Pursuing Sustainability
One Smart Home,

One Connected Community at a Time

Pursuing Sustainability
One Smart Home,

One Connected Community at a Time

June 2020:

Pursuing Sustainability One Smart Home, One Connected Community at a Time

Technologies that create smarter, healthier homes lead to smarter,
safer cities and a healthier planet.

The EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) suggests Americans, on average, spend about 90% of their time indoors—this statistic is possibly even higher during a pandemic in which Americans are encouraged to stay at home by their local governments. Indoors, the concentration of some pollutants is often two to five times higher than it is outdoors. The very young, the very old, and those with cardiovascular or respiratory disease tend to spend even more time in built environments, and the EPA says these are the people who are most likely to be affected by air pollution.

Interest in leveraging smart technologies to measure factors associated with healthy homes and buildings, such as indoor air quality, is high. Key trends for smarter and safer homes range from environmental monitoring and control via HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems and the use of connected smoke and carbon-monoxide alarms to connected lighting, physical access control systems, and smart electrical plugs and switches.

But the pursuit of smart and healthy homes isn’t a trend that’s limited to the home environment. In fact, being connected inside the home is no longer sufficient. The same consumers who want to leverage IoT (Internet of Things) solutions to create safe, convenient, and sustainable homes want the same systems to make life outside the home safer, more convenient, and more sustainable.

What starts at home can spread to the wider world—neighborhoods, communities, cities … and the planet as a whole. The IoT is playing a key role in helping not only individuals but also businesses and governments achieve their unique sustainability goals, many of which are rooted in the desire for supporting optimal health.

Smart, Healthy Homes

Caroline Blazovsky, CEO of My Healthy Home, says in pursuing a healthy home, it’s important to look at all aspects of a home and how they directly impact health and wellness. “For example, it may be checking water supplies in the home for arsenic, lead, benzene, or bacteria or testing a home for mold and mycotoxin, which studies show may be immunosuppressive as well as potentially carcinogenic,” Blazovsky says. “Houses have a plethora of problems, and as we advance in testing technologies, we are seeing more issues than we realized.”

Blazovsky points out that the introduction of communicable virus states like COVID-19 makes scientists and consumers even more aware of how contaminants transmit and how air quality can hurt and/or help this situation. “By being able to monitor RH (relative humidity) through technology and sensor systems, we are able to use this to target ideal in-room humidification and dehumidification,” Blazovsky says. “So when our homes are faced with virus situations, the hope is to design a system that knows the RH needs to be higher, closer to 65%; but when we get too high, over 65%, it can dehumidify to prevent mold growth.”

Whether indoors or outdoors, high levels of air pollution affect disease states, and therefore must be addressed.

“By looking at various studies related to disease and pollution, we can use technologies such as HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration in dehumidification, air purification, vacuums, etc., to create healthier homes,” Blazovsky adds. And, importantly, as people focus on health at home, they become greener as a society, which can impact the health of millions.

“For example, a client may choose to use healthier products with less toxic products, and, in turn, this benefits our ecosystems and plant life,” explains Blazovsky. “So the more we can use smart technologies to monitor our health at home, we hope that the outcome will be better conditions for the planet. If a smart-home sensor system suggests high VOC (volatile organic compounds) or chemical output, the client will hopefully reduce and decontaminate a living space, which will help reduce chemical emissions in general. Synthetic laundry detergents play a huge part into outdoor air pollution from dryer vents, so by controlling the use and levels of these products by a VOC sensor in the home as they are being used, we can help deter their overuse.”

Now more than ever, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dan Bridleman, senior vice president of sustainability, technology, and strategic sourcing for KB Home points out that life revolves around the home. “(Homes) have become our offices, our schools, and our centers for health, comfort, and relaxation,” Bridleman says. KB Home notes that consumer interest in smart-home technology is on the rise, with 83 million U.S. households now reporting they have at least one smart-home device. To support this increase in demand, Bridleman says KB Home acts as a curator, selecting smart products and IoT devices that the company believes offer long-term personal value and that cultivate a flexible relationship between homeowners and their homes.

