How to COVID-proof your home

How to COVID-proof your home

It has been eight months since COVID-19 hit Europe and things got shut down. After a short period when our lives seemed to be regaining various degrees of normality and lockdowns were slowly easing up during the summer, we are now seeing the opposite trend. The new spikes in infection cases remind us that the fight with the virus is far from being over.

Regardless of the stage of the pandemic that we find ourselves in, one thing is certain: we are far from the normal that we were used to before its beginning. We are now continuously adapting and trying to find new ways of conducting our activities, a new routine, a new normal. While the new normal may take different forms for different people in different countries, for all of us, our homes have gained a larger share of our time.

Now that we have to work, live, sleep, eat, relax, and maybe even educate our children in the same place, our homes have acquired a new meaning, and our relationship with them is being redefined. This is happening whether we like it or not. It would be much better if we redefined our homes intentionally.

The Architectural Diagnosis and Treatment Plan

Whether your apartment is small or large, you have surely identified new needs emerging in the last three to eight months. It may be that you need to better compartmentalise your home in order to improve your focus on work when working, and on your family when spending quality time with them. Or it may be that you simply need to make room for a desk to create a proper working space for yourself. It may also be that, now that you are spending so much time at home, you experience increased frustrations and you see things that need fixing or improvement that you may have otherwise never noticed before.

Whatever your specific situation is, there is one thing we can all do when it comes to COVID-proofing our homes. It is a simple 4-step exercise that will help you figure out what is possible in your home, what is ideal for you, what works within your budget and how to move forward with organising it all. Here are the 4 simple steps we encourage you to think about. In fact, they are pretty similar to the steps required to reach a medical diagnosis, so I call this process an Architectural Diagnosis and Treatment Plan:

1. Take inventory of the symptoms

Before you start, it is important that you take inventory of your thoughts and ideas. So, sit down and write down the annoying frictions as well as the fun ideas you may have. Consider clustering your thoughts in three columns: the problematic items that often bother you, the little frictions that would be nice to improve, and the ideas that you may have for an ideal space. This is important for the prioritisation that will be needed at a later stage.

2. Perform a physical examination

Now that you have your thoughts and ideas organised on paper, go for a tour of your house. Walk around your home with your list and take notes of the new ideas that may pop up or the things you see that can result in complications or question marks. Is there a column in an unfortunate place? Is there a wall that you would like to remove, but you are unsure if it is a structural bearing wall (that, therefore, cannot be removed so easily)? Write down all your questions, doubts and new ideas.

3. Reach a diagnosis

After the physical examination comes the provisional diagnosis. Here you come up with an initial version of what you think the main problem truly is. You may need to prioritise your points in order to pin-point the essential core problem(s). What do you really want to fix? Are there any minor issues that can be considered "side-effects” and that may be improved by addressing some of the other core issues?

You may dive into some research here, and may even need to request the drawings of your house from the municipality or the architect that has worked on it last. The goal of this step is to identify the real problems and their potential complications, if any.

4. Create a treatment plan

Now that you have identified the core issues, it is time to create a plan. What are the solutions available out there to address the issues you highlighted? What do you think you may need?

Study, explore, research and sketch what is or may not be possible to do in your house. In order for a plan to be successfully implemented, looking at costs here is essential. For every solution, you will need to research the corresponding cost. Make sure you consider the cost of the materials, as well as labour costs if applicable.

It is best to compile all your thoughts, ideas, information collected, possible solutions, and the cost per solution in a final report. It is important that this report is complete and comprehensive because it will constitute a roadmap for your next steps. This is to ensure that when you start implementing the solution(s), you do not face any "surprises” that were not accounted for at the beginning.

Going over time and over budget is often the result of an incomplete roadmap upfront. In addition, make sure you structure your treatment plan per solution, i.e. include a breakdown of costs per solution. This is helpful when you need to make priorities based on limited time, budget or other resources.

Invest the time upfront to ensure a smooth process down the line

As you go through this process, don’t feel bad if you find yourself going back and forth between the different steps. This is often not a linear process and it’s normal to go and take some time to consider all your options. For example, going back to check something in the house once you are putting together the diagnosis is perfectly ok.

Like a medical diagnosis, if the case is more complex, you may need professional assistance, or simply a second opinion. For that, you may want to reach out to architects. When you are selecting the right architect for you, just make sure they spend enough time upfront to understand your needs and create a plan for you, before jumping into the design process.

Projects that go wrong, go over time or over budget are often the result of an incomplete or superficial diagnosis and an unrealistic or incomprehensive plan. Invest the time upfront to ensure a smooth process down the line, one that can remain within your timeline and budget.

Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes


Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes

Architect, author, international speaker, Founder and CEO of AKKA Architects, Stephanie is part of a new breed of young visionary architects who operate beyond the nowadays restrained realm of architecture....

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