Heat Seek Blog

  1. Snapshot: Heat Seek sensor data

    In our last two blog posts, we delved deep into the heat/hot water complaint data collected by New York City’s 311 service. We found that the number of complaints per year has been rising since the city began releasing complaint data, and that now over half of all residential rental buildings in NYC report a complaint each year. Now we turn to our data.

    During last heating season, we outfitted six buildings with Heat Seek temperature sensors: two in Upper Manhattan, one in the South Bronx, and three in northern Brooklyn, all areas which — according to our Coldmap — are known to have historically high complaint counts.

    Red pins on Heat Seek’s cold map mark each building with one or more Heat Seek sensor. To preserve tenant anonymity, all locations are approximate.

    From these six buildings, Heat Seek sensors recorded 151,385 hourly temperature readings and caught 3,931 violations, equal to 163 full days without heat. Tenants in these buildings are constantly at risk, never confident that they will receive heat in their homes when they need it most.

    These six buildings are just the tip of the iceberg. As we prepare to install sensors in forty buildings this fall, we expect to find similarly troubling results. By increasing accountability, however, we are confident that we can solve New York City’s heating crisis and ensure all New Yorkers have a safe — and warm — place to call home.      

    - JUL 07, 2015 -

  2. A persistent — and predictable — problem

    Last winter, the city received a whopping 230,702 heating complaints, more than any other year since it began publishing 311 data in 2010.

    This spike is indicative of a larger problem: NYC’s heating crisis is becoming increasingly dire. After a decrease during the winter of 2011-2012, the complaint count has risen steadily, up 35% over the last three heating seasons. And while it’s understandable that the total complaint count would fluctuate with the severity of the winter, the overall trend is clear. Heating complaints are becoming more and more prevalent in NYC and the crisis is objectively getting worse.

    And it’s not just the same individuals making more complaints. The number of unique buildings logging one or more complaint has also increased, following a similar trend as overall complaint count. In winter 2010-11, 35,170 individual buildings submitted at least one heating complaint. Affected buildings decreased to 30,160 in winter 2011, and then increased steadily each subsequent year, reaching an all-time high of 37,648 in winter 2014-15. For reference, there are only 76,829 residential rental buildings in all of NYC according to the NYC Property Tax FY 2014 Annual Report*, meaning roughly half of all rental buildings reported at least one heating complaint last year.

    During heating season, which spans October to May, the 311 complaint count regularly exceeds 1000 in a single day. In winter’s harshest months, the complaint count rarely dips below this benchmark. Predictably, there is an inverse relationship between the outdoor temperature and the number of complaints received by the city. The colder the temperature outside, the higher the complaint rate to the city.

    Take Thursday, January 8, 2015. Commuters starting their morning were greeted by 20 MPH winds and temperatures in the single digits, conditions that translated to a “feels like” temperature of -6℉. The city’s 311 service was inundated with a record number of complaints -  5,278 in just twenty-four hours. While obviously extreme, the preceding and following days were similarly high. The NYC Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD), which handles these heating and hot water complaints, is understandably overwhelmed. When temperatures dip, complaint counts spike, and HPD is spread especially thin just when they are needed most.

    Our aim in drilling into the City’s open data is to shine a light on the severity of the problem, and to raise awareness around the need for change. We’ll continue to post compelling stats throughout the summer as we gear up for heat season 2015-16. We hope you’ll stick with us, and join us in our outrage.

    * See page 1, “Market and Assessed Value Profile, Taxable Properties by Property Type FY 2014” - Class 2: Rentals (23,617) and 4-10 Family Rentals (53,212)

    - JUN 30, 2015 -

  3. The numbers are in (and they’re not pretty)

    After analyzing NYC’s 311 data, one thing is clear: no matter how you slice it, heat is a huge issue in NYC. During the 2014-2015 heat season—which spans from October to May—the city’s 311 call service received 230,702 complaints reporting inadequate heat/hot water. For the math majors among us, that’s nearly 1,000 complaints per day, on average. These grievances accounted for 17% of all complaints received by 311 during heating season, making inadequate heat/hot water far and away the most common complaint submitted to the city.

    The numbers vary by borough, with the Bronx faring the worst by far. Of the 195 complaint types that can be made through 311, fully ⅓ were regarding heat/hot water last winter in the Bronx. Bronx resident Trudy Pogue, in an interview with ABC 7 News, expressed the truly heartbreaking reality of the issue.

    “You go to bed cold,” she said. “You wake up, it’s cold. If you have to go out, it’s cold. When you come in, it’s cold. So how else can you feel but frustrated and angry?”   

    Residents in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens don’t fare much better. Nearly 20% of complaints made in Manhattan, 17.5% made in Brooklyn, and 10% made in Queens were about heat/hot water. Only in Staten Island, the borough with the highest median income and highest degree of home ownership, was another complaint type – street condition – more common.

    It’s clear that inadequate heat is a widespread problem in NYC. Boilers break, heating oil runs out, residents deal with periodic service disruptions, and in some cases, abusive landlords purposefully withhold heat from their tenants. In the coming weeks, we’ll delve deeper into NYC’s Open Data to see which buildings are suffering from chronic lack of heat, which neighborhoods are most adversely affected, and what patterns emerge when we compare this year’s data to data from years past.

    Stay tuned! 

    - JUN 22, 2015 -

  4. Summer Update: We’re in Business

    Hello Friends and Supporters of Heat Seek,

    The blog is back! My name is Brendan Crowley and I am Heat Seek’s newest intern (yes,you read that right, they have an intern) and over the next few months I will be churning out posts for your viewing pleasure. There is much to report, so let’s get started.

    First, a few notes about our staff and operations. We are happy to announce that we have hired our first two team members to work full-time: Noelle Francois will serve as Heat Seek’s Executive Director and Harold Cooper will serve as our lead Hardware Engineer. Both individuals have dedicated countless hours to Heat Seek’s cause on a volunteer basis, so we are pleased to get them onboard for the long run and are excited to see what they accomplish.

    We are also pleased to report that our team is now working primarily out of Civic Hall, a co-working and community space for civic technology startups located in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. The space has already proven to be an excellent source of inspiration, contacts, and ideas. We encourage you to come pay us a visit.  

    The Heat Seek team during a Sunday scrum at Civic Hall.


    Now to the question on all of your minds: what have we been up to?

    The short answer? A whole lot.

    First and foremost, we have been preparing for our first full-scale deployment in September. We will install 120 sensors in 40 buildings across New York City, a monumental effort made possible by the diligent work of our team, as well as the support of tenants, landlords, community groups, and our many organizational partners. We are excited to analyze the data we collect from these buildings during the winter months and to use our findings to tackle New York City’s heating crisis head on.

    We have also been invited to a few local conferences, gaining support for and raising awareness of Heat Seek’s cause. Noelle had the opportunity to appear on a panel at Brooklyn’s Northside Festival entitled “The Future Connected City,” and represented Heat Seek quite nicely. Additionally, a few members of Heat Seek’s team were fortunate enough to attend the 2015 Personal Democracy Forum, a jam-packed two day event dedicated to the future of civic technology. It seemed everyone we crossed paths with wanted to know how they could get involved with Heat Seek! We’re certainly not complaining.

    Be on the lookout for more posts in the coming weeks, including analysis of New York City’s current housing dispute, information on Heat Seek’s next fundraising push, and profiles of our team members. Also make sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and look us up on LinkedIn (if you’re into that professional stuff).

    Thanks and let’s keep the heat on together this winter. Over and out.

    - JUN 18, 2015 -

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