Everything was going along swimmingly, or maybe not, toward the end of 2019. The hot dry summer of 2019/20 was very challenging for many people in Australia and the bushfires that summer had a devastating effect on many people’s lives.
Just after that, we had intense rain and floods and then plunged into the uncertainty that was Covid-19. What an intense few years we have had.
So how did Covid impact how we live in our homes and what we expect from them?
I have spoken to many people about their homes over the last two to three years as I restarted my business after being made redundant from my full time role due to the uncertainty of Covid in April 2020.
During the early days of Covid when everything was unknown and up in the air, many people found themselves at home all the time. With the entire family 24/7. For many families this hadn’t necessarily happened before as often people leave the house for work and school during the week and spend time together at weekends and in the evenings. All of a sudden families had to work out how to work possibly one or two jobs at home with children attending school via online learning all at the same time. Talk about stressful.
So what did people need to help them through? A lot of people needed work space. Maybe not just for one person but potentially 4, 5 or even more. In the previous few years the use of studies in homes had actually reduced due to the changing nature of technology and the ability to sit on the sofa with an iPad or phone, rather than at a desktop computer. Now all of sudden, the need for a defined workspace was back. If not a separate room then at least a dedicated workspace. Many people were setting up temporary things in bedrooms and living areas, hallways or garages. They had to make do with the space that they had. This is when I received quite a few calls asking for help. Many families had gone from working from home one day a week to full time at home with some companies actually closing down Australian offices so that their people could work remotely permanently.
So how did this change things? Well, with many of my clients we had to be really clever in finding spaces within an existing home that could be converted into a work space. In some cases a third or fourth bedroom became that workspace. That’s fairly straightforward. In other cases, the solution was more of a furniture solution with desks and cupboards strategically located in places that through the day could be a workspace and could easily be closed up in the evening to allow for family life to continue.
Associated with this new workspace requirement is additional power outlets. Gone are the days when one power point in a bedroom is sufficient. Power outlets are needed in many new locations to power all the new devices that people need to do their work. Not only in workspaces but also in places such as kitchens where multiple appliances can be used simultaneously and even an island bench can become an impromptu workspace.
Another key impact of Covid on homes is its effect on indoor air quality. Ventilation is key in these new times. Ventilation has always been important, just somewhat undervalued until relatively recently. The bushfires of 2019/20 definitely had an impact on the indoor air quality in many people’s homes. Being able to smell smoke inside your home is not a desired thing. There are a number of factors that can affect indoor air quality including air tightness of the building itself, the materials inside the home and any VOCs (Volatile organic Compounds) associated with them. The smell of new carpet or new paint? That’s VOCs in action.
While natural ventilation has been presented as the best solution to address indoor air quality for decades, there are many cases where natural ventilation is not enough. In many locations there may be outside factors that prevent people from opening windows and doors such as traffic noise, security, inclement weather conditions and privacy among others.
An alternative to using just natural ventilation ie. opening windows and doors is using Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation Systems. These systems have been in action for decades but a still relatively rare in Australia. They are in addition to any air conditioning systems that may be in use. They are very quiet and use very little energy to run. They bring fresh filtered air in from outside and exhaust stale air from kitchens and bathrooms to ensure that all internal air is fresh all the time. For these systems to work effectively, the building needs to be built to airtight standards to prevent drafts and unwanted air infiltration.
Of course you can still open windows and doors on a nice day to get a nice breeze through the house if that’s what you would like.
During the height of Covid too, limited travel distances meant that people appreciated their indoor and outdoor spaces more. Their gardens and courtyards now meant more and had more use. Well designed and maintained garden and courtyard spaces can definitely add to the comfort of staying at home.
So the key things that I noticed Covid changing in home design were more flexibility in workspaces and study spaces for kids and adults alike, an awareness and desire to improve indoor air quality, an a new appreciation for gardens and outdoor spaces to make them more integrated into a comfortable life at home.
All of these things can be addressed in existing homes and new ones too. It’s worth the effort to get these key aspects right so that we can all enjoy living more comfortably.