Creating Apartment Maintenance Efficiencies Through IoT



The Internet of Things (IoT) in multifamily housing isn’t so much about digital bling for residents as it is for more efficient ways to manage day-to-day operations and protect a property’s capital investments.

True, smart door locks, techy thermostats, and voice recognition systems satisfy smart appetites and can, in some cases, earn a few bucks extra on leases. For the most part, those internet perks are marketing gadgets to help boost or maintain occupancy.

The hidden benefit of IoT is the rising adoption of networks that enable operators to constantly feel the pulse of their properties. Devices that monitor the backbone of an apartment through preventative analytics are increasing the functional life of appliances and HVAC systems and minimizing the damage from water leaks. At the same time, they are reducing inconvenience to residents due to failing equipment and helping operators managing utilities.

“The internet of things is playing a huge role in property maintenance, capital budgets, and energy management,” said RealPage Senior Vice President Jason Lindwall.

That role is saving portfolios maintenance costs while bettering the living experience for residents through mobile technology.

Automating smart home services

Many good things are happening, like network developments at existing sites are moving toward connectivity through Wi-Fi and Ethernet, which provide multi-solution networks that address multiple community concerns. Also, wireless is going modular, such that adding more networks simply requires snapping on a new module rather than stringing wires from floor to floor or across a community. Systems can evolve with new technology solutions at the pace of the property.

Companies like SmartRent, Stratis, and PointCentral are among the leaders that are helping to establish networks with third-party providers in new developments and existing properties with devices that improve maintenance processes, which ultimately saves money.

“Our goal is to automate control of smart devices,” said Debbie Kimball, senior account manager of PointCentral, at last fall’s RealPage Maintenance Summit.

The technology at its most basic benefit is saving steps, which enables maintenance staff to be more efficient and do more in less time. Lock codes allow personnel to open and lock doors for inspections or repair without running back and forth across the property for keys. When a work order is generated, the staff gets a temporary code to access the apartment.

Kimball estimates maintenance teams save up to two hours a day because they are not “chasing keys.” And, the staff isn’t spending time and money remaking keys that aren’t returned by forgetful vendors. She said one client saved $200 a month in rekeying costs after switching to one of Point Central’s applications.

Another benefit is the ability to easily reset locks and program thermostats to an energy-efficient temperature for vacant units. No more vendors entering the unit, cranking down the A/C and then leaving, Kimball said.

Identifying issues through predictive analytics

Demetrios Barnes, COO of SmartRent, a smart apartment company that builds and deploys home automation solutions for apartment owners and property managers, said IoT’s capabilities for appliance management are reaching great strides.

Predictive imaging and usage technology are identifying issues that are about the happen.

“It’s really empowering you to add devices to your units, to your community, to really enhance that,” he said. “I think of that refrigerator that’s going to go out, that water heater that’s going to go out at some point. Wouldn’t you like to know before it’s going to go out so you can address that?”

Kimball said PointCentral’s application monitors thousands of HVAC systems and logs operational data that can help identify units that are underperforming and about to fail. Alerts are sent to the maintenance team via mobile devices so the issue can be addressed before it potentially inconveniences a resident.

“The system is now creating work orders for you to go attack something before it becomes a resident’s issue,” she said.

IoT will change how we do our jobs

Henry Pye, Vice President of SmartSource Resident Technology Services at RealPage, says today’s IoT isn’t just about purchasing cool devices from anyone while under the pretense that they will work together just because a community gets a good internet signal.

While the ever-changing landscape is finally delivering reliable providers that know multifamily’s needs, the playing field continues to attract mavericks that only think they can offer dependable solutions.

Pye believes that many of the wireless networks needed to fully deploy the vision of a fully connected, self-sustaining IoT haven’t even been deployed. They may not even be on the drawing board just yet.

“We’re very young,” he said. “(IoT) will change how every one of us do our jobs, but it’s baby steps.”

Pye recommends that properties look beyond today’s IoT and focus on wholistic, secure solutions that meet as many of a property’s needs as possible while providing a clear path to add future solutions. 

Choosing the right solution provider

Smart devices are proven to create efficiencies and save money, says Charlie Hill, chief innovation officer at Stratis, but choosing the right solution provider is critical to take full advantage of the capabilities. He recommends focusing on a platform that aggregates the mobile experience rather than daisy-chaining a system that requires numerous apps.

Also, he advises that potential providers do a site survey, walk the property and fully understand its needs before accepting a recommendation, especially in older communities.

“There is a lot of noise in the industry,” he said. “There is a startup every other day. Make sure your guys are out there keeping an eye on the solution provider who is onsite and doing that site survey.”

For more on how IoT can make maintenance easy, watch the video.

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