This post is the fifth 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
- Integrated Technology
- Interior Design (This article)
- Societal, Operational, and Behavioral Changes
For the scope of this article we are treating interior design as the selection of casework, appliances, fixtures, furnishings, furniture, finishes, and equipment. After stylistic concerns, interior designs are often determined by the connections with suppliers that a specific interior designer has and owner price points. Interior designers and architects alike do not typically get into furniture design as it is usually much more cost effective to simply buy furniture from existing lines and styles. In addition many fixtures, appliances, and finishes are selected based on what is common, past experience, or explicit client requests. However, during and after a time of pandemic, client requests and tastes are likely to change to make daily life more resilient, convenient, and sanitary in case a pandemic strikes again. As we learn more about the corona virus there seem to be various modes of transmission and our homes will begin to see more appliances that will help people contain and limit the spread. This blog post addresses the potential for better designs and selections for casework, appliances, fixtures, furnishings, furniture, finishes, and equipment that can make it easier for residents to stay safe.
Interiors are not designed for pandemics
The reality is that for normal daily life interior designs don’t really take pandemics into account. While hospitals deal with infections and have optimized their rooms to make it easier to sanitize on a regular basis, this is not the case in residential architecture. Homes just don’t incorporate many common sense layouts and equipment or fixtures that can radically reduce the chances of spread. The hygienic procedures and processes that are possible at hospitals and labs are due to the abundant provision of hand washing sinks, easily accessible gloves, and frequent provision of other personnel protection equipment (PPE) as a first line of defense.
Sinks, Sinks, Sinks
Hand washing is one of the best, cheapest, most resilient, and most effective methods that we have to reduce transmission of any disease. But in most homes you may have to go through a door and touch a door handle before you can get to a sink. Furthermore, most entrances do not feature a sink which would facilitate hand washing at the point of entry and limiting the introduction of dirt and pathogens into the home.
Clothes washing machines are a technology that has liberated billions of human hours from the toil of laundry. It also provides an easy and convenient way to sanitize clothing of most germs without scalding anyone. However, folks who have to use community laundromats are still at risk of spreading disease performing a really basic necessity such as laundry which must be done on a regular basis. New apartments and homes already feature in-home washers and dryers as a sale point but this seeming luxury will become a de-facto requirement for all new home construction even lower priced apartments and homes will at least have hookups for laundry units built in. In addition the location of these machines is likely to move closer to the entrance of the home as it is important for people to remove their clothing when coming in from the outside to minimize the potential for contamination. In case you think this is impossible, we have already achieve this seemingly luxurious feat with bathrooms, which used to be communal. Today it would be very difficult to find a place without an indoor bathroom as they are legally required. While there are a few examples such as dormitories and shelters and communal facilities where there are still shared bathrooms, it would be almost impossible to sell a house or rent an apartment unit that does not include a bathroom and kitchen. The other trend that we may see more of is combination washer/dryers. The combination of the washer and dryer into one machine not only takes up less space but also enables clothes to be washed and dried without any human handling. The removal of this step makes it that much less likely for any pathogens that may have survived the washing process to infect someone.
At this point in time we have all rolled our eyes at that ridiculous person with 4 million rolls of toilet paper. In the future runs on toilet paper will likely drop as bidets take their place. During times of pandemic the other hygienic benefits of bidets will only help with adoption. But the real reason people will buy bidets is because it will limit their need for toilet paper during emergencies. Water, unlike toilet paper, is very easily accessible for Americans and unlikely to run out (except maybe in the Southwest) anytime soon. The rest of the world already has almost ubiquitous usage of various versions of the bidet. The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to accelerate the adoption of bidets in U.S. homes and they may even become a standard feature in most new homes and apartments. We are also likely to see more retrofit bidets and the U.S. will join the rest of the civilized world when it comes to butt cleaning.
Let’s talk about entering the home again. This is really the main point of contamination and one of the biggest issues during a pandemic. We bring in all the stuff we have collected while outside, both intentional and unintentional. In most Asian countries people already remove their shoes at the entrance to any home and put indoor only slippers on before walking in. This simple procedure helps to basically eliminate the potential for tracking dirt, pathogens, or dog poo into the home. But now it’s not just the shoes, but everything that we bring in that has the potential to contaminate our homes. Groceries, cell phone, clothes, and mail all need to be cleansed and ideally sanitized to limit the potential for pathogens from outside to be spread within the home. But at the moment few homes have a space that is effectively designed to support these cleaning and sanitation activities right at the main entrance. Sinks, drying racks, sanitizer and soap dispensers, gloves, paper towel, and other PPE dispensers will need beautiful and easy to clean furniture and appliances to make these processes easier to execute effectively.
