COVID-19 has forced us all to think about new ways to avoid germs at work, while in public places like grocery stores and even in the privacy of our own homes.
Fortunately, interior designers and manufacturers are responding to the demand and offering solutions for our homes that are aimed at reducing the spread of germs, viruses and other particles that may be harmful to our health.
Industry professionals and home-goods retailers shared some of the more helpful ideas, new technologies and innovations currently available with NorthJersey.com, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. Here are some of their suggestions:
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Smart home technology — voice and motion-activated appliances and other features — has grown tremendously in the recent past, and touchless options have expanded since COVID-19 to meet the demand. “Since May 1, the term ‘touchless’ has been the GROHE website’s number one searched term,” says Stephany Osmas, a spokesperson for the manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom fixtures.
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With the kitchen often described as the heart of a home, maybe it’s not surprising that according to The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), areas where food is stored and prepared are sources of more bacteria than other places in the home — including the toilet, which homeowners are usually more conscious of cleaning.
To reduce the spread of germs in the kitchen, GROHE offers a touchless kitchen faucet that turns on and off with a tap of a foot control; after 60 seconds, the faucet automatically turns off. A hands-free faucet is another innovation; water flow may be controlled with a touch of the wrist, forearm or back of the hand. Plumbing fixture maker Kohler’s Sensate and Setra faucets allow users to turn water on and off either manually or by moving cookware or utensils — for example, by lifting a pot. These and other models also offer a voice-activated option using voice assistant devices already in the home.
Touchless soap dispensers and faucets have been available to private and commercial buyers for some years. Now GROHE has created an electronic, sensor-activated faucet that features touchless on-and-off capability using batteries; it can accommodate 150 uses per day. And this March, “Kohler is launching a new line of touchless flush toilets designed with … (a) sensor built into the flush handle,” says Vicki Hafenstein, a company spokesperson.
Easy-to-clean and sealed surfaces
In a survey of designers conducted by the National Kitchen + Bath Association, a trade group, a majority of respondents said that easy-to-clean surfaces would be an influential trend in the wake of the pandemic. “People want something that’s easy to sanitize, such as stainless steel faces on dishwashers and refrigerators,” says Peter Salerno, a certified master kitchen and bath designer and owner of Peter Salerno, Inc. in Wyckoff. “(Decorators) often put panels on them, but non-porous surfaces are easier to clean because they don’t have crevices.”
Salerno also praises non-porous countertops such as quartz, which, unlike marble, limestone and granite, doesn’t have small fissures, veining or indentations. A combination of pulverized stone and resin, “Quartz is poured in a mold, and doesn’t have nature’s flaws,” he says. “It cleans like glass.”
To keep bacteria such as E. coli and MRSA and mold from getting into cushions, homeowners can upholster their furniture with germ-resistant fabric such as Crypton, which incorporates, according to the company’s website, EPA-approved silver-ion antimicrobial protection (it also repels stains).
In the bathroom, plumbing products manufacturer Kohler makes a factory-installed surface treatment called CleanCoat that, when applied to shower doors and toilets, prevents bacteria, mildew and mineral deposits from sticking to them.
Floor plans that incorporate discreet areas for storing frequently-touched and dirty objects go a long way in reducing germs, says Alyson O’Hanlon, a certified kitchen designer and owner of Clive Christian New Jersey in Tenafly.
“We all need a drop area where we can leave shoes, handbags, keys, shopping bags and other items,” she says. “A mudroom located off the kitchen is an ideal solution, but you can also leave the shoes and handbag at the door, and designate a drop counter in the kitchen for unloading groceries.” The counter, she says, should be disinfected after each use.
In this reimagined butler’s pantry, a separate handwashing station designed by O’Hanlon (in a home decorated by Patti Smith of P. Smith Design in Ridgewood) replaces what might traditionally be a wet bar, so homeowners can wash their hands before entering the kitchen.
Marina V. Umali, owner of Marina V. Design Studio in Ridgewood, stresses the importance of opening doors and windows to allow fresh air to flow through rooms.
“When I consult, I point out that mold and bacteria can thrive in clutter,” she says. She also recommends humidifiers to help fight bacteria in dry rooms, and plants as a means of improving air quality. A practitioner of feng shui — arranging furniture to create balance with nature — Umali recently became a Well Accredited Professional with expertise in designing spaces that promote good health.
The ultimate source of fresh air, of course, is outdoors. In their survey of designers, the NKBA found that COVID-19 had spurred greater demand for enhanced outdoor living areas.
Better air quality
Kitchen designer Peter Salerno sees air quality as being increasingly important to homeowners concerned about living in a healthy environment. The energy-efficiency movement, he argues, has made houses so air-tight with triple insulation and triple-hung windows that there’s a greater need for air-freshening. “My nephew is a health inspector in Bergen County, and he says the biggest problem is that air systems aren’t taking impurities out of the air,” he says. “You could be recirculating bad air in your house.”
Salerno says he’s seen growing demand for make-up air systems — designed to “make up” the air in an interior space that has been removed due to process exhaust fans. A type of HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system, it pulls in fresh air from outside the home to replace air that can’t be recirculated; kitchen fans do this, he says, moving up to 800 cubic feet per minute outside to be replaced by air coming in through a damper.
HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters have also seen a boom in sales; in October, a Texas manufacturer told CNBC.com that since the pandemic, high-quality air filters have been flying off the shelves, proclaiming that “It’s like toilet paper in April, times two.” The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers rates Hepa filters highly because they capture nearly 100% of microscopic air particles. “You can plug them into a wall and use them anywhere,” says Salerno.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: COVID-inspired touchless tech and innovations to help keep your home germ-free