White House Move Signals Major Tech Shift for Real Estate Industry

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In late March, the Biden administration unveiled a new initiative with the potential to impact our country’s health and infrastructure on an unprecedented scale. The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge implores building owners to improve their indoor air quality (IAQ) through improvements to HVAC and filtration. While the ask seems simple enough, it marks the federal acknowledgement of a major shift that’s shaking up the health, real estate and building management sectors; IAQ has become a national priority.

The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge is part of the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, and calls on building management to “adopt key strategies to improve indoor air quality in their buildings and reduce the spread of COVID-19.” The directive highlights which buildings this would apply to, including schools, colleges, universities and, more broadly, “organizations of all kinds.”

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 White House Move Signals Major Tech Shift for Real Estate Industry
Ray Wu. Photo: WYND

While the health benefits are clearly outlined in President Biden’s announcement of this challenge, the fine print points to the immense impact IAQ has on infrastructure, as well. In fact, the administration will make both pandemic relief and infrastructure funds available to supplement ventilation and IAQ investments. Retrofitting HVAC is often better and less wasteful than replacing the entire system. It has a massive impact on a building’s energy usage and efficiency. In some cases, installation of proper IAQ filtration and monitoring systems can eliminate the need for additional reconstruction.

While the traditional approach to HVAC is simply controlling temperature, today’s technology allows for a much more holistic approach. Ventilation systems can filter out the particles that carry viruses like COVID-19, and pollutants that cause allergies and other long-term health issues. Current technology allows for proactive monitoring of air quality, so it can be cleaned on an as-needed basis. As masks slowly come off in schools and office spaces, proper monitoring of indoor air quality is crucial for safety. It’s a top concern for tenants returning to shared spaces.

The push to prioritize IAQ is not only occurring at the federal level. New Jersey recently introduced Bill S289, proposing to provide loans to eligible small businesses for the improvement of IAQ. California passed Bill 841, providing funding to upgrade IAQ in public schools. Policymakers from coast to coast have recognized the importance of the safety and peace of mind of both customers and employees on the health of the economy, and are making a push to ensure that the resources to make the necessary improvements are widely accessible.

On multiple levels, we are witnessing the progression of IAQ from a luxury to the status quo. Through new policies, technologies and best practices, the expectations placed on building operations have been raised.

While the real estate industry is well aware of the health and infrastructure benefits of improved IAQ, it has yet to become common. But that’s all changing, and this White House announcement is poised to speed the transition. One of the tenets of the challenge is “engage the building community by communicating with building occupants to increase awareness, commitment and participation.” 

This educational push will inform tenants of the benefits and risks associated with air quality — a process long overdue and brought to the forefront by the pandemic. We are all hyperaware of the hazards the air around us presents to our health and livelihood, and can no longer afford to focus simply on how hot and cold a building is.

Those of us in the tech space know we’re on the precipice of this tectonic shift similar to that of the rise of the smartphone. Traditional HVAC systems are dinosaurs, and those who aren’t already upgrading their air filtration systems to accommodate smart monitoring and filtration are already behind. In five years, easy access to IAQ data won’t be a selling point because it will be ubiquitous. The president knows this, and is setting the stage to accelerate this transition.

Ray Wu is the CEO and co-founder of WYND, which provides indoor air quality monitoring and improvement solutions for commercial offices.