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CategoriesProperty Management

COVID-19 Implications on New Builds

March 10, 2022

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The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed the way we view our daily interactions with each other and our environments. Buildings are currently designed with certain risks in mind, such as smoke, fire, power failures, and flooding. But the pandemic has manifested the need for the future of building design to safeguard public health. Considerations such as contactless interaction, ventilation, moisture control, noise reduction, and adequate space for working from home are all pivotal factors, among others, being considered in the future of building design following the experiences of tenants throughout the pandemic.

Digitization

Organizations in virtually every sector are moving toward work from home models or hybrid working models (part time office work/part time work from home). Construction and property management organizations are no exception. Remote collaboration platforms, digital workflow management, and supply chain and fulfillment models with minimal physical interaction are just some of the many ways that work in this industry have shifted toward digitization.

Organizations in virtually every sector are moving toward work from home models or hybrid working models (part time office work/part time work from home). Construction and property management organizations are no exception. Remote collaboration platforms, digital workflow management, and supply chain and fulfillment models with minimal physical interaction are just some of the many ways that work in this industry have shifted toward digitization.

For multiunit residential building design in particular, the use of smart technology to minimize contact and maximize social distance will be in high demand. Remote entry to buildings (by using key fobs, smartphone applications, etc.), and digital information screens in lobbies and elevators (as opposed to physical notice boards) have been common for many years, but there are additional options that should be looked at more seriously given the learnings from the pandemic.

One option being discussed is a contactless concierge, similar to the model used by Amazon Lockers. With Amazon Locker locations, individuals can simply scan a barcode on their phone, sent to them by email, and a locker containing their package opens. This would minimize the social and physical interactions that are typical of most lobby concierge setups (talking to the front desk worker, signing for a package with a communal pen, both parties physically touching the package within seconds of each other, etc.).

Another option is non-contact elevator operation. Elevators can be programmed to go to a specific floor when an individual uses their personal access fob or card, the idea being that they would not need to press any buttons. A tenant would just present their fob or access card, and the elevator would take them to the floor their unit is on.

Similarly, communal laundry spaces have been rethought over the past few years to reduce physical contact wherever possible. Many buildings have begun eliminating coin-operated laundry machines, opting instead for a digital platform to manage funds and pay for loads of laundry through the tenant’s smartphone.

Keeping Public Health in Mind

It has been demonstrated that the COVID-19 virus spreads most easily in crowded areas, in close-contact settings, and in indoor/confined spaces (especially with poor ventilation). The amount of time the virus can live on various surfaces has been debated, but it seems to last several hours to several days on certain hard surfaces (countertops, elevator buttons, door handles, etc.). The virus is primarily transmitted via respiratory droplets in close contact scenarios, and building common areas (laundry rooms, lobbies, elevators, etc.) could be designed with this in mind.

Keeping an eye toward open spaces which encourage tenants to spread out will likely be high on the list of priorities. High-touch surfaces in buildings will also need to be easily sanitized to address those less common cases of contact transmission, and these surfaces should ideally be built with hard, non-porous, and easy to clean materials. Even as common hospital designs and layouts are being rethought to allow for more flexibility in capacity and spacing, existing hospital design elements can be borrowed from for application in multiunit residential buildings, such as minimizing flat surfaces for germs to collect on, using antibacterial fabrics and finishes (such as copper), and using air exchange systems to ventilate common areas. Functioning windows in more rooms for fresh air and circulation, as well as increased focus on ventilation systems throughout individual units and common areas are common points of discussion for both retrofitting and new builds, as concerns about airborne viruses and moisture control have grown.

It would be pertinent for building owners to maintain a supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer in the future, in case of future pandemics or contagions. This will allow for both a quick response in a future similar situation, and would preempt any supply chain issues in immediately obtaining new PPE and supplies during an outbreak.

Developers and contractors should also identify parts and components that can be pre-assembled off-site in controlled environments, as this will mitigate health risks onsite, as well as reducing material waste, noise pollution, and air dust.

Working and Living in the Same Space

Individuals are working from home more and more, and this is causing friction for many as they try to rework their residences to facilitate functional workspaces while simultaneously trying to maintain boundaries between work and home. This is a difficult balance to strike for many, and design features can be retrofitted into existing buildings and can be planned for in new builds to accommodate this rising need. Separate home offices are especially in high demand, as office spaces in living rooms/bedrooms/etc., are not always optimal during private meetings.

One option many new designs are exploring is to incorporate communal office spaces into multiunit residential buildings. Of course, this raises concerns with a higher need for disinfection between uses, but is an easy way to provide space for residents to work away from the distractions and interruptions of their homes, without having to add an extra den or bedroom to individual unit layouts.

Noise reduction is a common complaint among those working from home, as they try to focus on their work tasks with the sounds of neighbours vacuuming, construction workers hammering away outside, and other members of their household cooking and watching TV. Noise reducing drywall, adequately insulated interior walls, and floating floors are a great first step in reducing noise transfer between rooms for new builds. Both new builds and existing builds can also use several quick fixes, including ensuring window and door gaps are properly sealed to minimize sound.

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    Derek Green is a licensed sales representative with RE/MAX Eastern Realty Inc. Brokerage and Managing Director of Ontario Apartment Group. For over 20 years, Derek has worked with developers, public energy corporations, public healthcare and educational institutions, public and private REITs, and institutional and private investors across Canada.

    Derek’s sales and advisory experience includes single asset and portfolio sales in the multifamily, office, retail, and industrial sectors, student residences, institutional consultancy, multifamily redevelopment and repositioning, divestment and consolidation of public healthcare assets, and pre-construction apartment leasing, as well as property management, general contracting, restoration of historic architecture, and new home construction.

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