Cover Photo: Joel Filipe (Unsplash)

Keeping a home relevant to evolving needs for decades to come is a complex yet necessary challenge. Tatler Homes provides some salient points on what future-proofing is and what it will entail.

Buckminster Fuller, the American author, architect, futurist and more, once said that "the best way to plan for the future is to design it." He was speaking about innovation in the industrial design space at that point, but the philosophy behind his words is universal. Change is constant, and our world is changing in many ways—sometimes predictably, sometimes not.

Nowhere is this truer than in our homes. More so than any other point in history, the 21st century demands that we build our homes today for the needs of tomorrow. That can be a daunting prospect. Future-proofing a home is predicated on a complex mesh of needs, which can be personal, environmental, technological and/or monetary. Fulfilling all of these criterium requires ingenuity, innovation and the intertwining of several disparate disciplines. But before all of that, future-proofing starts with the very intent that Fuller laid out. 

CAVE OF WONDERS

But what exactly is future-proofing? In the context of a home, it could mean any one of four broad categories—personal requirements, environmental sustainability, technological advances or market value. In practice, it encompasses all four, each of which has its own set of ambitions.

Take environmental sustainability. The 2015 Paris Agreement signed by 196 countries aims to contain the rise in average global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 in an effort to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. But even as that transition takes place now, global weather patterns are already changing and impacting our lives.

In temperate zones, this means harsher winters and hotter summers. In tropical zones, it means increasingly volatile weather cycles causing a heightened risk of drought or flooding. Natural disasters—hurricanes, typhoons, wildfires, sinkholes, blizzards, landslides—have already become more commonplace. In the last two decades, annual global temperatures have consistently increased to the highest levels in human history, with dire implications from the melting of the Arctic and rising sea levels to increasing fatalities from heatstroke.

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TABLE OF CONTEXT

Future-proofing a home from this perspective involves pre-emptively anticipating environmental risks as well as reducing its carbon footprint as an individual contribution to climate change mitigation. This, obviously, will differ depending on location.

A home in London will need to consider wider fluctuations of seasonal temperatures while future-proofing in Nevada will involve cooling measures and impact on a shrinking water table. A tropical home by the sea will have to contend with rising ocean levels, a hillside development will have to consider soil erosion while an urban abode will look at flood risk.

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Context and circumstance will always dictate what and how future-proofing takes place. There are many questions to ask.

How many people will live in the home and what will their needs be as they age? What modern technology is available—in construction and in devices? How can this best be incorporated into the blueprint and fitting? And, given the increasing importance of real estate as a vehicle for investment and wealth, how can future-proofing ensure that a property retains its value?

There are many questions and there are also many answers. There are no definitive ones because everyone’s idea of the future is different. But once a future is anticipated, then a home can be designed for it. Here’s how:

THE BLUEPRINT

Right at the beginning is a very good place to start. Retro-fitting existing builds will always be the most realistic option for most homeowners but the biggest impact is made by starting from scratch. This means answering the questions of future-proofing when the home is still an idea on a blueprint as a tailor-made solution for tomorrow’s challenges.

Personal requirements

A home is a home because of the people who live in it. And in Asia, where cultural norms favour multi-generational living under one roof, that is particularly important. Children will grow up to be adults, eventually having children of their own. Adults will age in seniority. The average life expectancy of a Malaysian is now 76 years, compared to 65 years half a century ago. Medical advances will keep quality of life high, but thoughtful home design will ensure comfort.

Bedrooms built on the ground level may ease the impact of a loss of flexibility for the elderly, while open spatial planning provides room for toddlers to explore unencumbered. Corridors and doorways should be drafted for impaired mobility—Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority recommends a width of 1.8 metres to cover all possibilities from crutches to baby carriages to wheelchairs—while level flooring or slopes instead of thresholds or steps provide better manoeuvrability and avoids accidental trips.

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Environmental sustainability

Understanding the lay of the land is key to maximising sustainability. Different limits will apply to different conditions but exploiting orientation is fundamental. In equatorial locations, the sun travels directly overhead, and the precepts of sustainable architecture recommend that main windows face north or south to minimise solar heat gain and maximise shade, in turn reducing the need for artificial cooling.

Stronger insulation on the roof and the east/west walls will reduce passive heat accumulation, while wide apertures (eg. windows, doors) can promote natural wind cooling. Taking advantage of natural terrain also helps; building on a rise or elevated foundations on flat land provides additional clearance from flood risk.

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Technological advances

Electricity powers our lives, and that is not likely to change even though the sources of electricity are transitioning from dirty fuel (coal, oil) to clean energy (renewables, green/blue hydrogen). With that in mind, wiring is key. Modern homes require a bewildering array of appliances. So not only does appropriate wiring—for power, for data—needs to be put in place, location also matters.

Elevated power points at torso-level instead of floor-level can not only avoid back strain but possible water damage. As the world moves to electric vehicles, plan for an external charging port… or more, if every member of the family has their own Tesla. And if technology evolves even further, running extra wiring conduits is a smart idea, potentially avoiding the tedious hassle of demolishing for retro-fitting. 

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Market Value

Location, location, location. The situation of a property is key to preserving or even enhancing its value. Desirable or up-and-coming neighbourhoods are one thing but the infrastructure is equally important. Most city councils or local governments publish development master plans charting out planned evolution, providing an idea of upcoming transport linkages or expansion goals that could enhance value in the right place at the right time.

Aesthetics also count. Architectural trends may come and go but a clean design that can be adapted to a variety of identities will have wide appeal. And future-proofing what is inside that property will ensure that its intrinsic value is recognised by potential buyers or tenants.

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