You don’t have to be a billionaire to give back

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#GivingTuesday is about ordinary people coming together to make a difference in their communities.

At Heat Seek, we do that every day. At our core, we’re a group of New Yorkers who saw a problem in our community and decided to fix it. And now we’re asking for your help.

Donate $60 and we’ll provide a temperature sensor to a tenant in need. Donate $80 and we’ll provide a hub, establishing an internet connection and enabling a whole building to connect to the Heat Seek sensor network. If you’re feeling generous, $260 provides a starter kit (1 hub + 3 cells) to outfit a whole building with Heat Seek sensors.

With your help, we can empower New Yorkers with the data they need to hold their landlords accountable and get their heat restored.

Donate today to warm someone’s heart and home.

Donate Now


BigApps Demo Day!


We had so much fun hanging out at the 2015 BigApps demo day on Sunday. We attended as alumni, and got to share a bit about what Heat Seek has been up to in the past year. We also got to meet the amazing teams participating in this year’s competition, including JustFix, a fellow Catalyst project we think is pretty awesome. 

– Speaking of Catalyst, we moved in on Monday! We’ll post pics once we’ve set up our office (!!!), but for now, check out these picks of the awesome BigApps event –


There were 4 different challenge categories, plus a few wild card entries.


Celebrity sighting! Minerva Tantoco, CTO of New York City, chatting with team SQUID.

It’s almost time...

We’ve spent the past four weekends assembling, testing, and packaging sensors and it’s all paying off! We’ve got buildings lined up, and we’re almost ready to begin our winter 2015 pilot program.

Big thanks to Harold for letting us take over his living room last weekend!

Big News!

Hi all,

As many of you may have heard, we got accepted to Catalyst!! It’s an amazing incubator run by Blue Ridge Labs @ Robin Hood that comes with funding, office space, and a whole host of advisers and networking opportunities. The incubator is specifically designed for teams creating tech solutions to alleviate poverty in NYC, so we know we’ll be in great company. We’re thrilled!

[Not quite sure what an incubator is? Check out this great definition]

With that, we’ve got some pretty exciting news. First, William quit his day job and will begin working for Heat Seek on Nov 2nd. Now we’ll have 2 people working on Heat Seek full-time, which is HUGE! We’re going to be able to accomplish so much more with two minds focused on the organization instead of one, and we’ve got a ton of great ideas in the pipeline. 

We’ll also be moving office spaces from Civic Hall (a fantastic civic-tech co-working space in NYC that everyone should check out if they haven’t already), to the Blue Ridge Labs office in Brooklyn. We’re excited that we’ll soon have dedicated office space, but we plan to continue to pop over to Civic Hall whenever possible to remain connected to this fantastic community.

Other than that, not much will change. We’re still gearing up for our pilot program and will begin distributing sensors in the next week or so. We’ve got 40 buildings lined up, and we’ve partnered with a bunch of new community organizations to make sure our sensors reach the tenants who need them most. We’ve got a code-sprint coming up to make the cold map more powerful, and we’ll provide more details on once everything’s finalized. And we’ll continue to actively pursue grants and donations to keep our work going. 

We are so humbled by all the support we’ve received since we started this project last year, and particularly in the lead up to our final pitch for Blue Ridge Labs @ Robin Hood. To all those who have contributed their time, talents, advice, or simply kind words to Heat Seek over the past months, please know it is much appreciated



Congrats to our amazing team member + board chair Daniel Kronovet for winning the top prize at Columbia University’s data science hackathon last weekend! Daniel and his team created a model for predicting where in the city heat complaints are most likely to occur. Check out the full write-up here:

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 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!

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

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.

Living Without Heat: An Interview with Rebecca Sharp


In 2003, Rebecca Sharp, an immigrant from New Zealand, moved into an apartment building in Washington Heights. Despite some early signs of trouble — there had been a police raid in her building just before she moved in — she was optimistic about her new apartment and her new landlord.

“I was under the impression that if you moved into someone’s house that they own, and you take care of it, and you’re a good tenant, and you pay your rent on time, then that’s it,” Sharp said.

Fast-forward to 2015. Sharp, who is entering her thirteenth year in the same Washington Heights apartment, has seen her cautious optimism replaced by utter exasperation. Since move-in, there have been bedbug infestations, countless winter nights without heat, and days without hot water; she has been harassed, presented with eviction notices, and has fought multiple battles in court.

Ms. Sharp’s situation, unfortunately, is not an anomaly. It represents larger, systemic problems that are undoing New York’s affordable housing community from within.

Rebecca Sharp had suspected that she was not receiving sufficient heat for some time, but she always chalked it up to drafty windows and poor insulation. Ironically, it was only when the heat was actually on that she fully grasped the conditions in which had been living.

