On this weeks’ Podcast Sue Williams and JimmyT explore the differences if any that our current locked down, work-from-home life will make to the way we build and live in apartments in the future.
Last week we were taking the mickey out of marketers promoting “zoom rooms” … but then we thought about it and agreed, if they were done properly, they could be great.
Then we look at the Australian Building (sub)Standards for noise mitigation in apartments which are close to useless even before builders start cutting corners and trimming costs on all the things we can’t see between walls and under floors.
Meanwhile there are products like those we mention from Arcicture.com that cut down noise and look pretty good too.
Then there’s open spaces, infrastructure for home offices, shared workspaces and areas in and around blocks where you can just chill out.
Sooner or later developers are going to work out that putting a small premium on a lot of apartments that have access to a rooftop social space, is worth more (in every way) than selling a penthouse apartment to one person for their exclusive privileged use.
This isn’t going to happen overnight but unrenovated flats and new apartments, all with poor sound insulation, will drop down the priority list for buyers and renters alike.
There’s all that and more – including the stupid “nanny state gone mad” arguments about leaf blowers in Bondi.
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TRANSCRIPT IN FULL
Thank God for the Olympics!
Yes, it’s come in handy at the time of COVID, hasn’t it? Not for the athletes and the people who wanted to go of course, and the officials and the volunteers, but for…
Those of us stuck at home?
Yes. It’s pretty amazing.
Yeah. I briefly toyed with the idea that maybe, it was deliberate.
I think somebody on Insider said today, isn’t it fantastic; we’re all cheering for Australia and we’re all Australians when we win a gold medal at the women’s relay, but when we’re talking about dividing our Pfizer shots, we’re a nation of different states.
Yes, exactly. Okay, now, we’re going to be talking about how dealing with COVID has affected the way that we live in apartments and what that might mean for the future. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
And I’m Sue Williams, and I write about property for Domain.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
Sue, if you were going to change anything about the way apartments were built in the future (given that this may not be the last time we have a pandemic, or a wave of the current one), what would you change?
Obviously, I’d want buildings to be much better built and to have much better soundproof qualities as well, because I think we’re all at home a lot. If we had (god forbid), another pandemic, we’d all be home again. We don’t really want to hear our neighbours playing the piano, or their kids running around above us on wooden floors, or playing the bass really loudly on rock music, or clanging weights in the gym; that kind of thing. We want to have some peace.
There’s been a culture in and around apartments and I remember the old CTTT, one of their members saying you have to expect a certain amount of noise, when you live in apartments and that noise from other people. Of course, ‘a certain amount’ is a very undefined level of noise transmission. The building standards for noise transmission (even in apartments), even in the most recent figures, are ridiculous.
Ridiculously low! They should be much better.
Much, much better, yes. So, is that the first thing to tackle; the building standards, to have a reasonable assumption that you will have a reasonable amount of peace and quiet in your apartment?
Yes, I think so, because often when people say, downsize, they’re talking about moving into apartments. There’s a couple of things that often stops them. One is the fear of an Owners Corporation ruling their lives. The other one is; I mean, many of them have never lived in apartments before and often they’re saying “well, we’re just a bit nervous about getting noise from beneath us and noise from above us and noise from either side.” They’re really quite fearful of that and I think it’s kind of weird. I grew up in England, in a small terraced house and we heard everything that the next door neighbours did. We heard them every time they went up and down the stairs, because we only had carpet; a little bit on the stairs. It was never wall-to-wall carpet. We could hear them when they had arguments and we could hear them when they laughed. Now I think we’re much more aware of noise and much more aware of our neighbours. In those days, you just kind of grew up with it, but now we have a much higher standard that we expect.
There’s also the fear among people who have lived in apartments, about the amount of noise they will be allowed to make; not the amount of noise coming from other people, but the amount of noise that they will be projecting into other people’s homes, especially people with families. I mean, kids like to run around and if your floor has not been properly insulated, then the people downstairs are going to get driven nuts, pretty quickly. That’s two aspects. Noise does impact on people and funnily enough, we’ll be talking later on about a very specific kind of noise (an issue that’s come up in Bondi), but if the buildings were better built (which is the biggest ‘if’ in apartment living), a lot of these problems would never exist to begin with. I mean, it can be quite weird when you don’t hear any noise. You think, does everybody know something that we don’t know? They’ve all headed out of town. I remember saying to our concierge here that our next door neighbours across the wall were perfect, because you never heard anything from them and he said “there’s no one there.”
