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Clean Air and COVID-19: an Emerging Indoor Imperative

Jan 10, 2021 by Marc Rapport
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Real estate investors and property managers alike should probably be boning up now on a new imperative: indoor air quality.

The ability of an enclosed space to recirculate air that’s been sanitized as much as possible against contaminants -- like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 -- will grow as a critical buying and selling point as America struggles to put the pandemic behind us.

And it’s not just the air we breathe on each other that’s of concern. Filtering out contaminants from the outside, too, is a factor in these days of wildfires that envelop entire regions in smoke.

Learning how to efficiently invest in the best indoor air technologies is fast becoming a mandate for not only the obvious -- like hospitals and other healthcare facilities -- but for residential, retail, and office space as well.

Expect such systems to be commonplace in all residential development by 2030, according to a Wall Street Journal article that cites some of the nation’s larger developers.

"Air quality is now front of mind for our buyers," Elisa Orlanski Ours, chief planning and design officer at Corcoran Sunshine, says in the article, titled "Clean Air: The Next Luxury Apartment Perk."

A boom time for HVAC improvements

It’s also a boom time for HVAC vendors who can accommodate. Gandolfo Schiavone, president of Sav Mor Mechanical, told the WSJ that his firm had installed more than 300 air purifiers on existing ventilation systems in the New York area since July.

The current gold standard for filters, according to the ASHRAE trade group, are MERV 13 or 14 air filters, considered able to handle major particle-related problems, the WSJ piece says.

But manufacturers and scientists are working together to better understand and produce processes and tools that can sense when bad stuff is in the air, block it with advanced filters, and destroy it with ultraviolet light and ionization along with other advancing techniques.

And healthcare shall lead the way

Other industries will be looking to the healthcare space to lead the way. "In the wake of COVID-19, commercial and industrial companies are taking a closer look at the way that these healthcare facilities approach IAQ (indoor air quality) in hopes of finding advanced air pollution solutions, systems, or products that can be applied to their own industries," the Camfil clean air solutions manufacturer says in a press release.

Healthcare leaders are using a multi-pronged approach, says Mark Davidson, manager of technical materials for Camfil USA, the Swedish conglomerate’s American operation.

"They are using clean air to create areas of positive pressure that acts as a barrier and prevents airborne contamination from flowing into high-risk areas. While this air is being filtered, it’s also being conditioned and not just for temperature, but for humidity," Davidson says.

"Controlling humidity is a proven strategy to controlling the growth of microorganisms. All these effective anti-viral concepts can be applied to the commercial sector."

The Millionacres bottom line

Other advances in ventilation systems can turn on and off processes in specific spaces as the need is sensed and more effectively capture the energy from hot air leaving a building to heat or cool the filtered air being returned. Such improvements are more easily included in new construction, of course, but advances in retrofitting can also be expected. In fact, a new double bottom line is emerging here as real estate investors and managers work to provide a safer and more attractive product by paying attention to what’s working well and at the most attractive price points.

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