How will COVID-19 change home design?

A pandemic is temporary, but its impact on residential design could last for generations.

“Security” became the buzzword in building design and construction after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Stronger reinforcement, increased fire safety, and increased security have been standard expectations in an office building since the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies.

Architects expect COVID-19 to leave its legacy on building design, from new forms of apartments to suburban single-family homes, long after the discovery of a vaccine.

“There is a lifestyle change happening. It’s been three months since the shelter-in-place orders came out,” said Liz Morgan, creative director at Portland, Oregon-based JHL Design. “It’s a lot of time to change habits, so there will just be more attention to the design of the house – period.”

The longer quarantines and operating restrictions last, the more people will depend on their homes as mission control for daily life. But a kitchen counter as a home office, or free weights shoved into the corner of a guest bedroom disguised as a gym, are only stopgap measures.

As corporate teams warm to the idea of ​​working from home, heightened short-term health measures are becoming protocol — think of the health equivalent of a TSA check at the airport. As social distancing remains on everyone’s mind, expectations at home will adjust, Morgan said.

“It also depends on someone’s means and the space they have,” she added.

Dedicated spaces for home offices or gyms are some of the most talked about home design changes, but these can still be achieved with dedicated areas in smaller spaces like a studio.

Improved air filtration systems as well as moving away from synthetic materials like glues and some padding under flooring may attract buyers with weakened immune systems or who suffer from asthma. According to Mollie Carmichael, director of Meyers Research, a recent study of home buyers found that 66% of them would spend $1,000 more on their home if it included an air filtration system. for the whole house. That’s up 56 percent at least from last year. Homeowners or potential buyers will also likely be looking for flexible spaces or indoor/outdoor rooms to improve their access to natural air.

More elaborate design changes include the addition of a “drop zone” or transitional space from outside to inside such as a changing room.

“People are going to have to have places to keep things that haven’t been sanitized and where you can sanitize the materials,” Morgan said.

More than half of homebuyers in Gazelle Global Research’s America at Home study, which was conducted in late April, said they wanted features such as germ-resistant countertops and floors, faucets and touchless appliances, a better equipped kitchen for cooking, and more storage for food and water.

Kerrie Kelly, design expert for Zillow, predicts an increase in smart home functionality. “Touchless faucets and bidets are just the beginning,” Kelly said. “Just wait for the floor tiles to take your temperature and the bathroom mirror to check your vital signs. Exciting new products are on the horizon when it comes to keeping a home clean, safe and healthy.”

Touchless faucets offer a way to sanitize without spreading germs to handles. —Adobe Stock

More than 30% of respondents in the America at Home study wanted amenities such as touchless entry, a home office, and an adaptable space with flexible walls. In research published by Zillow on June 22, Katie Detwiler, vice president of marketing for Berks Homes, said buyers will see the return of doors. “Open floor plans are changing. People feel like they need more privacy, so we’ll see more doors – especially for home offices – more insulation for noise control and separate spaces to occupy the children while the parents work,” Detwiler said. “More people will be working from home in the future – period. It will take space and privacy to accommodate that.”

Donna Tefft, director of marketing and sales at The Pinehills, a 3,200 acre residential development in Plymouth, said: ‘A home office has been part of the plan for a number of our builders over time, but not everyone asked for one. the last 10 years. Recently, potential buyers are asking for not just one home office, but two.

The Pinehills are home to nearly 2,500 families, with a planned construction of over 3,000 homes. Buyers are flocking to the development 45 miles south of Boston because of its outdoor spaces and 10 miles of walking paths, Tefft added, but they’re also looking for new amenities in their own home.

To accommodate two home offices, various home builders in the Plymouth development are considering converting lofts or finishing walk-in basements to accommodate two offices in future homes. More recently, prospective home buyers in development have asked about fitness facilities and even “getaway spaces” or in-between areas to take a call that aren’t open environments like a living room or dining room. bedroom.

While many of these pieces of equipment were under consideration before the coronavirus, the pandemic has delayed the planned deployment.

“One of the consultants we work with says disruptions like this amplify the changes already underway,” said Tony Green, the managing partner of development.

Any design changes to buildings and homes resulting from COVID-19 would be the final chapter in centuries of architectural responses to public health crises.

Wide porches and increased ventilation gained popularity following three cholera pandemics in the first half of the 1800s. Carpeting and upholstery in bathrooms became much less fashionable later in the this century as scientists began to understand how germs and disease spread.

Wetrooms grew in popularity after the 1918 flu pandemic, according to City Lab, Bloomberg’s city life publication. Similar to Morgan’s prediction that locker rooms could gain popularity as a drop zone due to COVID-19, powder rooms were billed as a way to quickly sanitize when first entering a home. .

Changing rooms may be gaining popularity as a way to sanitize before entering a home. —Adobe Stock

Pandemics have a history of shaping residential design, but it may still take some time for the legacy of COVID-19 to permeate Boston’s housing market. Projects currently in progress or about to be launched have been in the planning and approval process for months or even years. But some building infrastructure changes, such as increased air filtration and improved HVAC systems, have already been adopted in various municipal building codes in Greater Boston and major metropolitan areas across the country. countries, said those interviewed for this story.

It may take time for a contemporary post-pandemic legacy to emerge.

“All of these things are being considered but, really, for our region, it only broke out at the beginning of March. People are still figuring things out,” said Frank DiCenso, vice president of Callahan. Bridgewater-based Construction Managers “If we have that interview in three, four or five months, I’d bet we’ll see some changes.”

It’s simply a matter of when, not if, changes come to the design, Morgan said.

Social distancing measures during phased economic reopenings have resulted in temporary barriers at commercial properties like offices and restaurants. Although health and safety concerns have made these responses more immediate, it could take months for the design of the house to change.

“It’s kind of like asking a designer how long until the next big fashion cycle is coming,” Morgan said. “With home design, some people are always concerned about a contractor coming in, so it’s hard to predict when all of this will show up.”

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