Is it just me, or is it still damp in here?
Real power can mean simply having choices to be healthier in your own home. Whare Hauora is a Wellington charity that empowers people with detailed information about the healthiness of our homes.
Living in a cold, draughty, damp house in Wellington is a period in many Wellingtonians’ lives. From warmer, drier houses we tell stories about how awful it was: “You could see the ground through the holes in the floor!” “We named the mould patches and my flatmates gave them personalities” “I spent most of my home time wearing a sleeping bag”.
For others of us, this and the resulting sickness isn’t just a period in our lives that finishes with university. It’s just how it is – for always, from when we’re young to when we’re old.
Housing and health go hand-in-hand, and Aotearoa has some pretty shameful statistics of our crappy houses making Kiwis sick. This is bad for all of us: besides just being miserable, we’re missing school, missing work, being unproductive. We’re also dying.
While we slowly, slowly lift the rental market’s quality, and house values soar, it’s still too tricky to get houses fixed up. There’s a combination of our poor rental culture and immature market for double-glazing, building and insulation that means landlords are often hesitant about dropping money into health-giving improvements.
It’s also complicated: many things contribute to an unhealthy home, and perceptions are sometimes warped. What seems cold one day might seem OK the next. Different rooms and materials respond differently to time of day, humidity, wind, sun. Damp is often an insidious thing, often invisible, and we’re very good at getting accustomed to things we’re immersed in.
So it’s really tricky to know: which is the best room for the kids to sleep in? Has that heater made any difference? Why is condensation still pooling on the windowsill, if the room feels warmer?
Knowledge is power
Whare Hauora gives residents the lowdown on what’s happening in houses. Their tiny WhareSensors measure temperature and humidity of a room every 30 seconds, creating a powerful dataset for its healthiness.
Sensors in all the rooms people spend significant time in, and a ‘gateway’ unit in the centre of the home, discover each other wirelessly and form a mesh network, sending their readings to each other. The gateway unit collects the readings and sends them to Whare Hauora for analysis, creating a rich and accurate picture of a home’s healthiness.
Whare Hauora is the brainchild of three Wellington wāhine from Porirua, the Hutt and Wellington City, combining their data and tech hardware skills with fierce social consciences. They’re also well-networked collaborators, and are drawing volunteers’ skills to the mahi (work) of designing, refining and building the sensors, building data infrastructure, analysing data and getting funding.
It’s your data
Whare Hauora are all about the residents of houses.
- If you’re renting a home and you install WhareSensors, then that data is yours and only yours. It’s kept private from landlords.
- If you ask Whare Hauora to delete your personal details they will, but Whare Hauora will ask that they be allowed to keep your data in the data pool collected for your suburb.
- Whare Hauora collects all of the data they have for a suburb, and averages it out and then releases that data set for the public good.
- The public aspect of the data is a single average of temperatures and humidities in that suburb (where at least 10 houses have WhareSensors). If you’re looking for a rental or to buy in a suburb you can make an educated guess about the average health of homes in that area.
They also believe in the open source ethos, and put all their work on Github.
What can you do?
With good information about homes, people have more power to make life a little better.