How real estate works for better air quality in the new normal

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IN this so-called new normal that we are currently in, we’ve had to adjust to so many new ways of living—such as wearing masks and physically distancing ourselves from people in public.

More than these, however, the need to keep ourselves and our surroundings clean and sanitized is never more emphasized than now.

Last week, I wrote about air quality in our properties and how it is crucial to maintain it, especially during this pandemic. Although the clamor for keeping condominiums, hotels, and hospitals clean and sanitized has always been there even before Covid-19, we have become more vigilant about it. And this includes something we may be taking for granted because it is something we cannot see: Indoor Air Quality or IAQ. 

IAQ is the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially related to the health and comfort of building occupants. As I stated in my previous column, we should not take IAQ for granted because a low level of IAQ can affect our health, leading to conditions such as aggravated asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung and heart diseases, and respiratory allergies. It can even affect mood and concentration.

Some of my friends in the property industry shared their thoughts on how important IAQ is in current times, especially now that we are doing our best to manage the Covid-19 situation. Property developers and managers shared their insights on air quality and how to achieve it, especially in an era of health and safety consciousness.

“The attention now is really to place much premium on disease prevention and stopping the contamination,” shared Gerold Fernando, executive director of Transactions and Advisory Services of KMC, a real-estate services firm.  “Employees are a huge chunk of the human population and so all measures must pivot toward securing the well-being of the people, particularly the occupiers.”

“Indoor air quality has become a major concern in light of the pandemic situation. Depending on the building’s type of mechanical system, there are multiple ways to increase indoor air quality including installing UV [ultraviolet] lighting systems in your air-con ducts, having air purifiers and using ionizers,” explained Delfin C. Wenceslao, CEO of D.M. Wenceslao and chairman  of  Urban Land Institute (ULI).  “For us, ensuring that continuous fresh air is supplied in our buildings’ enclosed and usable areas is still the most important way to maintain air quality.”

The importance of IAQ was also noted by Philip Mareschal, head of Property and Asset Management of JLL Philippines, especially since people spend significant time indoors at their offices. “The Covid-19 virus has put in the forefront the discussion having a good IAQ. Some easy ways of improving IAQ are getting indoor plants, use of air purifiers, cleaning and sanitizing your HVAC air ducts regularly, as well as checking building materials and furnishings.”  

The advantage of air purifiers is that property managers, landlords, and even tenants can have good IAQ even in areas with poor natural air quality or properties that have not been originally designed with air quality in mind. State-of-the-art air purifiers like AtmosAir can be used in hospitals, office buildings, condominiums and residences. These systems have been able to actively reduce bacteria and dust particles, and other pathogens. 

Sylvester Wong, vice president for Strategy, Development, and Cities at AECOM Asia Pacific, a global infrastructure firm, also stated how IAQ has figured into their work and living spaces.  “The quality of our work and living spaces has always been of high priority, which has guided not only our air circulation and interior office design and greening, but also the choice of materials and their potential emissions,” Sylvester noted.  He said that the factors they consider when it comes to indoors are flexibility in work hours, size of floorplates, space for employees, contained and compartmentalizable control, and access to fresh air.

For Christophe Vicic, Country Head of JLL Philippines, employee safety is important, and it is something that employers and their staff should plan and coordinate on. “Our priority is to ensure that protocols are fully defined. There’s no room for inaccuracies and there is no such as thing as  enough when it comes to reminding your employees on what needs to be done when saving lives are at stake,” Christophe stressed.

According to Rick Santos, chairman and CEO of Santos Knight Frank, a real-estate services and advisory firm, Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) is a major consideration today in real-estate. “Healthy buildings have gone from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have,’” Rick mused. “Clean indoor air, good lighting, thermal comfort, acoustics, and ergonomic furniture all contribute to creating an atmosphere that impact the well-being and health of employees and tenants.”

He added that even before Covid-19, they have seen a rising number of building owners and occupiers who have sought their help in enhancing their IEQ. The pandemic has only accelerated this trend.

As we continue to take on the new normal in the coming days, more challenges are to come, many that we may not have expected. It is important to prepare and not to take for granted our health and safety, especially when it comes to elements like IAQ. May we take our lessons from these real-estate leaders to take the measures they have suggested into our lifestyles, as we continue the battle with Covid-19 in our communities.

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