Fixing Social Housing with Technology – how hard can it be?

10 million people. That’s how many of us live in social housing in the UK: nearly 20% of our housing stock is owned by social landlords.  With nearly 4 million homes to operate, they face a formidable maintenance task and, in the main, they’re trying to do it with out of date tools – housing management systems straight out of the 1990s, multiple incompatible processes and a mass of silo’d data.

We know how to use technology – but does our landlord?

So in a world where us civilians are coming to terms with Smart Homes, even if we don’t have a clear business case, why aren’t social landlords engaging with technology? It has the potential to massively increase the efficiency of their business or even completely restructure the way housing is delivered. Imagine a housing provider who provides a platform for tenants to self manage their own properties – or a housing provider who rolls provision of all utilities and social care into the rent.

More practically, using the right analytics, imagine a housing provider who can identify and diagnose problems with a building’s fabric or systems remotely and ensure the right team, with the right tools, are deployed to provide the right solutions. Or using the same data to single out the homes that are eligible for funding for improvements.

This is a future that HACT – the Housing Association Charitable Trust – wants to create. Faced with substantial challenges over the next five years – cuts in benefits budget, the escalating price of housing – HACT knows the social housing sector needs to embrace innovation to survive so they have been digging into the barriers and challenges that are slowing progress. Their new manifesto (Is Housing Really Ready to Go Digital), identifies three barriers to change and what can be done about them:

Little visible leadership and accountability for technology at board level. Consequently tech is generally treated as a cost item, rather than an opportunity for fundamental change. Worse, where technology projects are commissioned, there is little embedded expertise in what can be delivered or how to measure accountability.

As a result, an over-reliance on consultant-led change. Without clear leadership on the potential of technology, consulting projects tend to focus on rationalising existing systems.

Low understanding of the potential value of data. Although housing has a huge amount of data it is too poorly structured and tools for effective analysis are generally lacking.

HACT’s manifesto has practical suggestions for how to deal with these problems – starting with a programme to match UK digital leaders with housing provider boards, and supporting their involvement in the business transformations that can result.

For those of us living and breathing tech every day, it’s easy to underestimate the challenges involved in promoting tech initiatives in sectors like housing. Bridging the ‘Digital Governance Gap’ in housing is not only challenging, it could be transformative for millions of people. If you want to know more about how to get involved, check out HACT’s Digital page.

“Where should we put the sensors?”

Of all the questions we get asked, “Where should we put our kittens?” or “How many should we buy?” comes up the most often.

Answer: That depends what you want to know.

Look, I know that can sound evasive but my Christmas break proves my point. Some of you might already have read about the monitoring of 2 very different houses over the Christmas period and what we found. We saw some very interesting things in that experiment and we’ll pick up a few of those over the next few months.

At the 70’s house that we monitored I found something a bit odd. We were all sat around the laptop on Christmas Eve looking at what was happening and to see if anything surprised us. My parents have lived in that house for 24 years so we saw pretty much what we expected, however the main family bathroom intrigued us. It’s located at the top of the stairs, has a double glazed window and a fairly large towel rail style radiator. We have never been consciously cold in that room so why was it 17 degrees?

The sensor was on a fully tiled window sill right next to the window at about waist height, so we ran a little test and moved it to the top of a wooden bathroom cupboard at about head height and the temperature climbed by nearly 5 degrees! We all knew that it didn’t feel like 17 degrees in there but we never expected such a huge difference in temperature by moving the kitten less than 1m within the same room.

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We can occasionally be surprised about what we see when we put sensors in environments we thought we already understood, we see in real terms just how sensitive the kittens are and how temperature can change very quickly across space.

Which presents a useful tool for comparing performance. For example: my parents upgraded their windows to double glazing in a few separate rounds to spread the costs not long after they moved into the house. This window was one of the first ones to be installed in the house and are almost certainly getting on for 20 years old. Installing a larger number of sensors in some of the rooms to monitor exactly how well the double glazing is performing and even compare the windows installed at different times could identify if some or all of them could benefit from being replaced.

We also saw things that we expected like peaks in temperature when we had showers and when the heating turned on and off:

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We used humidity kittens across the house, some of you might be interested in seeing the graph for humidity across the same timescale. I managed to achieve 96.9% humidity with my post run shower. (In particular, you’ll notice the humidity continued to rise after my shower? This is a function of the way we measure humidity – as relative humidity – which we’ll cover in a later blog post).