Victor Berrios, director of connected home IoT products at Universal Electronics, says the desire to understand one’s environment—including occupancy, energy usage, healthy air and illumination levels, etc.—and the desire to be able to make frequent, small adjustments to how one lives is driving consumer interest in smart-home solutions. These solutions play an important role in ensuring the health and safety of homes and those who inhabit them. “We see homeowners paying more attention to their HVAC utilization, air quality, plumbing maintenance (leak detection and management), which ultimately leads to extending the life of our homes while providing a healthier living environment,” Berrios says.

Understanding one’s environment is step one in addressing any potential issues. “If we work from the fact that knowledge and understanding of one’s consumption is step one to address sustainability, we start to see how critical IoT technologies are to enabling individuals, businesses, and governments in meeting sustainability goals,” adds Berrios. “IoT technologies provide a cost-effective way to measure and collect data regarding important parameters around energy management (and) resource efficiency, along with automation capabilities to act on those measurements to ensure that we can behave in a more sustainable manner.”

On the topic of sustainability, Donna Moore, CEO and chairwoman of the LoRa Alliance, says as the IoT has entered homes, it’s become important in saving resources. “Leveraging in- and around-home sensors is quickly finding traction for all types of monitoring: Is my toilet running? Is a pipe leaking? Does my lawn need water or not? Is my air clean indoors? Is my refrigerator working properly? What about outside? Do I need propane or fuel oil?” she says. “All of these applications drive sustainable homes by conserving or reducing waste, eliminating unnecessary deliveries, ensuring occupants’ safety, or preventing food spoilage.”

Many of the same IoT applications being used in the home also have value at the community or city level. “Remote meter or tank-level monitoring means fewer service trucks on the road, making businesses more efficient, traffic less congested, and improving air quality,” Moore explains. “By leveraging technology that can be used inside and outside the house, you enable applications like child/elder or pet tracking to keep your loved ones safe. Home healthcare is another example where monitoring allows for better targeting of services, meaning better use of community resources. In short, the more data you have access to that you can analyze in realtime to take concrete action, the more quickly communities and cities can become smart.”

“The WELL Building Standard is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.”

Karl Jonsson, Belkin Intl.

On a global scale, there is a shift toward recognizing the need for sustainability, along with the need for technologies that will allow businesses and governments to reach their sustainability goals sooner. Moore says at the LoRa Alliance, they see entities as varied as the United Nations, national governments, and even private citizens actively seeking ways to address issues like water and air quality, sustainable food supply, poverty reduction, and even trash collection and smart parking. They’re all looking to leverage technology to play their part in making the planet a better place to live.

Smarter Communities, Smarter Cities

In the home, Karl Jonsson, senior director of product management, IoT for Belkin Intl., is seeing trends like improvements in smart-home products’ ease of onboarding and use, a focus on collaboration within the industry to achieve interoperability—e.g., the CHIP (Connected Home over IP) initiative, the need for automation that will make homes truly “smart” and not just connected, and increased adoption of sustainable building practices à la the WELL Building Standard. Jonsson also sees the potential for smart homes to help pave the way for smarter communities.

“Smart-home devices are making neighborhoods safer in many ways,” Jonsson explains. “One example is making your lights randomly turn on while away to simulate that someone is home. This can be done with simple smart plugs like the Wemo Mini. Other device categories like IP and doorbell cameras have become very popular and can help improve neighborhood watch, etc.”

  • 5 Factors that Affect Indoor Air Quality

    1. Indoor sources of combustion
    2. Use of cleaning products and other chemicals
    3. Building materials
    4. Biological agents, like molds
    5. Inadequate distribution of fresh air via the HVAC system

From the sustainability and energy side of the equation, smart-home technologies can help load balance the energy grid by allowing schedules and intelligent controls of high power loads like air conditioning, as well as the increasing loads required by EVs (electric vehicles). “With incremental improvements and relationships between end users and utility companies, it’s possible to reduce and load balance energy with minimal or no impact on users’ lifestyle,” Jonsson adds. “(The) IoT is going to be essential for everything we do, including managing resources, energy, time, and health.”

