The next hot building amenity is clean air

The best offices have meditation rooms and gourmet lunches. A high-end apartment building might have a dog park. But tenants and building owners have a new priority amenity: clean air.

The novel coronavirus pandemic brought heightened attention to air quality and cleanliness. Workers, shoppers and tenants are now demanding quality heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems in the buildings they frequent, experts say.

“[We want to] make sure that [building owners] can give people confidence to re-enter society because the indoor quality is what people would expect,” David Gitlin, president and CEO of Carrier Global Corporation, a Connecticut-based HVAC company, told Yahoo Finance, referring to the firm’s new Healthy Buildings Program. Carrier claims 17.9% of America’s HVAC market share, according to a survey of almost 1,000 building owners, managers and tenants by PickHVAC, a Texas-based cooling and heating information provider. 

Reliability is the most important feature customers consider when purchasing an HVAC system. Data and graphic by PickHVAC.

After testing air quality, an HVAC company can offer options to filter out pathogens, increase airflow and replace ducts to prevent mold and bacteria. Some buildings opt to isolate airflow to local areas, while other buildings — like the White House, Harvard University and Google headquarters in Chicago and San Jose — use “bipolar ionization” systems, which use ions to capture harmful particles, according to Global Plasma Solutions, the Charlotte-based company that manufactures the technology.

“We have set up our teams to partner and target the millions of restaurants and retail spaces re-opening their doors in the coming weeks,” said Barry Po, Smart Facilities president at Vancouver-based mCloud Technologies, which uses artificial intelligence to optimize HVAC systems. “The key to bringing customers back and returning to profitability will come from assuring them these establishments are safe.”

For building owners who have shut off HVAC systems for the past three months during lockdowns, HVAC systems could actually be in worse shape and need more attention after the pandemic, according to MaintenX, a Tampa-based facilities repair company. 

“Usually the first things to fail in a facility enduring a long-term closure are condenser fan motors and evaporator blower motors in the HVAC system. As a facility handles various levels of rain and heat, the motor bearings can rust if they are not used,” the company said in a press release.

HVAC replacements can be costly, though. Popular filtration systems, such as HEPA filters, UV lights and electrostatic filters, are affordable, but some 35% of HVAC expenditures are above $7,000, according to PickHVAC. A new system could be upwards of $9,000.  

Despite the cost, building owners are making HVAC improvements a priority. System reliability is the top consideration among building owners choosing an HVAC system, according to the PickHVAC survey.

“We are seeking innovative and high-tech ways to minimize the likelihood of disease transmission at work,” says Kenneth A. Vogel, president and lawyer for Washington, D.C.-based Vogel Realty, which used the lockdown as an opportunity to replace HVAC systems in its 105-year-old, five-story mixed-use Chelsea Gardens building, which houses retail, office, and residential tenants.

Sarah Paynter is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @sarahapaynter

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