Health experts have made it clear that the easiest way to contract COVID-19 is to come into close contact for an extended period of time with an unmasked individual who has the virus. But the extent to which the virus can be transmitted through the air is still a little unknown. With reports that COVID-19 can indeed be spread in shared-air environments, many commercial property owners are now facing potentially crippling costs in an effort to make their buildings safer. And those who haven't yet begun the process may be in for a huge financial shock.
The high cost of safer air
Outdated HVAC systems can pose a health hazard to commercial tenants not just during the current pandemic, but also in general. But the cost of replacing an HVAC system is nothing to scoff at. For a smaller building, the price tag can land anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000. For larger buildings, property owners may have to shell out $1 million or more for a proper system.
Of course, that's not necessarily the route commercial property owners need to take. Many may be able to get by with HVAC upgrades -- a less costly and cumbersome endeavor than ripping out existing systems and replacing them completely. For the most part, upgrading means better filtration. Specifically, commercial property owners can look to update their filters to those with the highest MERV ratings. The higher the MERV rating, the better a job a filter does at trapping unhealthy particles.
Another more cost-effective option than completely overhauling a commercial HVAC system is
bipolar ionization. With this method, a device is retrofitted into an HVAC unit that uses electrically charged atoms to knock down air particles so people don't breathe in those particles. Bipolar ionization devices can cost around $1,500 a piece, but that's just a ballpark figure.
Of course, some of these methods could put an additional strain on HVAC systems, leading to worse ventilation -- the opposite of what you want during the coronavirus pandemic. And many of these solutions are apt to result in additional energy consumption, which is a cost commercial property owners may need to bear in full.
Smaller measures can also add up
Many commercial property owners don't have the financial means to swap out their HVAC systems for newer, completely upgraded setups. But there are other relatively inexpensive ways to keep buildings safe. For example, commercial property owners can look at placing portable air cleaners or purifiers in strategic locations, like lobbies. And encouraging tenants to open windows doesn’t hurt, either.
A worthwhile investment
Despite the potentially astronomical cost of improving HVAC systems in commercial buildings, it's an expense worth bearing. Commercial property owners should consult with health and HVAC experts to determine the best course of action for their buildings before sinking money into upgrades that may not be necessary. At the same time, these property owners should be prepared to spend what could be a lot of money in a short period of time. As more and more companies start bringing employees back to the office, they'll need some sort of reassurance that they're not compromising their workers' safety, and commercial property owners will need to step up in that regard.