This post is the third in a series. Please read the main article before beginning this part. Due to the broad scope 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
- Construction Practices
- Construction Assemblies (This article)
- Integrated Technology
- Interior Design
- Societal, Operational, and Behavioral Changes
Construction assemblies are often determined by what the architect draws, what the contractor is familiar with building, or sometimes some combination of the two depending on the vigilance of the construction managers on site. The risk aversion from architects and contractors combined often result in the usage of industry standard construction practices even if they are out of date. While there has been some innovation in the building sciences the implementation of new details often takes a significant amount of time to spread from theory to common practice. This article addresses some of the construction assemblies such as the exterior envelope, HVAC systems, plumbing systems, electrical systems, communications systems, and finished assemblies that more general contractors might begin to adopt in response to the pandemic. They may adopt these ideas to create healthier and more sanitary residences in response to consumer demands.
More homeowners and home builders are going to begin paying attention to the quality of the air in their homes particularly in multifamily apartment buildings and larger apartments where there are often roommates sharing an apartment. While a true HEPA system will cost more people will begin see more value in these systems and begin requesting it. Contractors will begin to use modular snap in place pre-insulated ducting instead of field fabricated and insulated duct work in order to create truly air-tight and easily cleanable duct systems at a reasonable cost. This modular design will extend to all of the equipment in the HVAC system and all moving parts will be easily accessible, cleanable, and replaceable. As automation in home HVAC systems expand homeowners with multiple bedrooms will expect to be able to control temperature and air pressure in individual rooms such that if one person in the house is sick their bedroom can be switched to negative pressure instead of positive pressure.
Photovoltaic combined with battery backup are a growing trend already. People value the renewable energy generated and the energy independence such a system can offer. In rural areas more homeowners are likely to install battery and solar combinations in lieu of propane or gas generator systems that require delivery or acquisition of fuel for use in order to limit unexpected costs during pandemics and potential exposure while acquiring fuel supplies. If you think this is unreasonable just ask the Australians why they are snapping up these systems right now.
At the moment most water coming into homes is simply accepted as is from the utility company. There is no testing for verification of quality and very little additional filtration. During times of pandemic some people may be more sensitive to their health and want to minimize any additional environmental stressors. Integral in-house continual monitoring and data logging for various common pollutants and laboratory quality filtration will ensure that homeowners are getting the cleanest water possible at all times. But these systems will also be useful for rainwater harvesting, treatment, and testing. In addition, these systems can be utilized for grey water systems. Much of the water that goes down our sinks and showers can be easily and cheaply filtered and then re-used for washing a car or watering a garden. Speaking of gardens, plants are important for human health but many people don’t have the time, desire, or ability to water plants on a regular basis. In the future it is likely that water systems for homes will be holistically design and include both indoor and outdoor plants with automatic watering systems.
Since humans have their priorities a little screwy global climate change is highly likely to continue. The world will continue to experience increased incidences of new pandemics as natural habitats are disrupted and more humans are exposed to novel pathogens. In addition, warming air, soil, and water temperatures may release or increase the prevalence of certain pathogens and pests in new places. One of the main ways that pests and pathogens can be kept out is to keep the entire inside of the building dry except where you want water. The most important element for life is water. In case you had any doubt, animals, molds, and insects will all find any water inside your home and begin to flourish. During times of pandemic the last thing anyone wants to be dealing with is a mold infestation putting them at increased risk for getting sick. This means very resilient roofs and well-planned drainage paths and appropriate impervious finishes inside rooms with high humidity. To be fair this point is always important, because water damage is still one of the leading causes of insurance claims in the United States. Once water is dealt with and kept only in the locations where it is supposed to be the secondary envelope issue is odor transmission. The only other thing as powerful as water to draw pests into your home is the smell of food (which can also be sewage for some pests). As many people can attest, rats can chew their way through pretty much anything. But they won’t be motivated to do so unless they smell something worth the effort. The air tightness of a home combined with well filtered exhaust will eliminate or reduce any odors that typically motivate pests to enter homes or exhaust ducts in search of food. The whole home will be more sanitary as a result.
Solid Waste Systems
Right now there really aren’t waste removal systems in most single family homes. This is an assembly mostly reserved for high-rises and large apartment buildings. Yet, it is amazing that we almost have AI and flying cars yet our trash still gets taken out the same old-fashioned way. Even in large apartment buildings, we also have no way of dealing with potential bio-hazard waste from an apartment where someone might be sick. This may no longer be sufficient in an era of pandemics where some patients are taken care of at home because of insufficient hospital capacity. Homes and apartments may need to create new ways of dealing with this waste. In addition, homeowners will want to properly dispose of wastes from outside that may be contaminated. Last but not least, the process of waste removal is often cumbersome and can be labor intensive depending on the inhabitants age and other factors. Systems that enable automatic trash collection will increase in popularity to allow people to spend less time and effort dealing with recycling and trash and also improve the trash collection systemic efficiency. Some examples of systems for single family homes might include automatic curbside trash placement, bottle and can washers for recycling, and fully separate bins in each house for plastics, organics, glass, bio-hazard, and metals. Each bin may have a sensor on it that detects the fill level and automatically schedules trash collection based on past behavior of occupants so that the bin is never full or overflowing and so that waste collectors can plan more efficient routes that take into account the actual amount of trash that will be collected. Single family homes might also be designed with an external trash facility adjacent to the street so that trash collectors can pull the bins directly with an automatic arm that minimizes the chance of any workers accidentally getting sickened or hurt from performing their jobs.
As staying at home becomes more important, communication systems in residences will need to become more robust. We may start to see more distributed server systems and increased communication network robustness and maybe even redundancy in the same ways that are currently only seen at business addresses. New homes are much more likely to have higher bandwidth services to support frequent telecommuting and simultaneous increased digital communication security needs. Homes may also see an increase in the number of Ethernet plugs as data usage may be too much for a whole home WiFi system if everyone in the house is video chatting or movie streaming at the same time.
With more people staying at home pretty much 24/7 the likelihood of daytime robberies is fairly substantially reduced. But that doesn’t mean people will be getting rid of their security systems any time soon. So how will the pandemic affect our security systems? Security is more likely to be integrated into the construction of the home. While many security systems these days use wireless connections this requires occasional replacement of batteries. In times of pandemic everyone wants to limit how many times they have to go out of the house to get anything. It is likely that many of these sensor batteries will be replaced with rechargeable batteries so that the replacement cycle is virtually eliminated. In addition, many of these systems may be hardwired in the future to further reduce the need for replacement of power sources and the potential for robbers to use frequency jamming to block security signals from being sent.
To be clear this is only an exploration of potential impacts or changes resulting from the current pandemic on construction assemblies. 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.