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Industry Updates

Germ-Resistant and Antimicrobial Materials Help Builders Appeal to Homebuyers

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The Dawson Square project by Toll Brothers features quartz countertops, tile backsplashes and painted cabinets. (Photo credit: Matthew Gallant Photography)

Respondents to the America at Home Study gave insight into a collective changing viewpoint of home and safety as a direct result of sheltering in place. The study was hosted online April 23 to 30 with a nationally representative sample of 3,001 consumers 25 to 74 years of age with household incomes of more than $50,000. Notable in the results is that 73% of Americans are disinfecting more in their homes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. When respondents were asked what is missing that they would like to have and be willing to pay for in a home, the top results were related to the interior materials and surfaces of their homes that they now find themselves so frequently disinfecting. 

Specifically addressed were germ-resistant countertops and flooring (55% overall) highest among older millennials/young Gen Xers (63%) and then millennials (59%) as well as touch-free faucets, appliances and smart toilets being desired by more than half of millennials and Gen Xers. We expect these demands to be more prevalent as we do more research on materials.

Homebuilders can look to healthcare, school and office environments, in which germ-resistant, easy-to-clean and disinfectant materials have been in use for some time, as a starting point to re-evaluate the materials they use. We can see a benefit to builders who intentionally offer those materials — and educate buyers on their properties. For instance, copper, bronze and brass have intrinsic antimicrobial and virus-fighting agent properties, while stainless steel is shown to hold onto the live virus for up to several days.  

Easy to clean, non-porous materials that can be cleaned with soap and water and/or diluted bleach, vinegar (for non-porous surfaces) or hydrogen peroxide are far safer than porous materials. Even ammonia, such as Windex, has been found to fight some viruses. However, some of these cleaners can be harsh on materials, so materials need to be manufactured to stand up to cleaners.

Countertops:

  • Sealed granite has been popular for some time. It is cleanable, but some cleaners can eat away at sealers.
  •  Plastic laminate is non-porous and very cleanable but does not stand up to heat; it is suggested to not use in the kitchen by the range and must have correct edge banding in wet areas.
  • Quartz and solid surface are better for cooking and wet areas; both stand up to stains, are non-porous without sealers, and can take more heat than laminate, although trivets are still recommended.  
  • Stainless commercial-looking countertops have become popular; they are non-porous and easy to clean although can scratch easily, and acidic cleaners can be harsh on the metal.
  • Newest are porcelain countertops that are strong, heat and stain resistant, do not require sealing and can even be used outdoors.

Flooring:

  • Carpeting has been less popular for some years now, having been replaced by hard flooring. Area rugs that are easy to wash and clean can be added atop hard flooring.
  • Porcelain tile is a very durable non-porous flooring option. Sealed grout add to the moisture and germ resistance of the floor and can withstand any cleaner, and larger offerings allow for less grout.
  • From commercial and healthcare sectors and now in many new home offerings, there are vinyl and PVC-free flooring planks that have the appearance of wood or stone; many have an inherent top layer for strength and ease of cleaning. When installed with the correct watertight adhesives, they are an excellent choice for a clean floor, though not as rugged as porcelain tile.
  • Concrete floors are popular in restaurants and schools, although they do require sealers, which are often harmed by disinfecting cleaners, and the concrete often cracks, which allows for dirt and germs to seep in.
  • There has been no proof that wood floors harbor the coronavirus. However, wood floors are porous, which makes them harder to keep clean and may inherently harbor more dirt and germs as a result.

Walls, cabinets and other surfaces:

  • Paint is a very good cleanable surface. Flat paint is harder to clean; it is best to get a finish for the paint, such as eggshell/satin and semi-gloss in the kitchen, bath and trim. Many modern paints include agents that fight mold and mildew.
  • Sealed or polished wood can be cleaned regularly, but any chips or worn areas will soak in dirt and germs. 
  • Thermofoil cabinets can be washed with soap and water as well as mild cleaners. 
  • HDPE or high-density polyethylene is incredibly strong, FDA and USDA approved, and considered environmentally friendly. It is made from recycled products and easily recycled. It is a great choice for cabinets that can be easily cleaned and disinfected, and can even go outdoors.

Additional insights on materials and products trends:

  • Utilizing light colors that make it easier to see when those surfaces are dirty. 
  • Colors and materials that evoke biophilia and nature, such as wood, lend to a sense of calm and a connection to nature. 

Consumers have had a lot of time to assess the design of their home and decide what is most important to them. That will quite likely translate into more discerning homebuyers. Material choices that make consumers feel safer can help builders attract buyers.

Nancy Keenan is an expert in implementing innovative housing solutions and sustainable site-specific home design. She is a licensed architect who serves as chairperson of the board for HomeAid’s Northern California chapter, and is a member of the American Institute of Architects, the Building Industry Association, and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

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