NAVIGATING THE "NEW NORMAL" AMID COVID-19

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HVAC Analytics: CRE’s Unexpected Technology Hero for COVID-19

The key technology needed to overcome CRE COVID challenges may surprise you: HVAC Analytics.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to teach us to appreciate what we once considered mundane: indoor restaurant dining, hallway run-ins with coworkers, taking a crowded yoga class… But what about clean air? In commercial real estate, no aspect of the industry has been lifted into the limelight more than the equipment and technology behind delivering us healthy indoor air: HVAC and HVAC analytics

Suddenly, stories about ventilation, air filters, and strategies behind demand control ventilation are on the front page of major news outlets. Not since Willis Carrier’s invention of modern HVAC at the beginning of the 20th century have people paid this much attention to the air we breathe. 

HVAC has often been revered as something building operators have to just ‘deal with’. Not nearly as sexy (or tenant retentive) as a lobby facelift or elevator revamp, upgrades to back-of-house equipment are often deprioritized. Even further underemphasized has been the investment in HVAC analytics technology that enhances and optimizes mechanical operations through sensors and new streams of data. As a result, building engineers are left with outdated, band-aided systems. 

As we learn more about how COVID spreads indoors, HVAC all of a sudden plays an integral role in public health. Based on interest from tenants arming themselves with CDC and ASHRAE COVID HVAC safety requirements, ventilation may no longer be an underappreciated factor in running a building.

HVAC safety has become an important driver integral to tenant retention, attraction and communications. 

Engineers are scrambling to implement the best air filters for HVAC, making sense of MERV 13 filters or ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) technologies, and ensuring their buildings meet ventilation requirements.

By our measurements, though, taking a ‘kitchen sink’ approach to implement these measures could result in a 70% increase in energy spend.

Why? Because investments in HVAC and HVAC analytics have been put off so frequently, COVID is laying bare CRE’s technological limitations again. By and large, buildings are not the highly adaptive and dynamic spaces they need to be to respond to large shifts in occupancy patterns or sudden changes around indoor air quality concerns — and they certainly cannot easily be controlled remotely.

Investing in technology that improves visibility into operations and unlocks new data for operators will not only enable smooth implementation of COVID measures today but also reap rewards for post-pandemic resilience. With updated building technologies, investors will be well-equipped to manage planned and unplanned business pivots and disruptions portfolio-wide.

The pandemic has been a useful wake-up call to get building teams to think longer-term about what it takes to be relevant 10-20 years from now — and find new ways to get there. We hope our new-found appreciation for the air we breathe also leads to greater investment in making buildings dependable and healthy places of culture and business. 

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