It’s been empty for years and years.
The people just bought it and then moved overseas and didn’t want to rent it out and just sat there, watching it’s value gradually accrue. Noise does affect people, quite significantly.
And it affects some people worse than others. We had an elderly friend, who had a neighbour above her, that she said was incredibly noisy. I remember sitting in her lounge room once, when she was quite elderly and she said “oh, my god, can you hear that!” I actually couldn’t hear anything, but she got her broom and she started banging on the ceiling. I’m sure her neighbours upstairs thought she was completely and utterly mad, but she obviously heard something and it really irritated her, whereas, other people just couldn’t hear that kind of noise.
Apparently, there’s a thing to do with aging; you hear a lot about hearing loss when people get older, but some people can be affected by this thing that actually makes their hearing much more acute. Certain scents, or certain types of noise are actually physically painful to them. It’s not widely diagnosed, because they just think if they’re hearing too much noise, it’s because of the person who’s making the noise.
In a perfect world, an apartment should be pretty quiet. It should be quieter than a house really, because you should have double glazing. If you’ve got sliding doors (glass doors), you should be able to close them and no noise should come in. If you’ve got windows, they should be able to close tightly. If you live in a suburban house, it’s actually much harder to avoid noise, because you’ve got lawn mowers on the weekend. You’ve got neighbours’ dogs barking and you can’t really do anything about it, whereas if you live in a strata building, if a dog barks in the building, there’s something you can do about it.
Apartment noise should and could be a lot less intrusive, or the noise could and should be, with a bit of better planning and a bit of better building. It’s only now that we’re beginning to realize that we could have better building and we should have better building and that there are people building apartments who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the building process, because all they’re doing is the cheapest job they possibly can, for the maximum profit.
And creating the maximum misery for the people who are going to buy in there. But, there are all sorts of different products coming out into the market. I saw this website the other day and it was a company called Articture.
Articture… like artichoke?
That’s a good way of saying it, really. They’ve manufactured these wall panels and they’re really quite interesting and quite pleasing to the eye. They’re in hexagons, or they’re in diamond shapes, or they’re in different patterns. They’re a wall decoration, but they’re also there to provide acoustic protection from neighbours and it looks fantastic.
More attractive than egg boxes.
Yes. You could make as much noise as you want in there and your neighbours; you won’t be able to hear your neighbours at all, hopefully. Things like that are kind of coming in all the time. I mean, we know people who have put an extra layer of cover on their walls, to try and shield themselves from noise from neighbours. With this; it looks good. It looks really nice. You’ve got an artwork in there, to make it look good, as well as making it more quiet.
Would it work for domestic, do you think? Or would it look a bit ‘officey?’
No. I mean, on their website, articture.com, they’ve got lots of pictures of homes with it inside. It looks really groovy; really cool.
It would be handy for the ‘zoom rooms’ we were mocking last week.
Yes, it certainly would.
So what would be your basic minimal standards for a zoom room, just while we’re on the subject?
I think it’s got to be big enough to have (obviously), a space for your computer and that’s going to be a PC as well as a laptop and, room for a zoom light. You know, those halo lights? That makes such a big difference, I’ve discovered. It makes you look quite good, compared to how you might look normally. And, it’s got to be quiet; you’ve got to be able to close it off.
Some of this Articture stuff…They need to come up with a better name.
You’ve got to be able to close it off as well, if you can.
You need a door and then if you’re gonna have a door, you need air.
Oh, yeah. It’s getting a bit complicated now, isn’t it really?
I think if developers or architects are saying “hey, we’ve got a zoom room,” I think you’re entitled to go in and say “well, does it have a halo light? Does it have enough room for a desk? Does it have multiple power points? Does it have a LAN connection; a network connection or good WiFi in there? Does it have a door and, does it have air?” If they tick all those boxes, you go “yep, that is a Flat Chat-approved zoom room.”
I imagine developers won’t have a door there, because if I have a door, then suddenly it becomes a study and it’s worth another $400,000 on the price of an average home.
Well, yeah, if it doesn’t have a door there, it’s not much chop.
