Information is everywhere around you: data about how you live, how you work, and how you interact with your environment lingers in the airwaves.

Now with the use of technology, that information can be put to work—not only from a personal comfort perspective, but to improve housing in general. Many companies are blazing paths in incorporating data into more informed designs that contribute to better health, wellness, comfort, energy performance, and much more.

Technology, in the form of sensors and the cloud, is ubiquitous and can be used to track any meaningful metric in a living environment. That information then can be capitalized on during the design and development of the next project or used as part of an ongoing, on-demand improvement to a project—and equate to large savings, as well.

Twenty-Five Percent Energy Savings
Serene Almomen, founder and CEO of and a HIVE panelist, started her organization to capture real-time data and make critical decisions to shape and reduce energy use. The company is finding incredible results from its efforts—its data consistently shows a savings of 25% in energy consumption. develops sensors to track and capture any data valuable to better living and future strategy. develops sensors to track and capture any data valuable to better living and future strategy. tracks real-time data to develop trend information about energy consumption. Then the information is dissected to provide recommendations that lead to lower energy use. For example, a project in D.C. was shelling out $2,000 per month in energy bills. analyzed their cycle times and looked at their submeters to find that the systems were working on the weekends and two extra hours in the mornings when no one was in the building. By changing the schedule, the project saved 20% in the winter and a whopping 30% in the summer.

Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Labs and HIVE dean, thinks of this technology transformation as a blanket of networks and digital information covering the urban space to deliver new understanding on design. This omnipresent approach not only helps provide education about the cities we live in, but it also is a path to make the places smart. The data and how we choose to incorporate it into design has the potential to help the places we live anticipate our needs and react accordingly.

Researchers track the impact that indoor living has on human health at the Well Living Lab.
Well Living Lab Researchers track the impact that indoor living has on human health at the Well Living Lab.

Dana Pillai, founder of the Well Living Lab and another HIVE panelist, is looking at all aspects of the relationship between health and the indoor environment. In the U.S., we spend an average of 21 hours per day inside. The 55,000-square-foot lab sets up real-world scenarios, and participants live in the environments while their behavior is tracked with sensor technology. Then the data is shared in the process of designing healthier indoor spaces.

“Every time that we want a specific type of data, we find a sensor,” says Almomen. “Sometimes we have to do some development around sensors to make them usable. The trend in every technological field is for more data, not less. Housing is no exception. Technology in housing will push the envelope and customers will expect full awareness of their environmental surroundings. For example, indoor air quality measurements that provide temperature, humidity, CO2, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds will become an expectation, not a luxury.”

The Culture Shift
How should the housing industry be thinking about sensor technology? It is a culture shift. Housing providers need to think about what data is available from sensors before starting their designs to make the most informed design decisions. And then they need to think about how to build on that: What information should they be tracking at their residence? How will that improve the resident’s experience, and how does it have the potential to improve business in the long run?

Pioneers in this culture shift, architectural design, planning, and research firm KieranTimberlake is launching an app that will allow residents to report how they feel in a space and precisely map it against where they are located, providing data that has not yet been available to designers. The app, called Roast, will provide data on indoor living aspects such as thermal comfort, air freshness, ambient light, and noise.

As a result of a beta test, KieranTimberlake found that most staff were more comfortable working in 80 degrees. So instead of cooling the office to 72 or 74 degrees, KieranTimberlake was able to save money, energy, and the consequential pollution.

Almomen recommends that all sensor equipment be homogenous with standard interfaces, such as 4-20mA, 0-5V, Pulse, BACnet, or Modbus, to minimize the challenges to find and use the data. For example, every newly installed utility meter should allow customers to obtain data on demand from the utility company or directly from the meter itself.

Another development area that is attractive to track—yet a smelly proposition—is waste management. It’s not straightforward to know when the trash is full to better manage waste. Almomen is seeing a lot of interest for sensor technology that would trigger waste pickup at a specific capacity and take away the smell, while possibly preventing bug and rodent issues.

“We’ve learned that the residential–commercial industry is starved for real-time sensor data,” says Almomen. “No one questions whether real-time sensor data would be useful. The only debate within the market centers around how one can gain access to the needed sensor data.” 

Take part in these critical housing discussions with Ratti, Almomen, and Pillai at HIVE, Dec. 6 to 7 in Los Angeles.