helping to reduce the harmful effects that can be generated from the indoor environment, and could help to alleviate strain on our health and social care systems,” he said.

Pictured (from left): arbnco two co-founders Simon West and Maureen Eisbrenner with Dr Parag Rastogi, one of arbnco’s lead scientists.