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Building a case for healthy homes post COVID-19

In continuation with the Connected Places Catapult 2020 housing program priorities, the following blog explores how the post covid-19 opportunities are shaping the UK’s homes to be fit for the future. Annalise Johns, Housing Lead for the Connected Places Catapult begins this discussion through this thoughtful piece on building healthy homes for the future.

Recently, I joined a webinar discussing the use of IOT in social housing. It surprised me to discover a swell in SMEs using data gathered from sensors in homes to prevent illness among tenants. I have since been approach by several more companies who are proactively identifying temperature drops and mould in properties of vulnerable tenants, in advance of harm being caused through an equally responsive maintenance programme.

Three things have become very clear amid this pandemic: Firstly, each of us have craved and sought out green space as a refuge during these past few months. Secondly, as never before, collectively we are listening to and responding to the latest scientific findings to actively make informed health choices. Thirdly, we have all revalued our homes beyond shelter or a commodity, as for many, our homes have dictated our human capabilities and pushed us to the brink and beyond in some cases.


The latest evidence linking coronavirus and housing revealed;


The government has been proactive in responding to covid-19’s unpredictability, as an example the attempt to revitalise our high streets with the shake-up of the planning process to convert commercial uses in to residential. These changes broaden current permitted development rights that allow for small property changes to take place without the required full planning process.


With the windfall of evidence so widely consumed, are we amid an opportunity to review current housing standards and building practices in advance of allowing more shops to be converted into flats. While many may resist the notion of yet another review of space standards, surely to “build, back, better” is the commitment to “level-up” our housing sector with the use of fresh new health evidence? As demonstrated by the budding SMEs, delivering better performing homes is indeed possible and progressing towards designing homes fit for the future.


To accelerate this progress the following need to be addressed; liveable density defined, enforced internal environment quality performance measurements, and a nationwide capability approach to space standards.


It is clear that allowing 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past. How many people can live in a building if you have to limit the number of people in a lift to observe social distancing? Before we can replace commercial units on a high street with more homes, we need to have clarity on the societal impacts further densification will have on the health of the most vulnerable. What is healthy density? Renown urbanist, Professor Richard Sennett has been seconded as Senior Advisor to the United Nations programme on climate change, is currently exploring this very question. He warns of the exploitation of the crisis to dictate rules and regulation and suggests we need to rethink the concept of density. Density is a good thing socially, ecologically, and economically, when and only when the design achieves equitability. Density is less about the number of people inhabiting an urban space, rather it’s a tool of efficiency in terms of its carbon footprint and the ability to provide a greater number of people to have access to the services and spaces they need. Therefore, this crisis is an opportunity to uncover what the optimum form of density is, and the role it will play in shaping the resilience of our urban centres.


The recent window into the emerging use of IOT in social housing, demonstrated a growing humanised use of technology. The number of mutual care networks that have sprung up across London amid this pandemic, is proof a humanised use of technology is not only powerful but can ignite market demand in a matter of weeks. In 2019 the Building Performance Institute of Europe (BPIE) published its briefing which identified four major determinants on environmental quality that directly impact health, wellbeing and productivity (air quality, thermal comfort, daylight and acoustics). With the use of IOT we can now provide real-time performance of our homes particularly if we target these four major determinants, in all homes. The use of technology can enable a standard for health homes to move beyond guidance and into a transparent measurement of domestic equity.


Finally, the design of space is on a lot of people’s minds particularly those schooling children at home, working at home amid a flat share with no desk space or lack of access to a window that provides fresh not toxic, noisy air. As it stands, we are currently safer outdoors than indoors, so we need to reconsider the true function of a home and build it accordingly. Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum developed the “capability approach” to address the economics of welfare – focused on what individuals are able to do. Working from home, access to green space, measurement of noise and air pollution these all seem very doable with the correct application of IOT in our homes. It seems clear that a standard to deliver this much needed agency is well within our grasp.


This blog is one in a series and is part of our Future of Housing programme. Find out more about our work in this area by visiting our new Future of Housing knowledge hub.


Our Future of Housing blog series is intended as a platform for open debate. Views expressed are not necessarily those of Connected Places Catapult.

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