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Sensing social good: how Whare Hauora’s sensors can help save us from unhealthy homes

Our homes are making us sick.

This isn’t news to anyone who’s lived in Aotearoa. But although we talk about the problem of our unhealthy homes rather frequently, we don’t always know which areas specifically in our homes are making us more susceptible to illness. But guess what: there’s a Kiwi-created innovation that can do something about this – and it’s just reached its crowdfunding goal to become widely available.

Whare Hauora is a registered charity that was formed from a discussion by two of the trustees, Amber Craig and Brenda Wallace, in early 2016. Wallace’s then-five-year-old daughter was staying home from school because of her asthma. To help measure the house and see whether her home was healthy, Wallace paid for a $300 sensor. But that’s a lot of money, of course, and Wallace didn’t want to have to buy five of them for different rooms in her home.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” she explains.

Thinking there had to be a better way to sense cold and mould, Wallace bought about $30 worth of parts and created her own sensors. Able to install the much-less-expensive sensors in each room, Wallace was discover her daughter’s room was the coldest room in the house, and was able to move her into a warmer room – reducing her asthma and thus increasing the health of her wh?nau.

From there, Wallace and Craig discussed taking the idea of the sensors further, since they believed other families could be facing the same challenges. H?ria Te Rangi came on board as kaiwhakahaere (CEO), and soon… well, that’s where the Whare sensors come in.

In short, the modular Whare sensors measure temperature and humidity every 10 minutes, and the dashboard calculates the dew point index – the temperature at which the moisture in the air cools so much it condensates and collects on the surfaces in a room. The temperature and humidity readings from the sensors are compared against WHO recommendations for healthy homes, and notifications are sent to a person’s phone to let them know if a room is going to make them sick. Made of four separate parts, Whare sensors can be built a bit like Legos, and in about 10 minutes. They are powered by two AA batteries.

“During user testing, our residents said ‘Can it hear me?’ ‘Is it a bomb?’ ‘It looks like it has a camera in it,’” the charity says. “So we wanted to empower our wh?nau by teaching them basic electronics assembly.”

And now, Whare Hauora is hoping to empower wh?nau throughout Aotearoa.

A total of 152 backers contributed $40,235 in a PledgeMe campaign that closed in late August – exceeding the $40,000 goal. The successful crowdfunding campaign means Whare Hauora will be able to produce more of the Whare sensor kits. “We want every home to have a sensor kit within the next five years.”

H?ria Te Rangi pitching Whare Hauora at BNZ Start-up Alley at Webstock.

Also, the crowdfund means Whare Hauora will be able to begin trials in three vulnerable communities in Aotearoa, where they’ll provide sensor kits, training on how to use them and ongoing help with sensors. Following that, it could be expand to further communities.

Says the charity: “We need to make more home sensor kits. The last census counted over 1.5 million homes in Aotearoa – that’s a lot of houses to put sensors into.

“We’re working to produce Whare sensors in Aotearoa, but the cost of manufacturing is currently too high. So for now, we’re researching ethical businesses overseas to make large quantities of our sensors.”

Yet seeing how far Whare Hauora has already come, and given the importance of their mission (not to mention that they’ve worked with partners like Dr Lance O’Sullivan, iMoko, MyRivr, the University of Otago and the Sustainability Trust), it’s safe to say there are a lot of people rooting for them. Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi (“with your basket and my basket the people will live”) indeed.

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