It was during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in late 2012, when Sharp noticed that her entire apartment was warm, a feeling that, oddly enough, she realized she was unfamiliar with. Her landlord, stranded in Queens during the storm, had no way to get to Washington Heights to mess with the boiler, giving tenants a rare respite from the cold. Three days later, however, Sharp’s landlord arrived and, sure enough, the warmth receded.

“At that point I really realized that he is just a totally abusive person,” Sharp said. “Before that I always rationalized, ‘Oh, maybe it’s true, maybe the boiler is broken…’ that was the last straw.”

Sharp and her fellow tenants began looking for avenues that could improve their situation. What they encountered was a bureaucratic maze.

“The [city agency] websites are pretty confusing, to say the least,” Sharp said. “It takes a lot of tenacity…to get to what you need. The city’s overwhelmed and inundated.”

“I can only imagine how difficult it is to come from a different country where you don’t speak the language,” Sharp, a native English speaker said, in reference to the many Hispanic tenants in her building. “Because I know how weird it was coming to New York from New Zealand,…a very first-world, very privileged kind of place to live.”

Like many New Yorkers, Sharp and her peers eventually turned to 311, issuing complaint after complaint. Their landlord danced around HPD investigations, making temporary changes to the temperature to avoid fines. Sharp, observing this pattern, looked to create a tenant advocacy organization for her building, with the hope of eventually taking her landlord to court. But her fellow tenants were reluctant, rattled by the landlord’s intimidation tactics.

“People are too afraid,” Sharp said. “They’re afraid to make waves because they don’t know what the landlord is capable of doing. And our landlord has historically shown that he’s capable of all kinds of things that seem completely inhumane.”

Sharp took things into her own hands. She put flyers in her building detailing tenants’ rights, documented violations in their apartments, recruited lawyers to look into her case, and finally was able to form a cohesive tenant organization.

That’s when the eviction notices started. Sharp’s landlord claimed that her apartment, after 12 years, was suddenly no longer eligible for rent-stabilization, meaning her recent rent payments were too low. On these grounds, he was attempting to evict Sharp for non-payment. It was a claim that, though groundless, took time and energy to deal with.

“That’s what I realized throughout this whole thing, is how many people fall prey to these people and the intimidation tactics,” Sharp said. “I think he was just hoping I wouldn’t have the money. And a lot of people wouldn’t.”

Sharp entered a prolonged legal battle and, because she was representing herself, had to repeatedly take time off from work. Some days her landlord wouldn’t even show up to court, forcing procedural postponements and more headaches.

“A lot of people go through there [housing court] who don’t know their rights,” Sharp said. “I’m sure a lot of people just end up on the street.”

In the midst of this battle, Sharp and the tenant association were gradually building a case of their own, centered around poor building maintenance, lack of heat and hot water, and the particularly egregious treatment of Victoria, an elderly tenant in their building.

“She hadn’t had a working oven in 23 years,” Sharp said. “There were huge holes in the top of the stove that had worn away, and you could see the pilot light through them. I mean it was dangerous.”

The tenant association brought a compelling case before a court attorney, but walked away with mixed results. Sharp was told that if her landlord doesn’t supply heat and/or hot water in the future, he will be held in contempt of court. That, however, would require further legal proceedings to prove.

Since the case was closed, little has changed. This winter, Sharp says, inadequate heat has been prevalent.

“I was putting the oven on to stay warm,” Sharp said. “And that’s terrible, it’s dangerous, it gives you a headache…And I’m wearing my Ugg boots, I mean I’m wrapped up warm in the house and I hate being that cold in my own home.”

“You just go into survival mode, you’re just trying to stay warm, and that becomes your sole focus,” Sharp continued. “What can I do in three seconds when I’m out of bed? Because often bed’s the only warm place.”

Today, Sharp continues to document her landlord’s heating code violations, maintaining a meticulous log with the help of a Heat Seek sensor. Because her landlord often shuts off the hot water during the summer, Sharp has also begun videotaping herself taking hourly temperature readings while holding a thermometer under the faucet, simultaneously running a stopwatch to demonstrate just how long - if ever - it takes for the hot water to appear.

“It’s too much to expect people to have jobs, to look after their families, and to be able to create a heat log of the temperature inside, outside, and the time, every hour in their apartment,” Sharp said. “It’s just not feasible, it’s ridiculous. But that’s what you have to do to prove what’s happening.”

Sharp, along with hundreds of other New Yorkers, will again receive a Heat Seek sensor this fall, as part of our first large-scale deployment. Heat Seek aims to repair a broken system of reporting and provide tenants like Ms. Sharp with the evidence they need to successfully advocate for themselves in housing court. She, for one, is excited about the product’s capabilities.