Doorbell cameras are becoming hugely popular and contributing to the feeling of safer homes and smarter communities. As a crime deterrent and surveillance system, these systems are often effective. However, Joshua Miller, public relations representative for Flock Safety, says most property crime, like porch piracy and mail theft, goes unsolved because traditional technology doesn’t collect the right type of evidence. His company offers a license-plate reading solution that helps capture the evidence police need to track leads.Stopping crime requires a community solution,” Miller says. “Residents lean on each other to get the answers they need, which has led to rejuvenated neighborhood watches and community events.”

Alain Louchez, managing director of Georgia Tech’s CDAIT (Center for the Development and Application of IoT Technologies), says it’s important to remember the significant contribution of IoT technologies just outside the home. For instance, Louchez lists waste management and smart street lighting, which can improve neighborhood safety, as two key ways IoT solutions can make life at home and in communities much better.

The use of telehealth and non-invasive health-monitoring IoT devices in the home could also contribute to better quality of life on a community-wide and citywide level. “This (telehealth) trend may be here to stay and not be a flash in the pan dictated by extraordinary circumstances,” Louchez explains, referencing the sharp increase in telehealth usage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This would mean less traffic congestion due to fewer doctor visits, less gas consumption, better air quality, lower carbon footprint, reduced vehicle wear and tear, and more productive use of limited medical resources.”

Within a home’s four walls, he says the increasing use of smart metering and sensor/actuator technologies related to monitoring and controlling energy and water consumption will contribute to better resource efficiency on an even bigger scale—a global scale. “Also, the progressive shift to a subscription economy—i.e., consumers buying a service and no longer a product—will probably reduce overall waste,” Louchez says. “(For example), household appliances monitored by a host of sensors will have a longer life.”

The aggregation of smart-home data could also contribute to smarter cities. “By definition, smart homes mean that a lot of data are collected—e.g., presence of resident(s), temperature, consumption, health, activities, house structure integrity, cabling, etc.,” adds Louchez. “This information when and if properly accessed can, for instance, be very useful for emergency and risk management within a city.”

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Ann Olivo-Shaw, marketing director for the Zigbee Alliance, adds to this, saying many applications first introduced into the smart home are being applied on a larger scale across communities and cities. “We see that already with smart lighting and parking throughout towns, and we’ll start to see more around intelligent lighting, cameras, and voice commands,” says Olivo-Shaw. “Safety and observance tools such as Amazon’s Ring neighborhood alerts allow consumers to share important updates about concerns or security events nearby. So we’re taking what originally was a device to let homeowners know who is at their door and applying a use case cast across neighborhoods and communities to work together to be aware and alert. We expect to see more connections made between humans within their community based on their IoT devices inside and around the home.”

The IoT has a lot of potential to drive efficiencies globally. Olivo-Shaw suggests we have barely scratched the surface regarding these possibilities. “Most use cases today center around the deployment of smart meters to provide utilities and consumers with a smarter way to manage energy and be more sustainable,” she says. “Another use case that supports businesses and governments in their sustainability goals is intelligent lighting. Demand-side reduction is dependent on connected devices across venues—e.g., motion sensors turning lights off when no one is in the room—think across hotels and office buildings.”

How important will continued IoT innovation be to the future of the planet? Very. The more industries can measure, monitor, and manage key aspects of their supply chains (food production, transportation, retail, etc.), the more efficient society can be with Earth’s limited resources. “All of the thoughts above come into play regarding the future of our planet (and) how the IoT can help humanity improve quality of life and better manage and balance our use of natural resources to demonstrate a more sustainable existence,” Olivo-Shaw concludes. “Connecting ‘things’ and ever-evolving analytics and AI (artificial intelligence) will continue to bring more possibilities in how we as individuals, communities, and countries can further fuel efforts to clean up and better protect our planet through the use of IoT invention.”

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Episode 670 | 05.26.2020

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Peggy and Sam George, corporate vice president of Azure IoT, Microsoft, talk about the company’s first digital event, Microsoft Build. They also discuss how Microsoft responded to COVID-19 and he says its IoT (Internet of Things) strategy is very much partner led.

Read more of our past features in Connected World related to smart homes

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