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The importance of technology and data on the retrofitting journey

Harnessing the power of data-driven insights from cutting-edge technology is the best possible starting point for any retrofitting journey, says Tom Robins Switchee CEO.
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Harnessing the power of data-driven insights from cutting-edge technology is the best possible starting point for any retrofitting journey, says Tom Robins Switchee CEO.

Invariably, the first step in any building upgrade, no matter what the building is used for, is some form of building performance analysis to identify its problem areas and energy requirements. This data can then be used to inform decisions such as the source of energy used and what improvements might need to be made to the building’s fabric to make it more efficient. More and more, for example, housing providers are trying to understand whether certain properties are suitable for the installation of heat pumps.

The challenge with social housing is that each resident will interact with their home in a completely unique way. This means that there are differences in how people use their heating system, how often they open their windows, and any number of other environmental factors that could influence the condition of the building and how efficient it is.

As a result, retrofitting residential buildings requires a specialised level of detail – detail perhaps beyond what’s required when retrofitting an office block, for example. When the condition of people’s homes and their wellbeing is at stake, there is no margin for error. It’s only right therefore that any decisions taken about retrofit should come from a position of knowledge and understanding. Utilising innovative technology that provides data-driven solutions is a way of ensuring just that. This is what Switchee’s smart device enables.

An analysis of EPC ratings, typically used to grade the energy efficiency of people’s homes, is an inaccurate and overly simplistic approach to what is a complex decision. Relying on information from residents is also flawed.
With the data Switchee’s smart device provides, the evidence is clear and irrefutable. It measures the environmental conditions of people’s homes, measuring air pressure, and detecting changes in humidity and temperature, as well as flagging properties at a high risk of damp and mould and fuel poverty. It also measures a property’s Heat Loss Rate which illustrates how quickly a building loses heat once the heating is turned off, helping to reveal how well-insulated a property is. This data is then fed back to a personalised dashboard which is analysed by Switchee’s Customer Success team and transformed into actionable insights for the housing provider. It’s also analysed alongside what’s already understood about residents’ homes. For example, is the property mid-terrace, end of terrace or detached? Is it the middle floor of a six-floor block? When was the last time remedial work was completed? Where is the property geographically?

Switchee devices also measure the Time to Heat, which is the time it takes for a property’s internal air temperature to increase by 1 degree Celsius (°C). This demonstrates how effective a resident’s heating system is, making it easier for housing providers to assess whether it needs to be replaced as well as the most efficient heating system to replace it with. A recent customer report discovered a particular resident’s home, where despite running their heating for 24 hours a day, was failing to reach its target temperature. Furthermore, the target temperature being set at 10°C, was too low to be safe. Analysis by Switchee and the housing provider enabled the issue with the heating to be identified, resolved and necessary support provided to the resident for them to heat their home safely.

When considered in the round this information enables housing providers to distinguish between properties in need of remedial action, properties that are performing well, and properties that could be performing better. This data-driven approach to decision-making is in stark contrast to an archaic ‘one size fits all’ method.

With a wealth of insightful data at their fingertips, housing providers are empowered to make proactive decisions based upon people’s – and properties – specific requirements. And not only that but prioritise action so that those living in the worst conditions are helped first.

Switchee’s smart device will then monitor properties post-retrofit and see, through the data, how remedial action has had a positive impact on the property’s performance – and in turn residents’ wellbeing.

It’s clear to us that exploiting technology to extract data and unearth actionable insights is an essential part of the beginning, middle and end of any retrofitting journey.

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