It's nearly a month since the country went into lockdown and the impact on everything from energy consumption to DIY has been radical.
Take energy use. Overall, we're using between 11pc and 20pc more energy in family homes as we conduct Zoom meetings and home school our kids online, according to Irish research compiled by Pinergy and estate agents Savills for last month. But while daytime usage is up, the timing of energy surges and troughs has shifted dramatically. The usual morning peak is down by about 30pc, as without a commute to the office or school, we're rising later, while the evening peak has fallen by up 20pc as we return to a traditional nine-to-five working day.
There has also been an uptick in renovations as we shift to working from home. Figures from the AA Financial Services in the UK show that one in seven London workers have splashed out an average of £1,759 on carving out home office spaces. It's likely that the Irish figures are similar.
Of course, when restrictions lift, schools and colleges will reopen, and life may return to near normal. But the impact on how we use our homes may well turn out to be permanent.
The notion of a home as a 'place of shelter' now has a new and profound meaning, says Alan Burns of Bright Design Architects. "Each home will need to have flexibility built-in to meet the needs of each occupant and be able to adapt in times of change. Hopefully, the current new reality is short lived but in the future we should plan to be better prepared so that the impact is lessened and the return to normality is quicker."
Below, some of the country's leading architects shared their predictions on how the pandemic will reshape our homes.
1. Better urban planning
Having to stay local, says Room to Improve architect Dermot Bannon, means that we are learning the importance of what's on our doorstep, whether that is tree-lined streets, parks, green spaces, the sea - or urban wasteland. That will be a big takeaway of the pandemic. "I think we need to be far more strategic in how we plan the space outside our homes - what [urban planning] delivers is now going to be far more important because we realise what it does or doesn't do. That's going to have a big impact on where people buy and where people invest. Why should you only have a great place to walk if you live by the sea, why should you only have a great place to walk if you live in the affluent suburbs? Everyone deserves it. It's as easy to design a street well as it is to design it poorly."
Lockdown, says Dermot, has made him realise something crucial: cars have dictated our city planning. "I'm lucky," he says of his newly remodelled home in Drumcondra, "in that I live in a 'planned' part of the city with green spaces and parks. Seeing the streets without cars totally transforms them. Cities are amazing places to live if there are no cars in them, if that noise and that pollution and that constant hum are gone. I think we need to take back our urban spaces for people and for pedestrians and for walking as a family as opposed to them just being about commuting and the car. There are ways of doing it that will satisfy both needs."
2. Flexible housing schemes
"It is only now that homeowners are realising the inflexibility of mass house design," says architect Alan Burns of Bright Design Architects. "Homes have been built by developers for decades based upon 'selling the dream' but perhaps are not suited to the current reality. Their design has, for the most part, been based on a pattern of living rather than working - the addition of home-schooling has only highlighted these deficiencies further. People now have time to think about their personal abodes - to understand what works and what does not for their own circumstances." While he admits that not all homes can be bespoke, he believes that all should be capable of being adapted, perhaps with a selection of internal layouts that suit the individual's circumstances - "customisable on the inside once the four walls and roof are built."
3. Improved designs for high-density living
"The knee-jerk reaction," says Alan Burns, about life after lockdown, "is that we all need more space. The post-pandemic home should, in fact, strive to make better use of the space available. Land and space are a commodity and the drive to densify our built environment will not stop. Therefore high density apartment schemes will continue to be built in order to control our energy usage and wider carbon footprint. Those apartment schemes will now have to learn from the lessons of the pandemic, to cater better for self-isolation and home working."
4. From open plan to broken plan
It seems we've fallen out of love with open plan living. "Suddenly people are aware of the need for privacy or of the impact of distractions," says Alan Burns. "There has always been an argument for a room to retreat to from family chaos." Enter the era of the 'humble pocket door'. "It allow rooms to become everything or nothing, all at once and without the cumbersome swing space of side-hung doors," says Alan. Architect Colm Doyle of Dublin-based DMVF (dmvf.ie) recommends sliding or folding doors to both keep the flexibility of open-plan layouts, but also divide a space into separate rooms. "The Georgians and Victorians used large folding doors as a method of opening or closing down space for years," says Colm.
5. Smart homes
"The information superhighway has never been busier, even if the roads have never been quieter - it is what is keeping us connected and working from home," says Alan Burns. "It is also educating our children and keeping us entertained. Therefore, a reliable and robust broadband service will become even more indispensable post-pandemic. Homes will be designed to cater for wi-fi, as a fundamental requirement, far better than they currently are." Dermot Bannon seconds that. "We all make sure our water pressure is up to speed, because it's very tangible, but we never think of checking the speed of our broadband and upgrading it, if necessary. It is a simple thing to do. If you're renovating, future-proof your communications by running fibre cable out to the road so that when the technology rolls out in your neighbourhood, you're ready to go."
