When the walls talk about social problems

This winter, a family suffered the cold in their house. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case since many people suffer the cold in silence. There are an estimated 400,000 people in Catalonia who cannot keep their homes warm enough.

Energy poverty is one of the most unfair social issues, especially if we consider that energy is a right that is directly linked to personal well-being, but it is also a reality that is often hidden because people suffering energy vulnerability tend to hide this fact. But now we can “make the walls speak” using technology which specifically uses small devices to detect values and parameters that can indicate cases of risk and energy vulnerability.

These devices were created by Cellnex Telecom and the alliance it has forged with m4Social, the digital innovation project in the social field of the Board of Third Social Sector entities of Catalonia. Both organisations conducted a pilot project to equip six social housing units with sensors, installed to collect and monitor data remotely in order to anticipate and alert on possible risk situations, as well as to optimise the use of basic supplies such as water or energy in these connected homes. The participating entities are the Family and Social Welfare Foundation, the Social Initiative Foundation, the Habitat3 Private Foundation, and the Foundation for Social Housing Development. Apart from installing sensors, the project also developed a digital platform to view this data and raise the alarm as necessary.

But what specific impact does this technology have on people’s quality of life? The pilot test has provided the social entities managing social housing with a very valuable data collection tool, which furthermore makes their work easier. For example, recording indoor and outdoor temperatures in a very cold autumn and winter showed that, in one of the six houses, one of these families lived continuously in a thermal environment well below what is generally considered to be a comfort temperature. Detecting this case led the social entity to commission an action plan to monitor thermal stress, in home management (installations, enclosures, heating, boilers, etc.) and also to monitor how people behave in the cold (correct use of heating elements). The sensors that were installed will therefore prevent this family from being cold in their home again.

Another example: the sensors made it possible to identify spikes in the CO2 index in a home or, even whether CO2 levels remained above recommended values, indicating poor air quality. The accumulation of carbon dioxide in a home is a health risk since it can cause headaches, tiredness, respiratory problems, and so on, while it is also an indicator that the home is not properly ventilated, leading to damp patches on walls and ceilings. To avoid this, it is often sufficient to foster a change in habits, such as increasing ventilation by opening the windows.

The results of the pilot phase are spurring us on to continue working together. The conclusions show that a project such as this can improve the environmental comfort of homes, minimise energy expenditure, optimise maintenance of the housing stock and reduce the risk of domestic accidents. None of these benefits would be possible without a digital transformation and a change in the processes that go with it.

Very often, solving certain social injustices means opening the door to technology and letting the walls speak to us.

Francina Alsina

President of the Third Social Sector Board of Catalonia


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