Three ways COVID-19 has changed what people want in their homes.

by Jun 23, 2020

Shelton Stat of the Week

Pre-COVID, 72% of Americans believed their homes have a moderate to strong impact on their health – Energy Pulse 2019

If you work in the residential built environment and didn’t get a chance to hear my presentations for the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) or the Building Performance Association (BPA) a couple of months ago, you can download the EEBA one here. My beliefs about the opportunity at hand have only gotten deeper as time has marched on…here’s what I’m seeing:

  1. People will want bigger homes. In May, Fortune ran its annual Fortune 500 CEO poll and, among other things, found that 27% of CEO’s believe that a substantial portion of their workforce (more than 10%) will never return to the workplace. Of course, many of us who have offices outside the home have worked from home from time to time, but now we know the reality of what it looks like to work from home every day, amongst kids, animals and the constant squeal of the neighbors’ leaf blowers and weedeaters. We’ll want offices with doors we can close. We’ll want dedicated spaces for home schooling if we need to keep doing that. We’ll want bigger pantries to hold the food we’re now storing “just in case,” and we’ll want a place to exercise.That means we’ll be seeking more square footage with a hybrid concept – part open (for cooking, eating and being entertained) concept, part closed-concept (for working, schooling, exercising). More square footage typically means more energy use…so the challenge for the entire home building and home improvement industries is: how can we make homes bigger while cutting their environmental footprints? The answer lies in the next item:
  2. People will want more control of their homes. Pre-COVID 72% of Americans believed their homes had an impact on their health and 51% said it was important to upgrade their ventilation systems. Now that we’re painfully aware that the air we breathe could make us sick, we’ll be much more interested in taking control over the air we breathe in our homes. And we’ll be interested in taking control of everything in our homes. In the 2008 recession, we saw energy efficiency jump as a driver for home improvement in a way we hadn’t seen before or since. That was about control – when we worry about money/our jobs we want to take control of our energy bills. And as we contemplate a future where we could be stuck in our homes again (due to a pandemic or climate change) or perhaps a future where we just don’t feel as safe going out and we want to stay home more, we’ll want homes that feel like a sanctuary. So, yes, that means they must be beautiful. But it also means they must be comfortable, and they must have 24-7 energy. So, look for interest in smart technology, solar + storage, back-up generators, ductless mini-split systems and tight building envelopes to increase substantially. And don’t just count on a consumer to bring those things up! Be aware of all that they’re likely feeling and recommend these things based on the self-sufficiency benefits they offer. The market is ripe to say yes.
  3. People will want to buy new homes and home improvement products from companies that are taking care of people & the planet. We’ve written about this extensively, and we’ve published an entire report about how COVID has accelerated Americans’ demands that our system should change and that companies should lead in this direction. My favorite illustration of this, as it relates to the built environment, comes not from our hard data, but from the social media eavesdropping we did with fringe consumers in early April:


    “My friend works for Home Depot. I fucking hated Home depot. Now I am a big fan. So far they have:

    • Given every employee an extra week of sick time. This was like two weeks ago.
    • Sent thermometers to every employee
    • Just today they gave an extra 40 hours of sick time and encourages anyone not feeling well to stay home
    • Extra 2 weeks sick time to anyone over 60
    • Extra $100 if you work your full schedule this week because people are taking time off
    • If diagnosed with Covid, full salary while you recover
    • If your spouse gets diagnosed, you get paid while taking care of them.

    It’s crazy how well HD is doing they’re (sic) employees. My buddy: ‘I’m fucking retiring from this job.’ This is how you get some fiercely loyal employees.”

And, in fact, someone responded to that post by saying, “If someone took care of me like that, I don’t care if I was sweeping floors for them. I would be loyal for life.”

So, what does this mean for marketing?

For starters, you need to DO the right things. Take care of your employees as if they were family, and take care of your customers similarly. Then, if you make products, ensure there’s a health or control value proposition. If you build or upgrade houses, ensure that you’re doing it in such a way that it gives the homeowner the control, comfort and health they want, while also actually reducing the environmental footprint. Bring up all the benefits of air filtration systems, solar + storage, highly efficient ductless systems and tight building envelopes and talk to them about how they can have the best of all worlds – more comfort, control and peace of mind, alongside the relief of knowing they’re not contributing to our world’s environmental problems. Wrap all of this in bold, heartfelt claims about what your organization stands for, believes in and provides to keep people – and our planet – healthy and safe.

Your company will build a lasting, positive legacy.

News of the Week

Business Strategic Planning During The Pandemic: What’s Changed, What Hasn’t? – Forbes

Uncertainty about the near future has stifled proactive strategic business planning for many companies. The release of a vaccine or a second wave could upend any and all ‘next steps’, making it nearly impossible to invest deeply in any one area. So how do companies continue investing in growth during this time? Bill Conerly at Forbes writes, “… decisions must be made. The strategic planning process’s greatest value may be in identifying uncertainties and options even more than laying out a fixed path for the future … During the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s best to begin by thinking about what has not changed.” Read more…

Homebuilding in the Pandemic – The Washington Post

Spending more time cooped up at home in too-close-for-comfort-quarters with other family members has led consumers to reconsider what they value in a home — how much space they need and what they need to fill it with to feel satisfied. Whereas for a time we saw minimalism take hold of the market and families begin downsizing, we now see people gearing up for home renovation projects, selling their homes to buy something bigger, and updating appliances and furnishings to improve comfort. Brooks Howell, principal and residential global practice area leader at Gensler, a global architecture, design and planning firm, said, “A home office should be part of the mix and one that includes space for a desk, ergonomic chair, lighting and built-in storage.” Yes, people are going for comfort, prioritizing health, and desperate for more space in this new work-at-home reality. Read more…


In a way, Covid-19 has made us all fringe consumers.

And today’s fringe will shape tomorrow’s opportunities.

Seeing into the Future: How to build resiliency in a post-Covid world

When a crisis like Covid-19 hits, ideas held by fringe consumers often flood into the mainstream. Once we’re out of crisis mode, those once-fringe ideas won’t just evaporate. They’ll shape how your company builds resilient relationships with consumers, employees and even investors. Our latest report is your head start to being the company you want to be – that consumers want you to be – in a post-Covid world.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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