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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Smart Meters ........ Smart Houses ...... Smart people?

Following on from a previous blog entry mid 2012 on Smart Meters; The 50 house project will always continue with its prerogative of sustainable housing design and set-up. The data constantly collected from listening to the landlords and professional tenants observations, user-experience and voicing their opinions (and possible concerns) about living in an everyday home gives valuable input into how to improve housing and living conditions.

Observations from the domestic waste management perspective showed us where many of the houses in the research would temporarily place their once domestic filled up waste/recycling/compost bags out the back awaiting the weekly/bi-weekly waste collection. When these bags were walked through the houses (you will not walk around the house when you are in the middle of a long terraced street - you may have no choice other than to walk through the house due to street design a century ago) would result in hard flooring and carpets getting soaked and stained over the long term.

Simple solutions such as building protective 'bag bays' (some street do not introduce wheelie bins as it is impractical to store them out front due to vandalism, drunks kicking them over each week) allowed people to safely store their waste out the front (no longer would bags just be strewn out front and being attacked by rats, pigeons, seagulls and other vermin) and no longer needed to be walked through the house.

The communal element of shared kitchens, dining rooms, loungers and bathrooms is always an illuminating experience developing further questions on how to improve upon existing designs, social skills, cleaning and maintenance responsibilities. Observing and interviewing 250 professional tenants will show consistency in the vast themes and issues being raised.

No matter what technologies are addressed and implemented, people will not always apply them appropriately. Turning the lights off constantly and leaving the house in perpetual darkness was found to be outright dangerous and a constant complaint for some professional tenants (even if one is attempted to save money on bills – one energy efficient bulb uses very little when left on for 4-6 hours (less in the lighter nights); many like to leave the main lights on when they go out for an evening to deter burglars. So who should take responsibility for lighting management? Human or machines/smart houses?
If smart houses were common place by the 2030’s should it be up to them when the lights are turned off? Peoples moods will change on a regular basis and the smart houses central computer may not be able to keep up with people’s moods and desire changes within the home environment. Possibly the central computers may be able to learn peoples habits and react appropriately.
Ventilation was constant issue brought up; leaving windows open and fans on when one is showering, cooking [work in garage?]etc. is essential to help a house breath, yet if people close the windows and leave the fans off (many on the 50 house project kitchen/shower fans are not automatic and do not have humidity sensors in them either – just human controlled pull on/off strings) then humidity will build up, making the rooms stuffy and in damp conditions the mould will thrive in such built environments. It was found a minority of professional tenants did not understand that the fans should be left on for a while after exiting the shower or cooking experience.

Should smart houses take responsibility by opening the windows automatically or put the extraction fans on instead of people doing it? Would having sensors for humidity all around the buildings just end up using more energy? Is too much technology in a home healthy? Many professional tenants often complained of static and dust build ups which occurred in a very short amount of time making cleaning more frequently required than what some considered necessary.
Energy use/loads by product posed some interesting observations and discussions. When queried by the Housing managers, a minority of the tenants were obviously ignorant of some appliances using little energy, yet would be turning them off religiously – in contrast the high energy appliances in the domestic environment were not effectively managed, used too excessively and thus wasted a lot of money and increased the tenants bills overall. This caused a lot of unnecessary contentious issues in the communal buildings, which could have all be avoided if people had a uniform comprehension of what products use how much energy and what good practise would support joint up thinking/joint up practises for decent energy/water/heat saving measures.

Should home central smart computers arbitrarily adjust the hardware/appliances in use? Will this make us lazy and complacent of our resource saving responsibilities? Should the smart houses inform the home users of what appliances are over-burdened and wasting energy? Yet will people pay attention to the warnings or just see it as superfluous information?
Sustainable new building designs may be breathable houses, yet in the UK they barely make up 1% of our housing stock at present. It is not about leading the field in new home technologies and practise – yet rather how to make the existing 99% housing stock (much of the housing 50 - 150 year old buildings) more ambient to energy efficiency, cleaner living, fresh air being processed in the home? Retrofitting is important – yet will the green deal deliver? How many people will take it up? Will there be any backlash to this new format? We all have a very long road ahead of us to make our national state of housing compliant to a higher level resource efficiency.
To be blunt, it’s a bit (a lot actually) of a cop out to rely upon technology/innovation to sort our problems out …. when good human housekeeping practise is …. well – good practise! We should not be complacent and reliant. Life does not have to be overly complex, yet basic practises should be maintained of good water/food/energy/waste housekeeping by all of us. This may be happening the last few years due to recession forcing us to rethink a lot of our basic domestic strategies. What people take for granted in their daily routine of basic practise could really be world saving measures which should be encouraged nationally/globally. What are you doing in your home/office/school/university that really helps the world?
Before we implement hi-end smart house innovative energy/water etc. saving measures, we should get our own homes in order and ask ourselves do we really need to use resources/hardware/lighting/fans/air conditioning 'X', 'Y' and 'Z' – when realistically can we get by on just resource 'X'?

The public probably have come up with good innovative measures, yet it is not yet widespread. We strongly encourage you to discuss your house, office, factory, schools, university energy/water/heat/waste management practises and systems with your neighbours. Pooling our ideas could financially save us a lot of money as well as save our precious resources.

What can you do?