“It’s amazing,” Sharp said. “When I heard about the heat sensor I was just so happy, because I think it’s going to help so much.”

Insufficient heat and hot water is a widespread problem in New York City that can be eradicated. It is a crisis that disproportionately affects low-income New Yorkers and creates serious health concerns, particularly for children and the elderly. For Sharp, it’s an issue that can no longer be tolerated.

“You’re getting up, you’re working hard for $15 dollars an hour, maybe?” Sharp said. “And then you’re paying your rent to somebody who has no regard for you as a human being and doesn’t give you heat or hot water. It’s crazy.”

Heat Seek is expanding. To help provide Heat Seek sensors to Rebecca and tenants like her, please donate here. Donations are tax deductible.

BigApps is back.

🎶It’s the moooost wonderful time of the year…🎶

NYC BigApps 2015 is here! The country’s premier civic tech competition kicked off last night in grand style at Civic Hall, a new community and co-working space for civic tech startups in Manhattan’s Flatiron District (and Heat Seek’s home base).

Photo via @mbmlotek.

A packed crowd of developers, entrepreneurs, and tech enthusiasts were treated to a flurry of speeches from New York City’s digital elite. Eric Gertler, master of ceremonies and Executive Vice-President at NYCEDC, was joined by Microsoft’s John Farmer, NYC’s Chief Digital Officer Jessica Singleton, and a bevy of other leaders in the civic tech space, each emphasizing how BigApps can help turn an idea into a product or tool that makes a tangible impact in NYC.

Our favorite speaker, however, (and we swear we’re not biased) was Heat Seek’s very own Executive Director Noelle Francois who discussed our wonderful experience at BigApps last year. As Noelle pointed out, the mentorship before, during, and after the competition was unparalleled, and critical to Heat Seek’s success. Heat Seek was able to form a diverse team of professionals, recruit advisors, and build relationships with the government and the community, all in less than six months. These long-term partnerships have paid off: this fall, we are prepared to put 120 of our sensors in 40 buildings across NYC, and we have no plans of slowing down.

If you have a great idea that has the potential to help everyday New Yorkers, we encourage you to submit an application to BigApps before the October 14th deadline. Also, if you have any questions about the competition, feel free to follow us on Twitter and shoot us a message.

Thanks and good luck!

Learning from the Data Science Community

Daniel, one of our Heat Seek team members, recently attended the Open Data Science Conference in Boston. This conference, a crossroads for technologists and data scientists committed to open-source tools, was a great opportunity to learn from leading data scientists about new techniques and technologies for extracting knowledge from data.

As a non-profit, Heat Seek has to do much with limited resources. As our last blog posts have shown, we’re digging into New York City’s open data to discover new patterns and trends in housing and heating. Open source machine-learning libraries like Scikit-Learn, which was covered extensively at the conference, will be very helpful in helping us get at these insights and make a compelling case to policy makers and funders.

Additionally, there were more theoretical talks by leading engineers and professors on the conceptual side of data science. Wes McKinney, of pandas fame, spoke to an overflowing room about the goals and future directions of the ubiquitous DataFrame, while David Epstein spoke about the challenges of feature engineering, and why this aspect of data science is one of the most subtle and important. It can be tempting to jump head-first into a dataset and start training models — talks like these remind us that moving thoughtfully and deliberately through a problem is often the key to finding impactful insights.

Finally, the conference hosted numerous speakers who are hard at work on their own projects to fight injustice. Eric Schles, a data scientist and NYU professor, spoke about his work with the New York City’s District Attorney’s office, using open-source tools to detect human trafficking and bring traffickers to justice. Working to ease the burdens of our most vulnerable populations can seem overwhelming — it’s valuable and encouraging to learn from others committed to the fight for social justice.

All in all, it was a great conference and we are glad that someone from the team was able to attend. We look forward to keeping in touch with the organizers and attending their future events!

The heat’s out...again

This week we’re looking at single vs repeat complaints, and trying to get a sense of the patterns we’re seeing in the data.

One of our driving questions is whether the complaints we’re seeing represent single incidents — like a boiler breaking once during the course of a winter — or chronic heating problems that may be indicative of larger issues like tenant harassment or, at the very least, negligent landlords. And while the data will never reveal intent, we believe we can find good proxies within the data for what appears to be long-term tenant harassment through the withholding of heat.

We started by breaking out 311 heating complaint data into buildings with single vs. repeat complaints during the 2014-2015 winter. And the takeaway is clear — in the majority of buildings with heat/hot water issues, tenants are calling 311 multiple times before the problem is resolved.

That makes sense. It’s rare that heating issues affect a single apartment, so when the heat goes out, everyone in the building has skin in the game. HPD sends a building inspector every time a complaint is received, but often, landlords with bad intentions withhold heat sporadically all winter long.

