This post is the first in a series. Please read the main article before beginning this part. Due to the complexity of the topic at hand this issue has been divided into multiple posts. Each post is centered around a topic related to homes might change as a result of Covid-19. Topics will be linked as each article is completed.
- Home Space Planning (This article)
- Construction Practices
- Construction Assemblies
- Integrated Technology
- Interior Design
- Societal, Operational, and Behavioral Changes
Home space planning, even for new home construction, is often done by copying what has already been done and modifying it slightly to suit changing tastes and preferences. People seem to prefer the comfortable and the familiar when it comes to their residences. With that in mind, this article addresses some of the spaces that people might want to change, add, or prefer in their new homes even though they might not have grown up with these features or be as familiar with them. People may want to make these modifications to their homes because of their personal experiences with the current Covid-19 pandemic and fear of future outbreaks so that they are better prepared for the future.
Vestibules are a common feature on many older homes in colder climates. This simple space puts two doors between the inside of the house and the outside of the house and prevents draughts of cold air from zooming into the house when someone enters. This space may become more common as it can serve multiple purposes. The first is to help limit air exchange and reduce uncontrolled conditioned air losses through doors. Covid may help this space gain in popularity from a health perspective because a vestibule can also help limit pathogens, allergens, and dirt from entering the home by creating a space for coats and outerwear to be stored. The control of air exchange also reduces the amount of energy used to condition the air since the conditioned air is not constantly leaking out of the structure.
Perhaps as a corollary or a part of the vestibule a cleaning station might just be a small space or even just a piece of furniture that allows people to clean off groceries and delivered items prior to introducing them to the house. Either way more people will want a space where everything going in the house can be washed, cleaned, or disinfected prior to entering the home. In many middle-class homes a mudroom with a full bathroom inside may become a standard feature at main entrances. Alternatively, garage doors with better seals may enable existing garages to double as a mudroom, cleaning space, and an unconditioned airlock.
As office workers stay at home work remotely for longer periods of time there will be a increase in the amount of work from home offices. People building or designing new homes after the Covid-19 pandemic may consider a work from home office to be an essential part of their new residence since they may end up spending significant amounts of time there instead of working at offices or away from home. We might also see a spike in backyard or garage offices where people renovate or create new spaces that are solitary for working but still very close to home. When viewed in the long arc of history this can be seen as a return to very old pre-industrial norms where most living spaces were immediately adjacent to working spaces.
Speaking of working spaces, many smaller industries and factories may realize that a centralized workforce and fabrication shop may not be as essential as before. As smaller shops begin to specialize on more customized and small run products some of these processes that are run by one person may be able to be completed in much smaller home-based workshops. There are several trends that would aid this process including the miniaturization of manufacturing equipment and the increase in prototyping equipment. These types of home-based fabrication would not be competing with larger high-volume production run factories but rather on small or custom fabrication runs.
As tele-medicine gains broader adoption homes will need to have some private space for conversing with doctors and health care professionals. Bathrooms might see the addition of a home health monitoring systems in a place where patients can privately discuss their health issues and self-perform basic health monitoring such as temperature, height, weight, and blood pressure measurements. Video tele-medicine could also enable more real-time one on one but socially distanced health care.
During normal times a visit by an HVAC technician is already time consuming and potentially stressful. Letting a stranger into your home to do maintenance isn’t always ideal. During times of pandemic there is the added risk of unintentionally spreading an infection. Location of all HVAC, Internet, Plumbing, Power, and Batteries in a utility room that does not require technicians to transverse the home limits the potential for unwanted contamination and also limits how much of the inside of the home technicians can see. In addition, as size and weight of equipment goes down, modular service units can help aid in rapid replacement of equipment so that equipment can simply be removed and replaced and the troubleshooting can happen in a factory or other off-site location instead of in the home. From a health perspective this type of operation also minimizes the time it takes repair technicians to make any repairs. It also makes it easier for homeowners to self-perform repairs and reduces or eliminates any downtime homeowners might otherwise experience with larger single unit systems. Instead of one large heater going out of commission there would be two smaller modular heaters and the overall system operates at 50-75% full capacity until the failed unit is replaced.
Food Medicine and Supply Storage
No one wants to go hungry. But, during a pandemic we also want to limit our exposure to any potential infections. This means making fewer but larger grocery purchases. Larger purchases means storing more of the essentials at home instead of in the store. The dedicated pantry was formerly a staple in most homes but has recently fallen out of favor as people eat out more often and store less food at home. These storage spaces have often been allocated to larger walk-in closets for clothing. As the pandemic creates strong urges for people to stockpile essential supplies (Toiletpaper?… Seriously get a bidet!) people will begin to prefer larger pantries. People may also find themselves using more automated inventory tracking systems to make it easier to use first in first out food operations and keep all medicines in the cabinet current.
Package & Food Delivery Spaces
Retail sales have been shifting online for many years. The pandemic has only accelerated the pace of this transition and the retail world will never be the same after this pandemic. While restaurants will probably regain a significant amount of foot traffic after the pandemic is over, retail stores are much less likely to experience as much of a rebound as more and more people who are forced to order online and use delivery services will get comfortable with the new paradigm. For large apartment buildings this will require new facilities for the food and goods to be delivered. Many large apartment buildings already have boxes for delivery of packages but these are insufficient for the increased demand. These spaces will get larger and dedicated spaces and processes for safe food delivery will be created to ease the flow of food and packages.
Private Outdoor Spaces
The human need (for most people) to get outside is not something that will change during pandemics. But the ability to do so safely can be limited during times of pandemic in large apartment buildings where you are in a public space as soon as you enter a hallway. Apartment buildings with patios or some sort of outdoor space will become increasingly valuable as people are cooped up in their homes for longer periods of time. These spaces provide a safe and private space for people to get outside without traversing any hallways or exposing themselves to other people.
To be clear this is only an exploration of potential impacts or changes resulting from the current pandemic on home space planning. Please see the other articles linked at the top of this post for other potential impacts on housing.
If you have any comments or additional thoughts on how residences may change as a result of this pandemic please leave them below.