Alan adds, "The trend towards home automation and smart technology will continue. Smart-fridges will become more popular to organise our shopping for us to be delivered completely contactless. The place of Augmented Reality (AR) may take on a new and wider acceptance as a means to create virtual workplaces or experiences from the self-isolation of our homes."
6. Energy savers
"Architects always bleat on about energy efficiency," says Lisa McVeigh of DMVF, but this may become even more important as we shift to working from home. "It is also key that we all keep an eye on the bills and on our carbon footprint. Introducing energy efficiency measures will help to create a comfortable working environment while helping to control costs. One specific improvement could be to add zones to your heating system so that you add the ability to heat only the spaces that you need when you need them. Upgrading of windows, adding insulation and considering fuel sources should all be considered also."
John Flood of DMVF adds, "Consider PV panels to generate electricity - PV panels generate most electricity during the day so if you are going to be working at home avail of this energy. Consider upgrading your gas or oil boiler to a heat pump which is more efficient and less costly to run than traditional fossil fuel boilers."
Alan Burns predicts that as we digest our fuel bills for this period, there will be a surge of interest in SEAI grants for energy upgrade, "more home owners may look to move off-grid entirely," he believes.
7. More Home work
"Working from home has suddenly become an acceptable alternative and one that many wished they had tried earlier and not at short notice," says Burns. It's likely to become more popular as it brings other pluses in terms of the environment and work/life balance. Home working creates fewer carbon emissions because of the lack of commuting, points out John Flood, and frees up commercial office space for residential or other uses.
But it also brings challenges. The key, says Colm Doyle, is to choose a dedicated and well-considered spot. It doesn't need to be huge, and may even be a dual or shared space. A good quality sofa bed in a spare room, for example, can be used as a seating area in a home office during the day, and folded out at night. "In the past," says Colm, "we have designed offices that fold away into a wardrobe-sized space with doors that close over. This can be helpful to hide the mess!"
Home offices in or near a kitchen, advises John, would need to have upgraded kitchen appliances with quiet settings so they can run in the background with very low noise levels, while the correct lighting greatly improves how you work.
"Use artificial light to replicate natural light where possible to maximise wellbeing and ease of concentration," says John. Then add plants. "They absorb carbon dioxide and keep oxygen flowing. They have been proven to ease tension, lower stress and create a relaxed and happy ambience which will ultimately help you work better."
Other options that are likely to become more popular as home offices are attic or garage conversions, even garden rooms. Attic conversions should be planned with large roof-lights to allow as much daylight in as possible, advises John, as that helps to make tight spaces feel less cramped, while using nooks and crannies for built-in shelving and file storage does away with the distractions of clutter.
8. Co-working pods
"Working almost-from-home may also provide the happy medium in the future," says Alan Burns, "for those who just need to get out of the house or to engage with peers. In the future there is likely to be an increased demand for small serviced office space. Think of it like allotments only for working within easy reach of the home, a small but efficiently planned work-pod within easy commute but perhaps within a town centre. This form of satellite working almost certainly will have an increased demand post-pandemic for those who like the taste of the work-life balance but are keen to avoid hours in traffic."
9. Great outdoors
"In a crowded house, the garden becomes an extra room to use, especially for the children," says Alan Burns. "Post-pandemic homes will no doubt place a larger emphasis on quality open space - private or communal, small or large. The garden will no longer be an afterthought but become central to the life of the home. The correct orientation, quality and size will become more important. As with the house, the organisation of the garden will be vital - ample storage, dedicated spaces for furniture, play and growing vegetables will take on a new importance. Even the smallest of outdoor spaces can make a big difference."
10. More sound proofing
"I imagine that this crisis has made most people more aware of the acoustic failings within their own homes," says Lisa McVeigh. "It's not easy to make an important conference call when the house is full of people." Simple upgrades can help. Installing acoustic insulation between floors, for example, helps reduce the transfer of noise from floor to floor. "Other tricks are to include more fabrics. Many large open-plan family spaces are filled with hard surfaces that tend to bounce sound and make for difficult acoustics. Consider including fabric and soft furnishings to help absorb noise. Carpets, rugs, curtains, blinds and soft furnishings will all help to control the acoustics."
11. Work-out zones
If you don't have access to a garden or balcony, the importance of a space for indoor exercise has become evident. Alan Burns predicts that the home gym, steam rooms and saunas will all see a big lift in popularity.
12. Self-isolation units
"Self-isolation was a word that few of us thankfully had to use in the past," says Alan Burns, "but now unfortunately it's a stark reality for many." In future, households may add some 'cocooning' features. "At its simplest level, it could be a master bedroom with an en suite, plumbed with a potable water source. Taken a level further it could incorporate a laundry chute to the utility and a dumb waiter to the kitchen for complete isolation. However, many families have now woken to the wider potential of the 'granny-flat'. This used to be the space to give a family member some independence. Will it be now seen as a self-contained living unit for self-isolation? Perhaps homes of the future will be planned to allow for a granny flat addition or adaptation as a standard requirement."