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So, how can this help to inform you on where to place your kittens? Like we say, it does depend heavily on what you want to know, but here are some general guidelines:

  1. If you want your kittens to record the temperature that you feel in a room them make sure that you place it well away from any heat sources such as radiators, air con units or fans that blow warm air out of computers etc.
  2. If you want your kittens to record the temperature that you feel in a room then make sure that you place it well away from any sources of cold such as open door, windows, draughts or on cold materials such as tiles.
  3. It you want to record the temperature of in a specific place then be sure to locate the kitten exactly where it’s needed, they really are very sensitive i.e. next to a thermostat to check its functionality.
  4. Try to avoid putting kittens in direct sunlight as they will be effected by solar gain, unless of course this is what you are trying to measure.

Remember that if you want to see in more details what’s going on in a room then re-deploy your kittens or buy more, one of the main advantages of how small they are is that you can put them pretty much anywhere. Place them in a grid pattern around the room or if you are feeling really adventurous hang them off fishing line  at different heights to create a cross section of your space. This can be very interesting particularly in a mezzanine or tall staircase, you might be amazed to see whats going on.

If you want to know more about how Purrmetrix can help you to learn about your space then contact us by email at or call us on 01223 967301


Comparing Christmas in 2 very different homes

Happy New Year to you all, we hope you had a great Christmas break. Since we got back to work some of us here at Purr Towers have been looking at the results of a little experiment we set up over the break. At Christmas Hermione spent her time in an 18th century folly in North Yorkshire (DP) and I (Liz Stevens) spent it in my parents 70’s build house on the south coast (CC). We thought it might be interesting to take a look at how the 2 buildings behaved with all the family piling in and a roast dinner in the oven.



DP – The 18th century folly is a sprawling 2 story house with 6 bedrooms, single glazed, not insulated, 4 external doors, oil central heating, open fires and a large aga in the kitchen. 8 people stayed in the house over the Christmas period.






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CC – This is a 70’s build box shaped house with double glazing, cavity wall insulation, a very well insulated roof, 4 bedrooms, 2 external doors, a partly integrated garage and gas central heating. 4 people stayed here over night during the period and there were 9 people in the house during the day on Christmas day.





Cooking the Christmas dinner:

DP has an Aga which is constantly running at least at a low level where as CC has a conventional gas oven. The kitchen at DP is a large room with a dining table that seats 8 people, we can see that the cooking of the roast dinner doesn’t have much impact on the temperature in this room as the heat is dissipating and there is no clear time when the oven is working.

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CC has a conventional gas oven so you can clearly see when the oven is turned on (11am). The kitchen at CC doesn’t have any radiators which means it can get quite cold on a normal day but it was constantly warm with all of the cooking and people coming and going. You can also see the oven heating up the room on Christmas Eve while a ham is being roasted.

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Eating our Christmas dinner:

You might have already guessed that DP was rather colder than CC with one of the rooms hardly getting above 16 degrees over the period we monitored despite being heated by a radiator. It’s a very large room, which doesn’t get much daylight, with single glazed windows and a stone floor. This was actually the room where they had their Christmas dinner and the temperature peaked just below 17 degrees – ouch chilly.

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It makes a very interesting comparison to CC where our lunch time temperature was about 22 degrees and the temperature didn’t drop below 20 degrees for the whole period. You can see the difference when you have a well heated well insulated modern carpeted dining room.

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CC conclusions:

We looked to see what was going on with the temperature quite a bit over the Christmas period and there were a few things that surprised us about the findings. I found that I was only comfortable when the temperature was below 22 degrees, once the temperature climbed above this I felt like I was in a tropical jungle. Clearly other people didn’t always agree but it was interesting to know my threshold. We have always know that the downstairs bathroom (Kitten 29) was always rather cold but we didn’t really quite how bad it was and we had no idea that they temperature in the hall by the front door (Kitten 32) was so low. You can see from the Hotspotter view here that they spent rather a lot of the Christmas period below 18 degrees although it wasn’t surprising to see the kitchen (Kitten 13) above 25 degrees for 28% of the time.

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You can also see how the temperature changed from Saturday till Monday:



DP conclusions:

Well we already knew that it was going to be colder at DP over Christmas as it’s further north (so colder outside) and it’s an old building with a few poorly insulated slightly more modern extensions. I think we were all a little shocked at just how cold the dining room was but this room isn’t often used as there is a large dining room in the cosy kitchen not far from the Aga. It’s a big house and it’s going to take more heating than the average building even in warmer parts of the year. I think I for one might have been more comfortable with the temperatures at DP but it really does show us that comfort levels are very personal to everyone. The Hotspotter view below is very interesting and really shows you how cold the downstairs of DP was over Christmas, I’m sure there were lots of cosy Christmas jumpers being worn (I didn’t get to wear mine once at CC!). The dining room is Kitten 48 and the kitchen is Kitten 46 but I’m sure you could have guessed that.

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You can also see how the temperature changed from Saturday till Monday:


If you want to learn a little bit more about how you could use our system in your home, workshop, office or data centre please contact us via email on or call us 01223 967301