Then again, in apartments, you could actually (if they’re built with a pandemic future in mind), you could always have meeting rooms in the buildings, or a series of little zoom rooms that residents can use and they can book it; maybe book it online with an online booking platform and they can go in there and do their stuff. Maybe, that would be a good compromise, really. We went along to a build-for-rent place in Olympic Park in Sydney and they had a series of studies, which people could use and they just had a booking system there. That’s really good. I mean, if you’re living in a studio apartment, or a one bedroom apartment, you just might not have room. If you’ve got an important work meeting, that might be a good place to be able to go.
Alright, well, that’s all part of the next part of our discussion, which is building; not so much the physical infrastructure, as the social infrastructure of the future apartment blocks.
Jimmy: We’ve talked about better soundproofing and things like that. Other things that could be built into a modern apartment block that is going to make life easier in the future, should we ever have to be in lockdown, for whatever reason
It would be nice if all apartments could have balconies, or if there could be common spaces that are partly outdoors as well. I’ve seen some great designs for apartments from the architecture awards, recently. Some of them have common shared spaces that are half inside and half out, so they’re quite sheltered, but they do have fresh air, or there’s corridors where they have fresh access to fresh air. I think that’s really important. Also, lots of the modern ones now, have rooftop spaces. The idea that it’s not just rich people who can afford a penthouse; who can have a look at the wonderful view. Anybody who buys into a building, now has access to the view through a rooftop garden. They may have a herb garden up there, or they may grow vegetables, or it might just be an entertainment space. It might have a barbecue seating, that kind of thing. I think when we’re trapped indoors during the pandemic, it would be good to have some space outdoors, that you can go to, without leaving your building.
Yeah, sounds like a good idea. One of the things I think (and I know this exists in a lot of modern buildings); electronic access. Rather than a physical key, you have a fob and whether you want it to or not, that registers on a computer somewhere that the resident of this apartment has come in at this time and got in the lift. I know it sounds a bit ‘Big Brother,’ controlling where you’ve been and at what time, but right now, that’s exactly what we need; to be able to possibly go into these buildings… These apartment blocks in Melbourne that have been locked down in the past week or so; to be able to go in and say “let’s have a look at the computer. We know that this person came in at this time, or there’s nobody been in that apartment for the past week.”
Or, they would have used the lift at the same time as this other person, if they were a positive case.
Yeah, it’s better security anyway, because keys just drift around. Are there any buildings out there that still have physical keys?
They do. Probably about three quarters of them, I would think.
Remind me to buy shares in an electronic access firm.
I mean, some people have been saying we should have QR codes to go into buildings and move around buildings, but that depends very much on voluntary compliance. If the QR code system isn’t working really well, people aren’t going to use it. You know, if it takes a little while to show up on their phone…
Or, doesn’t get it right. Last week, I went to Coles to get some food and checked in and then thought I’d checked out and then I went to a different supermarket and went to check in and it said “would you like to check out of Coles?” I have checked out of Coles, but it thought that I was still checking into Coles. I had to check out as if I was at Coles and then it wouldn’t let me check in. Look, it’s not a perfect system, but it should be a wee bit more efficient than that and if you apply that to people’s homes… I mean, when we were on Amanda Farmer’s podcast the other day, she was saying that there are some buildings in the city that have put QR codes in as a condition of entry. Residents who came back without their phones, weren’t able to check in, therefore they weren’t allowed to get into their own homes, which is ridiculous. It shouldn’t be happening.
Unless you’ve got a large security guard standing there saying “no,” to a 70 year-old lady. “No, you can’t come in.”
Maybe, some buildings do, because I remember once we were changing our security system; we had a concierge service and we were changing the concierge people. The new firms were tendering and one of the firms came to us and said “would you like all guys with guns?” I remember thinking “oh, my goodness! Guns, for an apartment building in Sydney?!”
