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As more people look to work from home more often, how can we redesign them to suit?

In recent years, there has been an influx of people moving towards urban areas and living in densely populated environments, in high-rise blocks of flats or multipurpose buildings, where apartments are located alongside office spaces or shops.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the status quo in terms of how we live, work, and socialise. Suddenly the idea of densely-populated urban environments sits starkly at odds with the idea of social distancing and preserving natural spaces.

With many of us still spending more time than ever inside our homes, we are beginning to think about what we want from our living environment in the future – and how this will impact the way homes of the future are designed and built.

The pandemic has caused us all to reassess our homes and what we want from them

Max Halliwell NEW Max. Halliwell Communications manager for Heating and Ventilation

How has the pandemic changed demands ?

A survey of surveyors and estate agents from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors outlined a number of trends around what house buyers will look for from a property in the future.

Increased demand for homes with balconies or gardens, and properties located close to green space are two key findings – testament to the fact that those living in flats with no outdoor space have felt the negative effects of being cooped up indoors for long periods.

There is also likely to be demand for more private spaces and less desire for shared, communal areas, to allow greater distance from one another.

In fact, the survey suggests that tower blocks, shared apartments and densely populated areas are likely to be avoided by some as they look for homes in the years to come.

The future of housing in high-density environments

Although there may be a decrease in demand for homes in high-density urban areas, the reality is that many of us will continue to live and work in cities.

The question, then, is how can we build houses in these areas that allow owners and tenants as much space as possible, and are equipped to keep them safe and healthy?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Indoor air quality: As working from home is likely to become the ‘new normal’ for many - at least part of the time - the provision of fresh air is key. Sick Building Syndrome, where productivity suffers and people feel unwell due to poor air quality, has long been noted in offices – as we work from home for protracted periods of time, there is a real risk of the same problems if air quality is not prioritised. What is more, the pandemic has given us a renewed interested in ensuring germs are not spread through the air we breathe. Providing homes with ventilation and the ability to filter the air will help to ensure that home workers stay both healthy and productive.

  • Access to the outdoors: With many people spending weeks on end indoors, the value of a garden or outdoor space has increased. In fact, Rightmove found that the number of renters searching for homes or flats with gardens increased by 84% in May compared to the same month in 2019. So, when building new homes, ensuring there is access to outdoor space where possible – whether in the form of a garden, a balcony, or a roof terrace, will be a big draw. Also, as more people work from home more often, homes located near to public transport may be less desirable than those near to parks and green spaces – turning a traditional criterion for demand on its head.

  • Hands-free technology: In shared accommodation, installing technology to allow people to open doors without touching them, for example, will help physical contact between residents to be kept to a minimum. In retail, brands like Visa and Mastercard are already forecasting a spike in the use of contactless payments, and similar swipe-cards may be increasingly used in blocks of flats and apartments.

A green approach to housing

The UK already has ambitious plans in place to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and with 20% of emissions generated by the UK’s housing stock, decarbonising homes plays a key role.

When it comes to demand from the public, there has been a real shift in consciousness in recent years, and people want to live in environmentally friendly spaces.

Just this month, the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG) stated that making homes more energy efficient should also be a key part of the economic recovery from coronavirus, in order to improve lives and reduce carbon. By investing £2.8bn in a two-year stimulus package, it suggests that a million households could save £270 on their energy bills.

As we build and retrofit homes, focusing on measures such as insulating walls and lofts, double glazing windows, using energy saving controls and installing clean heating technology – such as heat pumps - will help to ensure the carbon emissions from homes are lowered, and reduce energy bills.

In fact, the EEIG has called for the £100 million in grants due to come in 2022 for people to install clean technology like heat pumps to be introduced immediately.

While heat pumps have been on the market for a number of years, a focus on ‘green recovery’ may prove to be a catalyst for market uptake of cleaner heating across the UK.

In conclusion

The coronavirus pandemic has caused us all to reassess our homes and what we want from them.

For some, the home has transformed and now has to function in new ways, such as an office or school.

For others, seeing the difference between homes with large outdoor spaces and those with none has served to underline what we actually want from our living spaces.

As we recover from the pandemic, all of these experiences will mean that there are new demands on the homes of the future – in order to meet them, we must prioritise energy efficient technology, air quality and the provision of outdoor space wherever possible.  

Max Halliwell is communications manager for Heating and Ventilation