Concerns Over Air Quality Have Only Continued to Grow
A disclaimer before starting: I’m more of the opinion that COVID-19 is endemic at this point. But even if it was to go away, I don’t think the concerns surrounding air quality would go with it. What many viewed as a knee-jerk reaction an equal number viewed as a wake-up call, not for fighting bacterial threats in buildings but for creating spaces that have people leaving spaces feeling better than when they first entered.
Following a series of landmark studies, including a prominent one conducted by Harvard University, the virus isn’t the core concern anymore: it’s the immediate and long-term impact of just about everything else. Particulate matter, smoke, allergens: these are what consumers focus on nowadays when they are concerned about air quality. The marketing of their respective solutions reflects this.
But beyond that, indoor air quality has become the lynchpin for even broader strategies outside of occupant health. A functioning monitoring and cleaning system has proven integral to sustainability and energy-saving efforts and has even been touted as being widely beneficial for companies looking to make good on ESG goals.
I’m getting ahead of myself, however. While that last bit has been going on at the commercial real estate level, it hasn’t yet entered into the conversation in residential. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t, however, and people willing to start that conversation today are going to be the ones to benefit in the long run.
Air Quality as a Differentiator is Being Readily Embraced and Accepted by All
In a recent podcast interview I had with Ray Wu of Wynd, he had mentioned a future where we keep track of air quality like we keep track of temperature in buildings. I think we’re well on our way there. After all, the demands from consumers don’t stop at just improving the air quality in buildings: they want to see it for themselves.
It makes sense to include it from a commercial perspective. If you’re already tracking all of that data in order to make systems run more efficiently, why not show it to the occupants and then place them in control so they can dial it in to fit their individual preferences? Commercial properties have grabbed this idea and ran with it, using air quality in some cases as a market differentiator.
Having started the WELL Building Standard back in 2014, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) has seen an explosion of facilities applying for certification in the wake of the pandemic. The same goes for similar certifications, such as Fitwel. And as far as whether or not these certifications serve as differentiators in the real estate market today: the answer is a resounding yes.
An MIT study found that buildings with some form of ‘healthy credentials’ often sold for 7% higher in their respective markets over traditional counterparts. This includes residential properties as, citing that tenants moving into multifamily buildings are more than willing to shoulder the premium if it means they have a guaranteed safe place to live.
Its Importance is Linked to More than Just Human Health at This Point
In buildings looking to address ESG goals, it has become linked to energy efficiency and sustainability. In cities across the world, it has transformed into a means of balancing out social iniquities (albeit to a small extent).
The fact is air quality has come to evolve well beyond its original context of whether or not there’s a virus floating around in it at this point, and while it’s most certainly not a panacea for all the world’s problems, its begun to highlight the fact improving human health can also impact environmental health, and vice versa.
An HVAC system can be one of the biggest draws of energy in a building, and with worsening climate conditions, this has been projected to lead to a greater use of HVAC systems for relief, generating a very harmful feedback loop if they’re running off coal-generated electricity. Getting air quality right with proper monitoring, management and control can help significantly reduce this impact and even help in ways outside of air quality like preventing strain on the electrical grid that may lead to brownouts.
It will become even more important as building envelopes become even more efficient at insulating from outside air, which will result in some form of mechanical ventilation being needed more than it is now.
It Can be a Differentiator for Professionals, as Well
An increase in understanding has only continued to reinforce the value of air quality for everyone, from homeowners to facility managers. Of course, that also means that the professionals providing those types of solutions have only continued to grow in value as well. Smart technology like monitors and alert systems are designed to help address the core needs of clients and customers in terms of both health and ESG goals.
However, those that have been long connected to air in buildings (HVAC technicians) aren’t the ones providing these solutions. Their role is to ensure that the systems are installed and working but increasing their functionality beyond that, that’s up to the expertise of technology integrators.