A ‘crowdsourcing’ website where people can leave reviews of heating and insulation products and services has been launched. Created by a small team of academics at the School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester, it can be found here: www.tellus-toolkit.com – under “Green Home Watch.”
The lead academic on the project, Dr Jenni Viitanen told MCFly that “the purpose of the site similar to “Tripadvisor” – it allows people to leave reviews about heating technologies and thermal insulation. The intention is to increase information about products and services, and thus help people make more informed decisions about investments. Our funding has come from the EC, under the SMARTiP project which aims to build internet tools for smart cities.”
But we here at MCFly are relentlessly cynical and negative and curmudgeonly (or so the Council and Steering Group keep telling us). So we fired the curliest additional questions we could think of at the good Doctor. She answered with grace and artistry. Here you go –
Is there any comparable project like this in the UK/Europe?
Because we have built this website for quite a UK specific issue, around heating and insulation services and products specifically in the retrofit/ Green Deal market, we are not aware of any comparable site in Europe. However, we know of at least one other initiative in Somerset backed by the local authority. They have built a Green Deal website (ourgreendeal.net) mainly to provide details of local accredited contractors, but it says there that “maps, case studies and reviews” will be added in due course. Our site has a different focus though, we want to primary focus on user experiences and the effectiveness of heating and insulation interventions.
What happens when the initial funding runs out – i.e. has the risk of it becoming another “legacy” site full of out-of-date info and year-old blog posts?
As long as we have a server running here at the Centre for Urban Policy Studies, the Green Home Watch can happily exist with minimal ongoing costs. We really would like to encourage people to use the website, the more reviews there are, the more likely it will live on, more people will find it useful, and the contents stay fresh.
How does the site control for malicious statements/assessments (famously businesses have had employees pose as disgruntled customers of rival businesses and slag those rivals off)?
I will personally monitor all the reviews, so inappropriate content will be removed. Of course we can’t help it if a statement appears genuine but is not, but we take the view that most people who check out user review websites are familiar with the nature of user generated content and therefore would use them as one source among many to support decisions. We also hope that most content would be genuine and not frivolous, but we need to wait and see what happens. Further development that is underway, v2 if you like, would allow users of the Green Home Watch to connect with each other (with their consent, of course) if they have the same or similar heating system and want to share tips/ resources with each other. This is something that would minimise being caught in frivolous cases by rivals or disgruntled individuals, and maximise benefit for those genuine people who wish to share knowledge and experiences of heating and insulation.
Anything else you want to say…
The idea for the Green Home Watch website came after seeing evidence that “green technologies” do not always do what they say on the tin from the end users’ perspective. That is to say, people find certain new technologies tricky to use to achieve thermal comfort or energy efficiency. Partly this is due to unfamiliarity with a new system, but it can also be about poor installation or other technical problems in situ. This is why we particularly would welcome people who have first hand experience of renewable heat technologies (e.g. solar hot water, heat pumps, biomass, multifuel stoves or boilers, micro CHP etc) or thermal insulation to use the website. This way, others can access useful information on what works and what doesn’t, or where the common problems are. To quote one person who lives in a part-ownership ecohome: “we can’t always afford to call in the professionals” which is exactly why we have developed this website. In the age of the Internet, learning from peer reviews is an alternative way of improving your heating system performance and energy efficiency. Please spread the word!