When the buyers of John Roe’s seven condominiums enter their new home in Manhattan after May, Roy wants them to take a deep breath and feel comfortable. That’s because he doesn’t spend money on air quality.

The boutique building, known as Charlotte’s Upper West Side, will be built with a waterproof outer shell. Each room is continuously supplied with fresh air, filtered and then treated with ultraviolet light, while the same amount of exhaust air is extracted. If a resident is worried – let’s say he blessed a grumpy guest last night – he can increase the ventilation in his neighborhood by 120%. Purchaser of Mr. Rowe’s property will know how special their air is: Marketing materials, which generally describe comfort and luxury, include detailed diagrams and animations describing how the ventilation system works.

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The cost of all that beautiful air? The cheapest unit would be $11 million and penthouses $18 million, Roy says. These prices are largely due to the location, size and luxury of the units, but also the air conditioning was not cheap, says Roy. But like everything else in real estate, which used to be the maintenance of elite floors, fitness centres and stainless steel, these technologies were already on their way to wider acceptance and cost reduction. Covid-19 has accelerated the trend.

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At the Charlotte Upper West Side Condominium Building under construction in Manhattan, the community air in each unit is refreshed 13 times a day for fresh air, even when the windows are closed. If residents are concerned about air quality in the room, they can press the elevation button in the application and the system will replace the air in this unit up to 28 times a day. Incoming fresh air is filtered, UV-controlled, humidity controlled, heated or cooled to an occupant’s set temperature.

Photo:

Edward Ubier

The leaders of some of the country’s largest development companies believe that by 2030 such systems will become part of everyday life in all residential complexes. Buildings with a high degree of mechanical ventilation and energy efficiency will be common. Internal sensors detect when air quality has deteriorated and automatically increase ventilation. These systems are designed to reduce problems with the outside air, such as general pollution or smoke from forest fires, but also internal threats such as a sick resident, a burnt pot or an excess of lemon varnish. The houses are equipped with dynamic air systems with crisis mode, which can improve filtration and execute the disinfection protocol. Once the threat is neutralized, systems will return to the status quo to save energy.

At the same time, the question arises as to which technology is the most efficient and costs both money and energy. Will homebuyers worry about air quality if Covid-19 no longer has an impact on everyday life?

Scott Walsh, vice president and project manager at Lendlease, a global investment and real estate company, says consumers, armed with a new understanding of air quality, will demand a home that it improves.

The developers are already developing designs that focus on fresh air circulation, filtration and cleaning.

The air quality is now in the eyes of our clients, says Elisa Orlanski Ors, who is responsible for the planning and construction of Corcoran Sunshine, the new wing of the Corcoran Group’s real estate office. Her clients are currently studying how the air can be filtered and disinfected in public and private areas, she said.

The most advanced technology to date, which will gradually become more cost-effective and widespread, is an energy recovery fan, said Andrea Mancino, executive vice president of Bright Power, a New York-based energy management consultant. These are ventilation systems that capture energy from the warm air leaving the building to heat or cool the fresh filtered air returning to the building.

Air quality experts believe that the large-scale introduction of MERV 13 or 14 air filters, recommended in April by the ASHRAE trading organisation, formerly known as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), will be sufficient to address the major problems of particulate matter. MERV, or minimum efficiency value, describes the efficiency of a filter in collecting particles of different sizes.

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Mr Levitt inspects the MERV 13 filter in the Lakehouse. Air quality experts believe that the widespread introduction of MERV 13 or 14 filters is sufficient to address the main problems with particulate matter.

Photo:

David Williams for the Wall Street Journal.

The pandemic has aroused interest in systems that go beyond filtering unwanted particles from the air. Instead, they act on the particles to destroy them, using ultraviolet light, UV photo-oxidation, ionization and other tactics. Research should provide information on the most effective methods and systems in the domestic environment.

All of these products work a little differently, and for many of these new products, we don’t have good research to know how well they actually work, said Max Sherman, ASHRAE’s housing group leader for the epidemic.

Gandolfo Schiavone, chairman of Sav Mor Mechanical, HVAC, says his company has installed more than 300 air cleaners on existing building ventilation systems in the New York area since July. Blueair, a Swedish manufacturer of portable air purifiers, the

Unilever

was purchased in 2016 and has tripled this year, explains product manager Jonas Holst.

Halst believes that the United States will eventually buy air purifiers at the same prices as Asia. In the United States, detergent penetration is around 15%. In Japan and Korea about 40% of households have an air purifier, he said.

The sensor technology, which analyses the quality of the indoor air, is already being used in a handful of new luxury homes. Delos, described by its founder Paul Scialha as a health and technology company, sells a system that controls and softens the quality of air, water and light. The application allows homeowners to see when air quality drops below optimum standards; the integrated system then starts the ventilation.

Sensor technology that not only detects problems such as chemical air purification, but also responds to, for example, automatic room ventilation, will be widely used in the near future as more and more manufacturers develop better and cheaper systems, contractors know them and homeowners make these demands, predicts Ryan Donovan, senior category manager for indoor air quality at Ferguson Enterprises, a plumbing and HVAC vendor. Systems will also become more sensitive: In ten years, I really think it’s possible the sensor will tell you there’s a flu virus, Donovan.

Insiders compare the current state of the air quality industry with the organic food movement before the USDA standard was formalised. Today, there are several voluntary certificates that talk about air quality, including the Passive House and the WELL Building Standard, founded by Mr Xiaglia Delos. It is unclear whether this labelling will eventually be included in a national standard or whether it will lead to regulation.

Developer Brian Levitt has designed properties at Lakehouse, a 196-unit apartment building in Denver, which he hopes will help him achieve gold level WELL certification, he says. The apartments will be sold for between $499,000 and $1,825 million. According to Levitt, the residents have their own air ventilation, the warehouse furniture has not been gassed for months and he has also used paints and adhesives with a low VOC content. Buyers may not be ready to pay the RIGHT premium yet, but we believe it has increased our sales absorption and reduced resistance to housing, says NAVA Real Estate Development President Levitt.

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Mr. Levitt has developed Lakehouse with features that he hopes will help the project reach the gold level of WELL certification.

Photo:

David Williams for the Wall Street Journal.

Air quality is a problem throughout the price range. Michael Bohn, Senior Director of Studio One Eleven, an architecture and design firm based in Long Beach, California, redesigned an affordable residential complex in Santa Ana, California, in the wake of the pandemic. It will now contain 14 MERV filters and balconies for each block.

The quality of indoor air can only improve significantly if the construction industry finds ways to ventilate, heat, cool, filter and purify the air in an energy-efficient way. New buildings have better luck, Dr. Sherman says: They can be designed to prevent air leakage and use the most efficient mechanical systems. It is more difficult to adapt existing buildings to green building standards, which over time becomes law, says Derek Tynan, an engineer at Efficient Energy Compliance, a New York-based commercial construction consultancy.

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Developers and engineers believe that one of the answers lies in dynamic systems that can improve air quality during a crisis by consuming more energy and then, when safe, switching to more energy efficient systems.

It is not certain that the pandemic shock will lead to permanent changes. Dan Holohan, author of 24 books on the steam heating industry, studied technical manuals during and after the 1918 flu pandemic. At that time there was a lot of talk about the circulation of fresh air, but once it was over, any mention of infectious diseases was also mentioned, says Kholokhan.

Once we do the vaccination, people will forget about it and go back to the cheapest activities, he said.

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