When we think of the Internet of Things (IoT), health and wellbeing may not be the first benefit that springs to mind, but when deployed in the right way we can use its abilities for some lovely tech for goodness

One South West company that is determined to harness IoT and data’s power for good is Aico | HomeLINK. As featured in our People & Community Tech for Good list, the scaleup is a prime example of how Industry 4.0 isn’t just about futuristic gizmos and gadgets. 

HomeLINK, who are sponsors of The People’s Choice Award at The SPARKies 2022, has created IoT devices to monitor the indoor environment and home safety. Their environmental sensors collect temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide (CO2) data which they have used to develop some really interesting and useful insights about people’s homes – which we’ll get to later. On top of this, they also have connected fire and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. 

Presently, the team is focusing on the social housing sector, helping landlords and residents to improve the safety, health and energy performance of their homes. Recently this has expanded to incorporate schools, working alongside them to research the impacts of poor indoor air quality and to enhance ventilation in classrooms. In tandem, their technology has been installed in facilities from hospitals to prisons. 

We caught up with Sam Collier, Sustainability & Ethics Lead at HomeLINK, to talk more about these unsung benefits. Firstly, we wanted to make it clear who this impacts, and in short, it’s everyone. Sam explains, “We’re still learning about the impact of the indoor environment on our health and wellbeing and, given that most of us spend a large portion of our lives inside, it’s an area in which we have a lot more to understand. 

“Anyone wishing to better understand the impacts of their environment on their lives should really consider monitoring the conditions in the indoor spaces they inhabit. On top of this, our connected fire and CO devices give households peace of mind by ensuring they’re installed and working properly, protecting lives and property.”

Why should we pay attention?

This research is becoming increasingly prevalent, perhaps catalysed by the pandemic which brought to light just how much of a difference ventilation can make. And it’s being noticed by higher authorities; Sam tells us recent changes in the law means conditions within social housing are now obligated to meet a defined standard. 

So where does HomeLINK come in? Sam says, “Using the data we collect, we provide landlords and other property owners with ‘Insights’, calculating different levels of risk in areas such as a damp and mould, overheating, and indoor air quality,” and this information can save landlords serious money by providing an opportunity to implement proactive prevention to these issues, which in turn creates improved quality of life for tenants. 

Sam continues, “Using the data we collect we can identify poorly performing homes so we can target these improvements, and continuing to monitor the indoor environment after homes have been improved ensures that the measures installed are working as intended.”

“Our children are learning in significantly sub-optimal environments, and this is likely to be having a detrimental effect on their development and educational attainment”

A particularly surprising side effect of poor air quality is the impact it has on our ability to focus, learn and concentrate. Sam tells us more: “A recent study at Harvard University looked at the impact of poor indoor air quality on cognitive function using CO2 levels. They found that an increase in indoor CO2 from its baseline level of around 400ppm to 950ppm caused a 15% decline in cognitive ability; a further increase to 1400pm led to a 50% decline. 

“From the schools in which we’ve installed sensors so far, CO2 levels above this 1400ppm threshold have been identified in over 80%, meaning our children are learning in significantly sub-optimal environments, and this is likely to be having a detrimental effect on their development and educational attainment.

We have also identified a number of social homes that have been experiencing dangerous levels of CO which can have serious implications for the health of residents through poisoning. CO is produced by poorly performing boilers or the burning of other fuels like wood or coal and even low levels can impact human health. As a result of installing connected alarms we were able to identify a property with harmful levels of CO; the visiting engineer reported the highest levels he had seen in his career, ultimately saving a resident’s life.”

Being proactive to improve wellbeing

There are some simple steps you can take to improve the air quality of your environment, including measuring your indoor air quality – temperature, humidity, and CO2 are the ideal places to start. Sam explains further, “High levels of CO2 are often accompanied by high concentrations of other types of indoor air pollution such as VOCs (volatile organic compounds, like aerosols and air fresheners) and particulates, so provide a good indication of overall air quality. 

“After you know what your indoor environment is like, take steps to improve it. The most effective way of doing this is by improving ventilation. Open windows more regularly and keep internal doors open to improve circulation of air throughout the building. You may even consider installing some ventilation like trickle vents or mechanical ventilation. Everyone should do this – even if you aren’t monitoring the changes.”

“Heating our homes produces 17% of the UK’s total emissions, more than all emissions from agriculture, forestry, and associated land use change.” 

But beyond our health, this tech is also helping the pursuit towards building a more sustainable future. Sam outlines, “With the growing threat of climate change, we must also look at how our homes are contributing to the country’s carbon emissions,” and with the data HomeLINK can accurately measure, there is opportunity to create solutions for poor energy efficiency, namely installing low carbon technologies to cut our homes’ energy needs.

It’s so important that we take action to do our bit in the fight against climate change, as Sam highlights, “Heating our homes produces 17% of the UK’s total emissions, more than all emissions from agriculture, forestry, and associated land use change.” 

It will be no mean feat to tackle this: “The required scale of change is enormous. And these large scale changes to our homes need to be made whilst maintaining their quality and the health of the indoor environment.

“To do this, we need to know which homes need improving, what improvements they need, and whether these improvements work as they should, without causing any unintended side effects. Monitoring the indoor environment provides clues about how our homes are built and how they’re used, and can ultimately give us the information we need to minimise their impact on the planet.”

Perhaps the most important thing that HomeLINK is doing is making these invisible toxins tangible. Without recording this data, we’d be blissfully unaware of its harmful effects on our own health, as well as the health of our planet. It’s one of many examples in which tech is connecting us to the world around us and empowering us to make positive changes.

Thanks to Sam for taking the time to talk with us today. To find out more about how HomeLINK is working to improve air quality for social housing, visit their website here.

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.