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Why sustainability and adaptability are the building blocks of our future housing stock

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We have never spent as much time in our homes than we have in the past 12 months. They have been our offices, our schools, our cinemas, our gyms.

And while it won't always be this way, there is no doubt the Covid-19 has changed our perceptions of 'the home'. What kind of dwellings do we want to inhabit now and into the future? What features are important and how will we use our homes going forward?

Architect and Home of the Year judge Hugh Wallace asserts the pandemic has irrevocably changed the purpose of our homes. The home office is here to stay.

"Inevitably we will be working from home in the future. I believe we will be moving to a four-day week so people will have to get other jobs, they will be 'two-jobbing' and the second job will be from home primarily," he says.

"It is very important we create space for that whether that is in the attic or preferably a pod in the back garden."

All Electric House with Heat Pump

Sustainable, Smarter Future

Listen to RTE's Future Now, Future Next podcast here now.

Hugh, who is partner of Douglas Wallace Consultants, says we as a society need to reconsider everything we know about homes and home ownership for a more sustainable, smarter future.

He proposed an idea of flexible ownership whereby people buy into an apartment block rather than an apartment itself.

"You start as two people in a small apartment but then you move through the building. So you have a 3 or four bed apartment as you become a family and then you go back to a two bed apartment that is ergonomically suited to you as you grow older."

Adaptable and Versatile

Marguerite Sayers, Executive Director of Customer Solutions at ESB, agrees that homes of the future will need to be adaptable and versatile.

Marguerite says there is massive pent-up demand for housing in Ireland that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and increasing population. She cites an estimate by Engineers Ireland that states we will need another 1 million homes in the next 20 years.

When it comes to the ‘home of the future’ Marguerite says, sustainability is key -- not only when it comes to materials and renewable energy integration but also in how we design and build.

"The idea of having adaptable houses -- houses that change and adapt as a family grows. Maybe a couple lives there originally but then has children and can add to it. Internal walls that can be moved quite easily and at little cost," she says.

"Then over time you could split that house into two or you can add another entrance as the children grow up and want autonomy or independence."

Retrofitting Homes

Sustainability and Climate advisor Ali Sheridan points out that retrofitting existing, older housing stock will be a "massive" task in the coming years.

"We have earmarked 500,000 homes in Ireland to be retrofitted by 2030. That's a massive task," she says.

"It's not just a conversation about sustainability and the climate challenge. We need to widen the conversation about why we need to do this. We need to talk about about air pollution inside our homes from things like wood burners, about the health benefits of drier homes without damp, about our level of comfort in our homes.

"This is not just about the climate challenge, this is about how we live, what kind of homes we want to live in, what kind of homes we want our kids to grow up in."

To hear more about the Future of Homes, listen to the Future Now, Future Next podcast in association with ESB here or wherever you get your podcasts.

ESB is leading the transition towards a cleaner, brighter future. Learn more here.