Big Apps and Heat Seek




For the past few years, NYC has turned to apps to help address challenges for its citizens. The NYC Economic Develop Corporation is charged with using the City’s assets to drive growth, create jobs, and improve quality of life. To that end, they established an app competition in the city 7 years ago.BigAppsis the premier civic innovation initiative for New York City that aids the development of products and services capable of addressing critical civic and urban issues in the City and improving the quality of life of New Yorkers.

I want to highlight a 2014 winner that I feel is indicative of the power of technology to serve the public good.

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To set the stage, last winter, the city received over 200,000 heat-related complaints from 37,000 unique buildings, concentrated in lower-income neighborhoods throughout Upper Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. And although it is consistently the #1 complaint during the winter, less than 4% of those heat complaints resulted in a violation. Thousands of New Yorkers are freezing in their homes, with few resources to get the heat turned up.

Heat Seek is an app that was designed to address heat related concerns in the city. NYC landlords are required to provide adequate heat for its tenants. Heat Seek started in February 2014 when William Jeffries was up late one night in the cold at the Flatiron School, tinkering with a temperature sensor. He got a basic graph of the temperature sensor working, and wrote a blog post about how the technology could be used to help people who don’t get access to adequate heat in the winter. His classmate Tristan Siegel saw it and said his mother was a social worker with clients who could use the technology. With some equipment purchased by the school, they monitored Heat Seek’s first apartment in the South Bronx. Within a few weeks, they had captured temperatures below the legal requirement. It got down to 53ºF.

They then brought it to the BigApps competition. It was well received and got multiple awards.

At Heat Seek NYC, they are tapping the internet to empower tenants, landlords, community organizations, and the justice system to tackle the city’s heating crisis. They:

  • Provide unbiased evidence to verify heating code abuse claims in housing court
  • Help landlords heat their buildings more effectively while reducing costs
  • Create transparency in heating data to educate the community and inform housing policy

The affordable temperature sensors can be installed in any number of apartments per building. They talk to each other via mesh network to periodically collect and transmit ambient temperature data to Heat Seek NYC’s servers. Their powerful web app integrates this data with public 311 heating complaint information to deliver a better picture of New York City’s heating crisis than ever before.

They are working closely with community organizations, landlords, and the New York City’s Housing Preservation and Development to make their technology available to thousands of New Yorkers in time for the cold.

Measure                                         Analyze and Identify                                     Advocate


Their web-connected temperature sensors take hourly temperature readings and send them through an onboard internet connection to their secure servers, where they store the data all winter long. To ensure data custody, their team conducts all installs and protects the devices from potential tampering.


Their web application analyzes the sensor data, alongside the outdoor temperature, in order to record each hour the temperature falls below the legal limit as defined by the NYC Housing Code. Data is displayed in a graph as well as a comprehensive heat log, so that tenants and their advocates have robust data to take to court and to use in landlord-tenant negotiations.


Armed with this data, public interest attorneys, community organizers, and even city officials can advocate on behalf of at-risk tenants, and better hold landlords accountable for their negligence and harassment. Their data can demonstrate patterns of landlord abuse: manipulating the heat before, during, and after city inspections; targeting specific tenants; using heat as a harassment tactic; and more.

Watch Their Video Here

Heat Seek installed temperature sensors in the building in October in partnership with The Legal Aid Society, and in the weeks that followed, they recorded hundreds of hours in which the temperature was below the legal limit according to NYC Housing Code. Despite a long, warm fall, nearly 25% of the hours were in violation.

In December of 2016, Heat Seek held a press conference in front of the building to announce a partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and The Legal Aid Society. The same day, Legal Aid Society attorneys filed a case against the landlord in NYC Housing Court.

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And then a funny thing happened…

The heat came on! After weeks in which the temperature hovered at or around 60 degrees, the temperature increased almost a full 10 degrees the day after the press conference.


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