Lemon-AIDE for Moving On

Homes and public spaces from now on will incorporate smart touchless, voice-controlled technologies

By Julia Malisos

With the recent pandemic, it is no surprise that we are rethinking the way we conduct our daily lives. This health crisis will likely remain in our memories, affecting our motions, our emotions, and our comfort in the built environment. Through such life changing events, we look to rebuild ourselves by finding strength in our resilience. Out of necessity comes invention; out of obstacles and hardship comes improvement and success; and out of realizing that we can provide healthier environments together by being apart, new ways of considering design, sustainability, and health have been born.

At this point, many people would feel more comfortable moving up to an isolated hilltop as long as their Wi-Fi works for virtual meetings, digital streaming, and grocery delivery. But for those not making big moves as a result of COVID-19, once the fear subsides, we will again want to be out in the communities we are currently quarantined in.

Some say suburbia is the solution — that greenfield development is trending and urban high density is out; that city-life is too expensive and that people are now savvier telecommuting, enabling opportunities to live in less crowded, less expensive, and more remote areas. Others do not believe this theory and continue to promote dense urban living. In either case, what can the building industry do to continue on the path of healthy living, sustainable building, and reinforce the feeling that being out in public is okay?

Even before the pandemic, smart technology was a hot topic. However, this conversation has grown beyond home-selling strategies to installing these features as standard for health and well-being. Common products such as smart thermostats are energy efficient and optimize personal comfort; but the conversation is now directed toward applying technologies to reduce the spread of germs. Smart technologies in public spaces, such as voice-activated controls, occupant sensors, and circadian rhythm-based lighting, lessen touch points and contribute to energy efficiency. New technologies are being developed and becoming more publicly available that can perform health scans detecting symptoms from fever to beyond.

Other products such as self-sanitizing door handles that use blacklight and photocatalytic technology as well as simple, durable antimicrobial materials and finishes that are easy to wipe down can help in reducing possible spreads of illnesses. For higher density homes and buildings with elevators, voice-controlled or sensor functions also increase sanitary conditions.

One of the focuses of the latest energy code update in California is indoor air quality requiring higher rated air filters and more efficient HVAC. Better filters assist with cleaner air and better running systems. Other technologies that can assist with minimizing contamination include ultraviolet air treatments and indoor air quality monitoring. All of these strategies work toward creating healthier, more comfortable living conditions.

Smart technology is improving every day and much of it is being applied as a result of this current pandemic. The home building industry can truly capitalize on technology from virtual framewalks with building inspectors to virtual home tours with prospective buyers. Using the virtual world for these stages can decrease carbon footprints and contagious illness transmission. The virtual world can save time and money for jurisdictions increasing building department efficiencies by cutting out travel times and shortening response times for follow-up inspections. For example, if a building official finds an issue during an inspection, the builder has the opportunity to fix the problem and do a follow-up virtual appointment with the inspector to get sign-off.

If we sustain this technology-based direction and internet-based world we are now even more immersed in, homebuilders will increase the use of virtual tours and interactions, continuing to social distance… the major non-pharmaceutical treatment for this pandemic.

Healthy communities start with healthy people. Our current focus generated due to the COVID-19 outbreak, is how we can improve conditions to reduce future risks. What will it take to relieve the constant stress of “am I going to catch it”? How can we as home designers, homebuilders, place-makers, and community engagers help our fellow humans come out again? From inside the home to outside in common areas, turning the pandemic experience lemon into innovative opportunity lemon-AIDE for the built environment will not only improve the health of our communities but will help bring back well-being to humankind.

Julia Malisos, LEED AP is a Principal- Planning/Community Design at WHA Architecture, Planning and Design with offices in Santa Ana, Long Beach, and San Ramon. Julia can be reached at juliam@whainc.com