To get a better sense of the severity of the issue, we looked at the total number of complaints coming from unique buildings. We sorted the data into buildings with a single complaint, buildings with two complaints, 3-5 complaints, 6-10 complaints, 11-100 complaints, and greater than 100 complaints. Astoundingly, there were actually buildings with greater than 100 complaints last heat season — 181 buildings across the city.

Buildings with 100+ heat/hot water complaints suggest a chronic problem. Yes, the size of the building (a stat not included in HPD’s dataset) will influence the number of complaints submitted. And yes, we realize in rare cases tenants are calling 311 repeatedly because they are frustrated. But 100+ complaints is almost inconceivable, and suggests a serious, ongoing problem. Trust us when we say, tenants have better things to do than sit around filing 311 complaints all day.

We believe — and both the data and our experience with Heat Seek users confirm — that a small number of “bad actor” landlords across the city are withholding heat as a method of tenant harassment. We believe this is particularly true in gentrifying neighborhoods where rents are rising quickly and landlords have strong incentives to get rent stabilized tenants out. Next week we’ll post an interview detailing one Heat Seek user’s years-long experience fighting for adequate heat. 

Stay tuned.

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.      

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)

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! 

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.

Spring Update

Six months after the close of our Kickstarter campaign, our first winter in New York has finally come to an end. With months of warm weather ahead, we decided to look back at what we’ve accomplished so far, and talk about how to use the next six months to gear up for round two.

One of our biggest early accomplishments was winning the BigApps 2014 competition, earning $25,000 and the praise of Mayor de Blasio. After that we went into production for our pilot program. By electing to build our sensors ourselves, we minimized cost and were able to hold on to a substantial portion of our prize money. We deployed sensors in Brooklyn and the Bronx and went live in November.

As winter wore on, we continued growing our professional network, forging relationships with Microsoft, the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation, Civic Hall, the Flatiron School, and the District Attorney. We also recently obtained sponsorship from Weather Underground, who is giving us free and unlimited access to their API. We received favorable press from Fast Company and CNBC. We took on some new volunteer team members: Jesse, a data specialist; Caroline, a non-profit expert; and Rachel, a social media strategist. At the close of the season, we had 120 sensors purchased and 24 in production.

So, what’s next for Heat Seek? Our plan is to use the summer primarily for outreach and fundraising, keeping our name out there and hopefully raising enough money to hire some of our volunteer staff full-time. While we can’t share all the specifics, one of our main goals is getting all of our hardware up to 99% accuracy, so we can go into next winter with a foolproof fleet of sensors and hubs.

To all of our friends and supporters—thank you so much! Stay tuned for more progress updates as we continue to develop and grow.

Why Cold For Some Means Complications For All

Winter is coming—and if it’s as frigid as the last one, New Yorkers are in for a debilitating few months. Fortunately, New York City tenants have a legal right to heat from October to May. Unfortunately, this right is difficult to enforce, as evidenced by the over 200,000 cold-related complaints the city receives every year. The fact that many citizens—particularly those who live in underprivileged neighborhoods, have young children or are elderly—are forced to endure Northeast winters without adequate heat is a disconcerting public health crisis that ought not to be an issue in the Greatest City on Earth.

Although not everyone suffers from a lack of adequate heat, everyone can empathize with those who do. More than that, however, there are a myriad of social complications that arise from cold living conditions that affect everyone, especially because we live and work in such close proximity. In fact, research has shown that physically cold temperatures can produce emotionally cold behavior—something New York certainly doesn’t need any more of. Other studies have suggested that warm temperatures are important for stimulating memory and creativity, which can impact success at work and at school. Cold temperatures also negatively impact your sleep cycle, and the temperature of many underserviced New York apartments can drop far below the optimal sleeping temperature (around 68 degrees). Sleep deprivation, of course, has profound effects on productivity and mood. Because a bad mood can be transferred as easily as a bad germ, the emotional cost that a cold apartment has on one person can be detrimental to us all. Cold temperatures can also weaken immune system response, especially among disadvantaged populations, leading to additional—and unnecessary—stress on our healthcare system.

Living in an unbearably cold apartment is an inhumane reality, one that has subtle but far-reaching social and economic ramifications. A cripplingly cold apartment is not just an individual concern. It’s a societal concern. Not only because we have a responsibility to look out for those around us, but because their well-being affects our well-being too. Yes, Heat Seek’s sensors will directly benefit those living in cold conditions, but they will also have benefits that extend far beyond one apartment or one person.


Remington Tonar is a senior strategy consultant at Siegelvision, a organizational identity firm that helps nonprofits define their purpose, articulate their value, and build their brands. His clients include major hospital systems, top universities, and international NGOs. Follow him on Twitter at @remtonar.