He was also asking if we wanted certain races to be excluded. I’m glad you didn’t go with them. I also think that there should be better communication. All buildings over a certain size should have some sort of web interface. There was an article in one of the papers online, about these buildings (again), in Melbourne, where they’d letterbox them and said “there’s been an infection here. We’re locking down the building, as of midnight tonight.” A lot of those people didn’t even check their mail. They didn’t look at the letterbox. If they’d had a website that pinged their phone (which would been so easy to do), that said ‘alert,’ and it could be anything. You know, it could “be we’re going into lockdown at midnight,” or it could be “Mabel in flat 132 needs somebody to lend her a stepladder.” It could be as basic as that, or it could be as significant as telling people that there’s a lockdown, or there’s been a problem with the water system or whatever. The market will drive this. People will want to live in places that have that kind of facility. In Melbourne, I think if a building has more than 50 apartments, they must have a strata manager. I would also say a building facilities manager. We don’t have that compulsion here. There are huge strata schemes in Sydney that don’t have a strata manager, because there’s somebody on the committee who feels that they can handle all that stuff. Not very many, but there’s a few. I think over a certain level, a building manager is a requirement as well qnd I think a website is a requirement. I mean, one of the things in our building (this is a first world issue), but we have a timetable for the gym that we have to log into. You can only have a maximum of two people in the gym from the one household, at any one time. You can only have the gym for a maximum of one hour per day. You can only book a gym slot within 24 hours. You can book a week in advance. I love it; I think it’s great. I hope it stays; maybe not with the same restrictions, but I just like the ability to be able to go to my computer and go “I’d like to go to the gym at 2.30 tomorrow afternoon; I wonder if there’s a space.”
As well, because it becomes then an appointment, you kind of have to keep it, rather than just thinking “shall I nick down to the gym later on today?”
Or, shall I eat this cream cake?
And watch more Olympics. Watch lots of thin, muscley swimmers and eat doughnuts at the same time.
Yes, that’s counterintuitive, but very tempting. You think “yeah, I’ll go and swim. As soon as I finish this donut, I’m going for a swim and I’ll end up looking like them.” When we come back, we’re going to be talking about the latest example of one of my least favorite phrases in the whole world. A nanny state gone mad!
So what are you referring to, when you’re talking about ‘a nanny state gone mad,’ Jimmy?
It’s Bondi Beach. Waverley Council has had an approach from a local community organization, asking them to limit the use of leaf blowers on the street. People are complaining that they’re being disturbed sometimes, 6,7, 8 times a day, by different people blowing leaves with these leaf blowers. They sound a bit like small motorbike. This Waverley councillor, called Will Nemesh, says “this is a nanny state gone mad.” Now, Mr Nemesh, I just want to pause that statement; ‘a nanny state gone mad.’ Does that mean that they’ve stopped being a nanny, or are they torturing the children? I mean, look, either its public controls have gone mad, or it’s a nanny state; it can’t be both things. It’s only leaf blowers. It’s not like they’re nailing up doors and things like that, like they did in China. Come up with some better cliches, Mr Nemesh.
But then I do have some sympathy… What is the point of blowing leaves around? I mean, it just seems to be always (I’m sorry, Jimmy), but it’s always men who are doing it. I’ve never seen a woman leaf blower.
It’s a penis extension.
Why not just sweep them up and then put them in a bag and put them in composting? Why would you just blow them around? It seems to be utterly pointless, because the wind is blowing them there in the first place. That wind is gonna blow them back again.
A leaf vacuum cleaner. They do exist; they are like slightly larger lawnmowers. They’ve got a big bag and they come along…
But they’re probably still very noisy.
Not if they’re electric.
Oh, well, that sounds alright then.
They suck up all the leaves into the bag. The Leaves go off and they’re composted. That is what the council should be doing and it might cost a bit more, but at least they’re saving a bit of the environment. Think about all the carbon footprint of these stupid leaf blowers. And as somebody said in Waverley Council (I think the greens councillor), “all that leaf blowers do is blow the leaves to the next property and then the leaf blower guy on that property, comes out and blows them back.” It doesn’t do anything. Also, in a time of high unemployment and feckless young people, get some people out there with brushes and rakes and bags and pick the bloody leaves up. So, nanny state gone mad? No; nanny would tell you to clean up. She wouldn’t tell you just to move the crap around. I think we’ve insulted enough people today. Sue Williams, the Olympics have just started. We’ve just seen Ash Barty fall apart. Hard courts are not her surface. She just looked a bit under-done, to be honest.
Your heart goes out to her, though, doesn’t it?
She carries the hopes of a nation.
Yes, absolutely. She’s such a great star. She’s such a fantastic sports woman.
You get the feeling that if she turned up at the swimming pool and said “hey, can I be in the 4 x 100,” they’d have gone “yeah, in you go. Even though we’re going to break the world record and get a gold medal, you can be part of this.” Alright, that’s enough for us for one week. Thank you very much, Sue.
And thanks for listening. Bye.
Jimmy: Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website www.flat-chat.com.au And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite pod catcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a W, click on subscribe, and you’ll get this podcast every week without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.