Sensor-enhanced housing surveys

This project seeks to develop a framework for using and collecting data from a range of home-based sensors to understand human health and fuel poverty.

The average person spends around 80-90% of their time indoors. Extreme hot/cold and humid conditions in the indoor environment significantly influence physical and mental health. On the other hand, poor insulated houses suffer more from the extreme weather and generate further financial burden to keep the houses as an appropriate living environment. The lack of collective indoor environment sensing measurement and data collection prevents the further investigation of these issues.

The urban sensing & analytics team carried out a small pilot study in 2021 to test a range of affordable sensors placed in homes and to test the methodology of delivering low-cost sensors to respondents. The devices included the measurement of: air temperature; relative humidity; light and sound; and various air quality sensors. We explored the pros and cons of different types of sensors and examined the process of validating the data with other more established commercial and citizen science-based sensors. We also tested the process of delivery installation and retrieval, to highlight weaknesses in our methodology and develop solutions for future projects. We also attempted to link sensor measurements with a social survey, energy consumption, and housing features/characteristics. The first study did not aim to produce representative data but rather to examine the process of collecting sensor data to produce a protocol for these sorts of studies to allow others to carry out large sensor projects with subjects recruited from representative surveys.

In 2023, UBDC team was funded by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) to investigate indoor living environments in a sample of respondents from Southwark, London during extreme heat weather conditions. We deployed sensors in 40 London households, as well as a more detailed survey/interview to understand people’s living conditions and behavioural changes after the target intervention. This project helped further test and developed the methodology for sensor-enhanced housing surveys, and focused on indoor environment monitoring in response to urban heat in London this summer.

UBDC has also been successful in an application to use the Understanding Society Innovation Panel in 2024 to draw a representative sample to carry out a larger indoor environment study. This project is a three-way collaboration between UBDC’s Urban Sensing Team, the UCL Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory, and the Understanding Society’s Innovation Panel. We aim to monitor indoor residential environments and energy using low-cost housing sensors and smart-meters, and linking these data with building performance and socio-demographic data. This sensor-enhanced housing survey will roll out to 200-300 households from the national longitudinal panel.

All these projects allow us to further explore the relationship between energy usage, indoor environments, and household circumstances. The combination of the different forms of data in a representative sample is a step to providing valuable ongoing understanding of the issues of fuel usage, changing climate and fuel poverty.

Aims and objectives

The study will explore how we can use indoor environment sensors to understand human health, extreme heat/cold, and fuel poverty. And will allow:

  • The exploration of the use of smart data collection across indoor environment sensor measurements, smart metre data, social survey data, and existing open-source housing characteristics and energy efficiency data.
  • The examination the relationships between fuel poverty and indoor environments and human health both subjectively and objectively.
  • The development of solutions and warning systems to improve indoor living environment to avoid chronic diseases from mould growth and extreme heat and cold.


Leads: Dr Qunshan Zhao; Dr Mark Livingston


TBIJ project:

Rachel Hamada
Paul Eccles
Congying Hu
Mingkang Wang
Yunbei Ou

Understanding Society project:

UCL collaborators:

Simon Elam
Martin Pullinger

Understanding Society collaborators:

Annette Jackle
Jonathan Burton
Jim Vine

Latest Outputs

Further information:

TBIJ recruitment blog
TBIJ news story on the rising danger of hot summers

TBIJ news story on the district heating

Understanding society innovation panel

Jointly funded by