Homeowners are looking for specific features in a post-pandemic world
By Jillian Pritchard Cooke
The COVID-19 global pandemic has pushed our homes to the limit: stay-at-home orders, multiple generations coming together under one roof, kitchens cooking around the clock, and people struggling to carve out new space to work, relax and exercise within their home.
From these challenges there is the opportunity for building professionals to learn — particularly in the areas of indoor air quality, space flexibility and setups for work-from-home /school-from-home. We look forward with a whole new design lens as to what features homeowners will value in a post-pandemic world.
The high-performance HVAC systems that have helped craft comfort strategies and combat indoor toxins effectively prior to COVID-19 can have the added benefit of capturing viruses and bacteria. Balanced ventilation, humidification/dehumidification controls and high-performance air filtration (MERV 13 or greater) can contribute to improved occupant health. Homeowners are becoming more aware of how to connect the dots between personal health and the functionality of a home’s integrated mechanical systems.
Post-pandemic floor plans need built-in flexibility. This means more than a designated home office or workout room; a right-sized home does not have the square footage to spare for each of these needs as a separate room. Therefore, rooms need to be able to expand and contract. Bedrooms need to grow from “crib and changing table” to “bed and play area” to “bed and desk” as children grow.
Multi-generational living needs to be considered. Home offices need to accommodate virtual conferencing. Space for at-home fitness that is also available for others uses, such as decompressing and unplugging, will be desired. Integrated indoor/outdoor spaces are vital for fresh air and natural sunlight.
Global Workforce Analytics (GWA) estimates that 56% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible with remote work. GWA believes that those who worked remotely before the pandemic will increase their telework frequency even after they are allowed to return to their offices. They further estimate that 25-30% of the workforce will be working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021. Therefore, businesses of all types are rethinking the expense of office leases and the reality that many occupants will never return to a structured work setting.
Bandwidth, signal strength through walls and outlets — for starters need to be carefully considered during space design and back-checked during construction. Added to this equation in some homes: students. Colleges and universities will likely see cost advantages to providing instruction as a mix of asynchronous and synchronous learning, and the options for online education will grow.
As many households learned in 2020, it takes more than the basic internet package to properly connect and secure information for this level of work-from-home and learn-at-home. According to Digital Agent, an Atlanta-based Managed IT and Cybersecurity company, “All Wi-Fi networks, even home networks, are unsecure relative to an Ethernet connection. When you use Wi-Fi, you are sending data through the air that can be intercepted and used against you. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) can help make Wi-Fi safer, but it is prudent for companies to mandate or at least encourage a secure Ethernet connection in their work from home policies.”
Fiber optic cables are becoming more prevalent due to their speed and security, but Ethernet is still the dominant way to transmit data. It is always cheaper to run network wire during construction than to retrofit. In custom homes, you should carefully interview your clients to meet their needs in the design phase of construction, and if you are a production builder, consider including Ethernet ports in every room as part of your design plans.
Energy efficiency had already evolved to be a baseline expectation among most homebuyers; that is not expected to change. But it’s time to elevate health, wellness and technology to be the silver lining to meet changing needs of homeowners in the post-pandemic home.
Jillian Pritchard Cooke is founder of Wellness Within Your Walls® (WWYW), an award-winning informational resource group that created a groundbreaking program designed to reduce toxins in living environments. Learn more at wellnesswithinyourwalls.com.