Development Dilemma…Should I ‘Future Proof’ My Builds?
One thing that has definitely emerged from the COVID pandemic is people are asking a lot more of the homes they live in. Overnight they became offices, schoolrooms and more - and many existing homes failed to deliver.

This heightened focus on our living spaces and how adaptable they are has led many to start looking for homes that demonstrate flexibility for what may come in the future. In other words, how future-proof are they?

As Developers, we want our offering to stand out in the marketplace - so is future-proofing a key benefit you can offer potential purchasers? And what does this look like?
Future-proofing looks to address many different issues, including:

  • flexibility of space
  • extra assistance as people age in their homes
  • technological advancements such as electric vehicles and smart homes
  • the desire to be more environmentally-friendly and energy efficient
  • and more

Essentially, it involves looking ahead and anticipating future needs and requirements, and adjusting elements of the build to allow for that. Some of these may simply be adding extra features now, that aren't necessarily standard, but which will give benefits both immediately and into the future. An example of this would be solar panels.
It can also involve adding elements that essentially lay dormant for now, and only become useful in the future when something changes. For example, extra reinforcement in certain wall cavities to allow for the installation of grab bars when the occupants age.

Think of it like those gorgeous lime green, burnt orange and mission brown kitchens of the 1970s. At the time, they were state-of-the-art and modern, everything a potential homebuyer could hope for. But as time and tastes moved on, renovators replaced the 70s kitchens with new ones to suit modern tastes and requirements. Nowadays Developers use neutral colour schemes in a new build because neutral doesn't go out of fashion as quickly as the current colour trends - in essence, neutral is the interior design version of future-proofing.

So let's take a look at some key areas where you, as a Developer, can potentially future-proof your Development.

Save Energy - Save the Environment

While things such as solar panels are becoming more common on new builds, there are lots of interesting advances occurring in this space. Roof tiles and landscaping elements that double as solar panels, for example, are just the tip of the iceberg.

The types of materials you use for the build can also be altered to include more environmentally-friendly products. The same goes for any appliances in the build - look for those with the highest possible energy rating.

And there's the design of the building itself - harnessing thermal mass to reduce energy costs, capturing rainwater for household needs, and including a charging station for electric vehicles are a few to start the list.

There's a huge range of possibilities to choose from if you want your buildings to be more energy efficient and reduce environmental impact, as well as saving money on bills. Given the marketplace's increasing focus on climate change, these types of elements can definitely be used as a point of difference when it comes time to sell.

New Technologies

Given how fast technology is expanding, to the point that it's being applied to almost every aspect of our lives, it's difficult to know how best to keep up. Certainly the indications are that our homes will progressively become "smarter" and more connected.

Currently it's worth ensuring you supply wiring which meets existing needs, while making sure both the capacity and accessibility is there to upgrade in the future. Consider installing accessible cavities so that devices can be stored out of sight. Nobody wants to bash a hole in a wall to run some new cable, so look at providing easy access for retrofitting in the future.

Design Flexibility

This area of future-proofing is very much at the top of the list after so many people have had to adapt their living spaces to include working from home. After all, you can't conduct a business meeting on Zoom with kids perched at the table beside you working online with their teacher.

But design flexibility is much broader. Where to put those stray guests from interstate who end up staying for a month instead of one night? Or the divorced child moving back with a couple of small children in tow? And what to do when you get older and stairs become an issue?

Thinking through a design to make sure it can be flexible enough to accommodate all sorts of changes in life situations is more important than ever. Can the media room on the ground floor have a small bathroom next door, just in case you want to convert it into a bedroom and ensuite to avoid stairs? How about a room with good soundproofing that doubles as a Zoom room?

You can take it a step further and actually use build methods that allow walls to be moved around with minimal disruption, but that's a whole other level of flexibility!
Ageing in Place / Accessibility

Although they are two quite different situations, ageing in place and disability access actually have a lot of things in common. Both require adaptations to the built environment that enable the person affected to live in a regular home rather than a care home.

Some requirements are easy to include when designing a property, with immediate benefits. These includes things such as:

  • level flooring and recessed door frames to reduce tripping hazards
  • open living spaces
  • level entry point
  • wider doorways and hallways
  • bathroom on the ground level if multi-storey
  • step-free showers
  • height of electrical switches and fittings
Other things that can be incorporated into the build with a view to them being utilised in the future when needed include:

  • property entry landscaping allowing for future addition of a ramp
  • stair design allowing for future addition of a chair lift
  • reinforcing in walls positioned to allow for installation of grab rails
  • positioning of bathroom facilities to accommodate future accessibility needs
  • floor finishes wall-to-wall in areas such as the kitchen, making future cabinetry adjustments easier

As a Developer, sometimes it's too easy to focus on the numbers, with a view to building a product that will suit your demographic's current needs as cost effectively as possible. But next time you're in the process of getting plans drawn up for a Development, take some time to think about what elements you can introduce to help future-proof the properties you're about to build.

At the time it might seem like you're simply adding extra costs to the build, but if you're smart about how you market those properties, you might find that taking the plunge is more than rewarded by giving you a strong point of difference and a higher sales price. Besides, you will know that you've contributed to a sustainable, inclusive way of living – and more importantly, happy households for generations to come.
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