​ Kiwi start-up launches high-tech healthy homes monitoring

Dec 7, 2018 | News

A New Zealand start-up has launched a low cost, high-tech home environmental monitoring system that is already helping landlords like Housing New Zealand mitigate health risks to tenant families from common but deadly ailments like asthma and rheumatic fever.

New Zealand, where it is believed at least half of homes are infected with cold, damp and mould, has some of the highest rates of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in the world due to poor living conditions. Tether AirQ means there is now a proven, scientific and low cost way to measure the health of a home in real-time (no more guesswork).

Inspired by Passive Home scientists, Tether AirQ is an environmental monitoring system (manufactured in New Zealand) – which consists of a low-powered sensor, app and central reporting dashboard – that measures the real-time environmental conditions of a home 24 hours, 7 days a week.

There is no limit to the number of homes that can be monitored continuously to detect health threats like mould, mildew, harmful volatile organic compounds and carbon dioxide, as well as home temperature, relative humidity, light and pressure.

The system even makes dew-point calculations (when vapour condenses to turn windows into waterfalls), one of the single biggest causes of poor health and property damage.

“A landlord or the resident of the house can detect – via the central reporting dashboard – if there is rotting garbage in a house, overcrowding, dishes that have gone unwashed for a long period or even if the current residents are cooking methamphetamine on site,” said Tether CEO, Brandon van Blerk.

“But the real power of the Tether AirQ is that the system informs landlords and residents when a house is unhealthy because it has detected VOCs, mildew, mould, cold temperatures, damp and other risks. Once warned, property owners can carry out the necessary repairs (or move out if necessary).

“You can’t enforce standards if you can’t measure them. Now we can,” van Blerk said.

The high-tech environmental monitoring system works in any situation – even where there is no power, because it does not require WiFi or a cellular network. Tether AirQ is battery powered (with a two year battery life) and reports via the low frequency, globally recognised radio signal, SigFox.

Tamaki Regeneration were so impressed with the concept that 30 units have been installed in 30 of houses in the urban regeneration project this year (an incubation process for the product), while Housing New Zealand followed by commissioning a pilot programme for 550 sensors across 155 homes earlier this year.

“Housing New Zealand initially ran the system in their call centres and were very impressed. Since then, we’ve have had interest from insurers like IAG and Crawford and Company. By detecting and mitigating the health and maintenance risks in a home – before they become a problem – insurers can prevent health and property issues, instead of providing the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff,” Van Blerk said.

“Not only that, high-tech environmental monitoring tells you if a house is too cold or too damp so that the landlord can carry out maintenance before rot, mould and mildew set in and cause more serious damage to the property.”

While similar hobbyist type environmental monitoring devices can be purchased at home and hardware stores, the hobbyist devices are expensive, power hungry, limited in terms of what they can measure and they are stand-alone devices: they do not connect to a central network, do not report to a dashboard and require mains power to work.

Van Blerk said Tether AirQ is unique because no company has formulated a full turn-key, commercial solution around enabling healthy homes that is also frictionless in nature – low power, scalable (designed for large scale deployment), half the price, and can report continuously from anywhere in the world.

“Mould and mildew are the new asbestos. But unlike asbestos, detecting the presence – or conditions that encourage growth – of mould and mildew is nearly impossible. The Tether AirQ changes that because it is a diagnostic device.

“What we monitor gives us a clear indicator of where that home sits, particularly from a respiratory perspective. The science is very clear. Move children out of an unhealthy house into a healthy home and the respiratory problems go away,” van Blerk said.

With venture capitalists and investors lining up, as well as inquiries already coming in from overseas, van Blerk said the focus is to establish Tether as the brand that’s synonymous with healthy homes in New Zealand and worldwide.

From a tenant’s perspective, families now have a way to ensure that their homes are habitable.

“One example we had was where we noticed a six degree centigrade drop in temperature and high levels of carbon dioxide, but the tenant family hadn’t complained. Based on the Tether AirQ data, the landlord was able to get in there and make the necessary improvements to bring the home up to standard.

“Insurers tell us that, based on the data, they could purchase air purifiers instead of paying out for the respiratory health costs of policy holders. Prevention is always better than cure,” Van Blerk said.

While there are a number of interested parties, Tether plans to launch a friends and family capital raising venture shortly because the shareholders want to keep the company within the family for as long as possible.

“The value of what we do is in the data; in how we turn it into something that is valuable. There will be other devices and copycats, but we’re focussed on being a full stack solution for creating healthy homes in New Zealand,” van Blerk said.

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