How COVID-19 will change our homes

interior living room with stairs and golden retriever

Peter Barrett

Posted September 28, 2020


Many Victorians do not have enough insurance cover, leaving them at risk of an unpleasant surprise.

The nasty thing about underinsurance is that it will emerge to surprise you when you need bad news the least, causing a major financial and emotional headache when you are already under great stress.

Yet it is relatively easy to avoid if you spend a few minutes once or twice a year ensuring that the insurance cover for your home is appropriate and up to date.

There are also strategies you can take to increase your insurance cover in a more affordable way if you need to do so, such as increasing the basic excess on your insurance policy.

As Bill Stronach, Technical Specialist RACV Property Claims, puts it, the cost difference between having low insurance and adequate insurance is not always great. “Increasing your sum insured – doubling your sum insured – it usually doesn’t double your premium,” he says.

The underinsurance of your home and contents is a big problem at any time but becomes an enormous one if you lose your home, such as in a fire or bushfire (what is called in insurance terms ‘a total loss’).

Most people understand that if you are underinsured it means you may not have enough insurance money to rebuild and replace back to the same standard you are at right now.

But it will also hamper your insurer’s ability to help you in the rebuild and replacement process, causing more stress and uncertainty for you and your family. In some cases it means you may be unable to rebuild your home at all.

The worst part of all this is that many don’t realise they are underinsured. They’ve taken out what was the appropriate level of home and contents insurance cover in the past, but have not regularly reviewed their level of cover since then.

But underinsurance happens over time. It happens because of renovations and improvements at your home or because of recent contents purchases, it happens because of changes in your lifestyle, it happens because of changes in the building regulations around you, and more.

If you don’t regularly review your home and contents cover – and it’s recommended you use the RACV insurance calculators as a start (racv.com.au/calculators) – there’s a good chance you could be underinsured.

bathroom with copper fixtures and wooden cupboards

Copper tapware could make a comeback, due to the metal’s antimicrobial properties.


How COVID-19 will change our homes

The demise of open-plan living

Whether it’s fear of infection or the simple logistical difficulties of having to share a domestic space for extended periods, pundits have been quick to pile on the idea that the pandemic will spell the end of open-plan living. But maybe it’s not that simple. Architect and host of Grand Designs Australia, Peter Maddison, says it would be a great step backwards to return to cloistered Victorian-era living. Instead he envisions the rise of flexible spaces with sliding panels that can be opened and closed to divide off sections, if needed, but can also open up “the heart of the house” to let in light and ventilation. 

“The term ‘open plan’ conjures up a big empty space like a warehouse but it doesn’t have to be like that,” he says. “You can have strategically located panels and doors that can slide to make the house open and shut like a boat depending on the prevailing winds. That all comes down to clever design.” 

Meanwhile, buyers’ advocate and property expert on Channel Nine’s The Block, Nicole Jacobs, agrees Australians are unlikely to fall out of love with open-plan living any time soon. “One of the big drivers for buyers currently is to have a greater connection with their outdoor spaces,” she says. “Bringing in the garden and light is a big drawcard. We are by and large culturally driven to socialise and entertain. This has been taken away from us currently but it will thrive again.”

Dedicated home offices

Enforced work-from-home measures are one of the most significant drivers of potential long-term change to come out of the pandemic, and so too is the idea of the home office. But it’s not a new concept, says Nicole Jacobs, who points to the prevalence of large 1980s-built homes that feature dedicated studies. 

While the idea of a study or guest bedroom may be nothing new, Nicole reports that architects are now putting them back in their plans, particularly in more affluent suburbs.  “We’re even seeing bars come back now. In the ’70s and ’80s there were all these big entertainment homes that had bars and all these multiple living zones, and we’re starting to see that again.”

But if we’re spending more time working from home we’ll want our new home offices to be light-filled, engaging spaces, not dark, windowless dens. Sustainable interior designer Megan Norgate of Brave New Eco says the pandemic has meant rethinking our public and private spaces. She says it’s likely we’ll move daytime activity such as workspaces to the front of our houses to take advantage of more social, incidental interactions with people walking on the street. “I just love going for a walk and looking in the windows. You can see people exercising or working and they glance up and give you a smile and that becomes important.” 

Needless to say, high-speed internet and multiple wifi ports will also become the norm as more people work at least some of the time from home.  

 

person sitting cross legged on floor doing yoga

Well-designed indoor environments can and should contribute to human health and wellbeing.


High-tech materials

Hugh MacKay thinks the demand for high-tech antimicrobial materials will be “very strong”. There are reports of increasing interest in using chemical agents in surface coatings and treatments to fight the spread of bacteria, fungi and viruses. And Hugh predicts we may also see a resurgence of copper and brass (copper has natural antibacterial properties) for taps and door handles. 

Nicole Jacobs suggests we should also expect greater demand for seamless, easy-to-clean surfaces in kitchens and bathrooms, with ceramics favoured over tiles, and locally sourced products preferred to imported options, due to vulnerabilities in the supply chain. 

Meanwhile, doors you can open with your feet (popular in Japan), dedicated and secure delivery zones (to deter “porch pirates”), UV-light sanitising devices (for your phone) and smart (hands-free) bathrooms and lights may also become popular.  

Multigenerational living

Despite a 100-year trend towards nuclear families, social researcher and author Hugh Mackay says the pendulum is swinging back to multigenerational living. “The most obvious sign of that is the kids who stay home much longer than they used to. The other factor is there’s been a lot of uneasiness over moving the elderly into retirement villages and nursing homes, whereas in Mediterranean and some Asian cultures, the assumption is the family will look after the older people in the same way the older people looked after the kids when they were young.” 

As a result we will likely see the rise of granny flats or self-contained suites within the home, with bedroom, living space and bathroom to accommodate older children or elderly relatives. 

But Dr Tara Hipwood, a senior lecturer in architecture at UK’s Northumbria University (who has written in The Conversation on how COVID-19 may change home design), suggests caution. “Fundamentally, I think it’s a good thing for wellbeing, to be with your family, to have that contact with the people you love. My only concern would be that a lot of the devastating impact that COVID had in Italy was largely attributed to [the fact that] they have a huge amount of intergenerational living. It’s very difficult to stop younger relatives from passing that on to their elderly relatives.”     

Better air quality

Michael Stott, director with strategic planning consultancy Urbis, says air quality has been a major focal point throughout the pandemic. “We may see a rise in air-purification systems, which take in outside air, recondition it and supply it as fresh air to a building. These systems can work in conjunction with regular HVAC (heating and ventilation and air-conditioning systems) to make homes healthier.”        

Peter Maddison, however, favours a proven low-tech approach. “There’s nothing better than cross-ventilation where you have windows located on different sides of a room to clean the air out and replace it,” he says. “It’s much better than turning on an air conditioner.” 

Additionally, future apartment buildings may be required to provide open-air undercover access to individual units (rather than shared hallways), along with outdoor communal amenities such as community gardens and space to exercise.  

 


Have feedback or ideas for how we can adjust and adapt to the challenges presented by COVID-19? Send your big ideas to editorial@racv.com.au so we can develop a series of articles exploring how we can all navigate a new normal, together. 


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