Laboratory for Design and Machine Learning

Laboratory for Design and Machine Learning

The Home, the Household, and COVID-19: Survey Data

Year 2021

Team Dean Black (Researcher), Sam Jacoby (Project Leader)

Funder Prosit Philosophiae Foundation

To study the use and experience of the home and how the pandemic might have impacted satisfaction with housing and its design as well as future housing expectations, a survey and interviews were conducted in spring 2021 with residents living in the greater London area (see The Home, the Household, and COVID-19). Like other moments in history when significant and long-term change is affecting housing use, the pandemic has accelerated the need for change in housing design, assessment, and provision while exacerbating housing inequality.

The following results present some of the key data from the online survey (2nd March to 25th April 2021), which was conducted during the initial easing of the third national COVID-19 lockdown in England that had started on 6th January 2021. The survey consisted of 47 questions: 4 about the respondents and their household, 13 on the property type and its layout or provision, 13 related to the quality and design of the home, and 17 in regard to Covid-19 and the use of the home. A total of 1,613 surveys were started. Incomplete surveys or those with inconsistent responses to questions were removed, leaving 77.5% valid responses. Based on a London population of 9,002,488 (GLA, 2021), the completed 1,250 surveys equate to a 95% confidence level and a 2.8% margin of error. 


Type of Dwellings

Of 1,250 survey respondents, 39.1% lived in the outer and 60.9% in the inner area of the London postal region, with 19.5% residing within Transport for London‘s Zone 1. They were evenly distributed across the age groups from 25 to 64 years (the 25-34 group made up 20%, 35-44 20.7%, 45-54 21.2%, and 55-64 19%), with the youngest (18-24, 3.0%) and oldest (64+, 14.4%) less represented.

The Design of Home

Asked to assess the quality of homes in relation to their own needs and how their dwellings are designed, around a sixth of all respondents felt that this was inadequate. At the same time, almost half believed that their needs were more than adequately met. Importantly however, only every eighth home met them completely. Similarly, less than one in nine considered their home very well designed. There is thus a sizable number of homes with problems.

1- poorly, 4 – adequately, 7 – very well
1- not at all, 4 – adequately, 7 – completely

Although only 17.5% of all survey respondents see the design of their home as inadequate, many more are unhappy with specific aspects. When questioned about the three things they liked or disliked most about the design of their homes in order of importance (Table 4), the five top positive features related to room size (28.5%), outdoor space (41.8%), dwelling size (28.5%), internal layout (27.4%), and privacy (24.7%). The five least liked features were a lack of storage (40.7%), noise (26.2%), general state of repair (24.9%), quality of interior finishes and materials (19.9%), and the size of rooms (19.5%).

Dwelling Size

There are obvious problems of overcrowding in 7.1% of one-storey flats that use living rooms for sleeping – including 26 studio flats. In the significantly fewer cases where living rooms are used for sleeping in houses, this is not for a lack of bedrooms but presumably for reasons of accessibility as they typically have no bedrooms on the ground floor – with all these respondents living in houses with at least two storeys and an average 6.2 bedspaces of which 4.4 are used. Consistent with this is that houses have an average under-occupancy rate of 30.8% compared to 14.5% in flats if considering bedrooms or 40% and 30.2% respectively when measured against bedspaces (counted as one per single and two per double or twin room). Overall, the lowest occupancy rates are found in large terraced houses and the highest in small flats. As maximum occupancy rates are used to determine appropriate space standards and dwelling design, this has a great impact on the lived experience and wellbeing of occupants and indicates more problems with overcrowding and housing quality in flats.

The survey shows that the different aspects of dwelling size in relation to individual needs are important to occupants and determine how many assess the design and quality of their homes. Alarmingly, a quarter of dwellings were deemed overall too small by occupants (26.8%), and over three quarters (77%) found at least one room or area lacking in size for their needs. 

Environmental Comfort

When asked about how comfortable the interior of their home is when measured against standard environmental factors, the great majority was at least moderately and around one-third very satisfied with the levels of natural light, heating, ventilation and air quality, and noise. However, 33% (n=413) of all survey respondents replied further to a contingency question about specific environmental problems they experienced. For these respondents, among the issues related to natural light (34%) were a lack of or too small windows (7.3%), blocking of light by structures and trees (5.3%), and building orientation (3.6%). Heating was a problem for 41.9% and largely caused by poor heat distribution and retainment due to inadequate thermal insulation and draught proofing (15.7%) or insufficient and not working heating systems (17%). More commonly reported ventilation and air quality issues affecting 35.1% were lacking cross ventilation and operable windows (5.6%) and background or mechanical ventilation (2.9%), leading to damp, mould, and condensation problems (6.8%). In addition, external factors such as air pollution (7.7%) and smells (2.2%) were mentioned by a small number. But the most common complaint by almost three-quarters of respondents (74.1%) was about noise. This was especially a problem in flats (48.4%), with complaints split between noisy neighbours (30.3%) and external noise pollution from roads and planes (28.8%). 

Home Use

Almost half (49.6%) of the respondents had lived in their homes for more than 10 years and another 16.4% for 5-10 years. This was followed by 19.4% who had stayed in their property between 2 to 4 years and those that had been there only a year or less (13.4%). While the number of respondents living in a house (50.1%) or flat (49.9%) was almost the same, those in a house tended to have been there longer – 57.9% for over 5 years. Similarly, most owner occupants, who made up just over half of participants (51.3%), had lived in their place comparatively longer, 56.2% for more than 5 years and 45% for more than 10 years.

Perhaps surprisingly, the pandemic only affected how 14.2% of all respondents felt about the size of their homes. Of these (n=178), 68.5% lived in a flat – which two-thirds rented (65.6%) – with 92.6% having changed how they used their home during the pandemic, 80.3% considering moving, and, most tellingly, 72.9% stating that the size or quality of their home had affected their wellbeing during Covid-19.