Heat Seek Blog

  1. It’s almost heat season...

    And that means time for an update from Heat Seek! So let’s jump right in, shall we?

    After everything we learned from our deployments last year, we’ve spent the summer upgrading our hardware and software to make Heat Seek sensors increasingly failsafe, and user-friendly for folks without a tech background. Their range is longer, the 3G is more reliable, and we’ve built in a number of features to ensure that we’re capturing consistent, reliable temperature readings all winter long.

    Beginning in mid-October, we’ll deploy 120 sensors in approximately 40 low-income buildings throughout Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx. We’re partnering with new community organizations, like Brooklyn Legal Services Corp A and Housing Conservation Coordinators, to help us identify the buildings where our sensors will have the greatest impact. We’re also sharing all the temperature data we collect with HPD, the city agency tasked with investigating heating complaints, to help them better deploy their inspectors at the times when they’re most likely to catch a violation. In short, we’re poised to make a big impact this winter.

    We’re also thinking about the longevity and sustainability of Heat Seek as an organization. We’ve applied to Catalyst, a new incubator from Blue Ridge Labs that provides resources, funding, and advising to teams building technology enabled-products and services with the potential to improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers. We’ve made it through two rounds of cuts and have one left to go, so please keep your fingers crossed for us!

    For those of you waiting on sensors as part of your Kickstarter perk, never fear - they’re coming! The sensor updates we spent all summer working on were made to your sensors, too. By waiting a little longer than anticipated to send you your sensors, we’re ensuring the product we ship you is the best it can be – simple, user-friendly, and resilient.

    Have questions, comments, or contacts you think we should be talking to? Just want to know more? Drop us a line at info@heatseeknyc.com. We’d love to hear from you!

    Want to support Heat Seek’s fall deployment? Click here to donate. Your contribution helps us provide Heat Seek sensors to low-income New Yorkers in need.

    From all of us at Heat Seek, happy fall!

    - SEP 24, 2015 -

  2. Behind the Scenes: the making of our summer data science series

    Ever wonder how we work our data science magic? At Heat Seek, we’ve spent the entire summer delving into the data behind NYC’s heating crisis, and this week, we’re going to pull back the curtain and show you how it’s done (or at least how we’ve done it). We want to make sure everyone – from city officials to regular citizens – has the opportunity to follow along.

    If it’s over your head, don’t worry about it. But you might be surprised. We’ve taken care to explain what we do in a way that’s understandable, even to tech beginners like our ED, Noelle. She confirmed: you can easily get the gist, even if you don’t know how to code.

    And if data science is your thing – and let’s be honest, data nerds might be the only ones regularly following our blog anyway – this week you’re in for a treat.

    Each analysis we produce is carefully constructed, and how we collect, analyze and visualize the data is important. In reality, there isn’t any one single method or technique. Our team, like any good data science team, uses a number of tools, methods and programming languages to extract meaningful information from a vast amount of data.

    So hop on over to our github, where we’ve provided examples of our methods, and the detailed steps we’ve taken to construct our analyses and visualizations. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced civic hacker, we invite you to explore the variety of datasets related to New York City’s heating crisis.

    - Jesse

    Lead data scientist at Heat Seek

    - SEP 18, 2015 -

  3. Guest Post - NLIHC

    Hi guys! I wrote a guest post for the National Low Income Housing Coalition. It’s over on their blog at http://bit.ly/1KYZNpu. Feel free to check it out and let us know what you think!

    - SEP 09, 2015 -

  4. A tale of two cities

    We’ve spent the past few months combing through NYC’s open data in order to get an accurate picture of the heating crisis in New York. Our investigation uncovered a lot: heating complaints have increased in each of the past four years in New York City, and last winter inadequate heat was the number one complaint in four out of the five boroughs.

    Lots of people have told us that the only reason complaint counts are up is because the past few winters have been unusually cold. And that’s true; weather obviously plays a role. The colder it is outside, the more heating complaints come in to 311. We saw this when we compared the city’s daily complaint count to historic temperature data from Weather Underground. But even if complaint counts are only up because the last few years have been unusually cold, that still means more people are freezing in their homes. We can’t control the weather, but we can make sure that when it’s cold, more landlords are following the law.

    Looking at the data made us wonder what other systemic issues are contributing to such high heating complaint numbers. And so, this week we’re focusing on income.

    As you may have guessed, our Coldmap suggests that individuals living in lower income zip codes submit a higher number of complaints. But we wanted to know whether there’s truly a correlation between low income zip codes and higher heat complaints.

    Using the U.S. Census Bureau’s CitySDK toolset, we compared heat complaint count and median income in Manhattan and the Bronx. In the scatter plot below, Bronx zip codes are represented in orange and Manhattan zip codes in blue. Our x axis shows the median income for the given zip code and our y axis shows total complaint count.


    It’s clear that on average, zip codes with lower median incomes have higher complaint counts. Zip code 10458, located in the Bronx just west of the Bronx zoo, had a whopping 7,726 complaints last year. By comparison, zip code 10007, which encompasses the World Trade Center and City Hall in lower Manhattan, had only 15.

    For reference, the median income in New York City is $50,711. (For those who need a refresher, median refers to the middle point in a series of ordered data, while mean refers to the average. Medians are unaffected by outliers at the top and bottom, while means can more easily become skewed).

    Of course, we have to employ statistics to demonstrate a true correlation. In this case, we began to look at curve fits. A curve line fit helps us ‘predict’ the location of additional data if we were to plot it, and helps us determine whether a true correlation exists.

    In the chart below you can see how the curve fit demonstrates this correlation: our line shows that complaint counts rise with lower median income levels and dips lower as the median income for a zip code increases. If a new zip code from the five boroughs with a lower median income were added to the chart, we can be fairly certain that the complaint count would be higher than a zip code with a higher median income. While our Coldmap and other analyses led us to believe that income levels played a role in heat complaint counts, our analysis this week makes it clear that there is a strong statistical correlation between income level and complaint count. 


    I would imagine most of you reading this are saying, “Duh!” right about now. But it’s worth a reminder that adequate heat is protected by law in NYC, regardless of how much money you make or how much you pay in rent. This drastic disparity between who suffers from lack of heat and who doesn’t should not exist. At Heat Seek, we’re doing everything we can to shine a light on this issue. We hope you’ll support us in ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to the decent housing they deserve.

    - AUG 26, 2015 -