More Sanitary Appliances
Refrigerators, stove tops, ovens, and general home appliances that are easier to clean and decontaminate will become more common and more popular. While this is not necessary a direct response to the pandemic, these innovations may become more popular as people begin to pay more attention to all the various places where germs thrive. Of course, most germs are in the kitchen because that is where the food is. Appliance designs with fewer crevices and notches for food particles and contaminants to lodge in such as glass cook tops with induction heating elements and capacitive touch controls will become more common. This is likely to apply to any and all appliances that people would typically purchase to install in their homes.
During a pandemic, cleaning routines become increasingly important, onerous, and dangerous for the staff that have to clean everything multiple times per day. Many large apartment buildings and other larger residential buildings are likely to enlist automatic cleaning robots to help sanitize any infectious agents in high traffic areas. In some cases this may be a robot at the end of a handrail that wipes the handrail a few minutes after it is touched or at a set interval. For elevator controls this may mean an automatic wiper that sprays and wipes down or somehow sanitizes all the buttons after every use. We may also see a proliferation of floor cleaning robots similar to Roombas that are able to continuously and automatically keep large spaces as clean as possible with minimal human intervention and potential for contamination.
More people will prioritize ease of cleaning and hypoallergenic materials as a criteria for selecting furniture. While we do the best that we can to limit our exposure and what we bring into the home, people will want to be able to clean what they have more easily and perhaps even sanitize as much a possible. In addition, consumers are likely to become more sensitive of respiratory issues and the various contaminants we introduce into our homes via furniture and furnishings. As people become aware of the impacts of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) on human health more people will start to ask for low-VOC and no-VOC fabrics and furniture.
Food & Supplies
Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) chips have gotten significantly cheaper over the years. But, they are still not cheap enough to be disposable. As our society moves away from its wasteful disposable culture it may be possible to embed RFID chips in consumer packaging. With this infrastructure a system of automatic package tracking and grocery ordering becomes possible. This can help home dwellers to maintain grocery and medicine inventories current and at owner specified levels. In addition, a scanner or RFID receiver at various points in the home can help people keep stock of everything they have in their refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and bathroom medicine closet. This information can then be used to send automatic alerts when food is about to expire and when food supplies are getting below desired levels. The value of this system, in particular for medicines during a time of pandemic is that it will help ensure that people are not running out of supplies when they need them and create un-necessary emergencies.
It is well documented that nature and plants are a critical part of human health. In addition, plants have been shown to have a variety of respiratory and other health benefits for people staying indoors for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, despite these proven benefits, plants are not really a major feature in most homes because of the maintenance routines required to keep them alive. However, this may change as watering and maintenance systems become higher quality, lower cost, and more automated.
Oh the lowly but essential trash can. What is there to change? Trash cans have only gotten larger over time as our society has continued to increase the usage of packaging and other disposable materials. But this trend is physically impossible to continue indefinitely. Our society needs to become a zero waste society and this will require us to eliminate or minimize packaging where possible, adopt re-usable containers and bio-degradable packaging, and recycle everything that can’t be re-used or bio-degraded. In order to complete the product cycle and close the loop homes will need to have more effective systems for pre-processing of trash, sorting prior to removal, and cleaning of re-usable containers. This will mean a little more space for separate trash cans so that the waste streams are separated right at the source and do not have to be sorted later. This also means that more homes will want easy and clean ways to separate out compost-able wastes that are likely to start rotting and stinking before trash day. In addition, we want to be able to achieve all of this without putting any additional people at risk. Right now single waster stream recycling sorting facilities are already dangerous enough for their workers. With pandemics adding additional risks for those workers many of those facilities may need to shut down or reduce their capacity to maintain worker safety. But our planet cannot support an indefinite open loop society so our homes and work places will have to adopt to ensure that we can close the loop and create a truly sustainable future with zero waste.
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