Pandemic-Informed Home Design | Psychology Today Canada

As vaccines are becoming available, people have begun to consider how they’ll live their after-pandemic lives.

One important consideration is post-COVID home design.  

Perhaps the single most important way that homes designed, or re-designed, can support our future lives is to provide options for future re-configurations. In the last few decades, we’ve seen multiple diseases sweep across our world, including SARS, MERS, Zika, Ebola, and now COVID-19, for example, and future mass infections with names we can’t even guess now will be present in the future.  

We do not know how these future diseases will spread, so homes that support multiple ways of living will be best.  

Often, a few minutes of thoughtful consideration as design decisions are being reviewed reveals home components that can be useful when contagious diseases are rampant, and even when they’re not. For example, if home lot gradients permit, replacing a standard basement window with a door could not only allow someone to shelter in the basement without traveling through higher floors that are occupied by other people but might also allow dripping debris from craft projects undertaken in the basement to exit the house in the same way.

While recent experiences with pandemics indicate the value of thoughtful design generally, COVID-19 living shows the usefulness of work-supporting offices in residences and separate spaces there that during school hours can become video classrooms. They also confirm the importance of other in-home spaces, for example:

  • Areas for truly cooking, when traveling to a restaurant is not possible and delivery is too expensive or otherwise undesirable, have been useful during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kitchenettes can be handy, and are clearly better than no cooking options, but may not optimize healthy and pleasant dining.
  • There need to be areas to store supplies for during-pandemic cooking and in-home living, so a pantry-type space is not an option; it is a necessity. 
  • Private outdoor areas, even balconies, have been proven mentally valuable to many city dwellers. Supporting plants inside, via planters or grow lights or something else, also can be a psychological lifesaver when no one is going anywhere.  
  • Transition areas, such as vestibules, that support removing contaminated clothes, etc., are also clearly a plus when contagions spread. 
  • Some groups have had to isolate someone apart from other residents, so building at least one zone where that is possible, i.e., at least one part of a home that’s not an open plan, is a good idea.
  • We’ve found it desirable to set up Zoom-zones, and future homes may have “niches” designed just for electronic communication. 
  • We all need privacy from time to time. At home, people need to be able to separate themselves from others acoustically and visually when they choose to do so, just because. Although time together with friends and family can seem like a great idea, sometimes it’s not. 
  • We have all survived via Internet access, so its effectiveness needs to be insured in any future living spaces, and any control panels needed to manage it must be readily accessible.
  • Windows that open have allowed people to ventilate their homes after people and pets, without many options, have been breathing the same air for way too long.

Taking a few quiet moments to ponder the implications of design options will generally make it clear which ones support both your physical and psychological wellbeing. Common sense can prevail, which is a good thing, as we are not all epidemiologists or psychiatrists.