Even prior to the Covid-19 crisis, sick building syndrome — often caused by poor air quality, chemical contaminants or volatile organic compounds — was a scourge for many office workers. As more became known about why people working in certain buildings became chronically ill, it led to a wellness push that saw trendy innovations like plant-covered walls pop up in many offices, especially co-working spaces that strive to attract entrepreneurs and startups.
But the key to healing a sick building lies in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, and according to a major commercial property landlord in the Tampa Bay area, upgrading HVAC ain’t cheap.
“We’ve spent mid six figures across our portfolio,” Feldman Equities Vice President Mack Feldman told the Catalyst. “Landlords may be reluctant to invest in improving HVAC because it’s not visible. It’s not something you can put in a marketing brochure to drive leasing.”
Feldman Equities manages several office buildings in St. Petersburg, including the First Central tower at 360 Central Ave. Feldman, the son of CEO Larry Feldman, specializes in asset management and said now’s not the time to pinch pennies when it comes to promoting healthy workspaces. But money isn’t the only issue — it’s supply.
“Everyone in the world is ordering HVAC filtration,” he said. “Getting manufacturers to prioritize you has really been the challenge.”
Feldman Equities thinks it has hit upon a HVAC winner in the form of REME HALO, a filtration device made by RGF Environmental Group in Riviera Beach. It attaches to the exterior of an air duct and its filtration cell extends into the duct itself. Feldman said it’s unique among all the products his team tested because it eliminates microbials, odors and particulates in the air.
REME HALO uses a process known as ionization to clean the air that’s moving through a building, Feldman said.
“It electrically charges the air in a way that doesn’t just kill viruses, but it’ll capture dust, dander, pollen, even mold spores and small insects,” he explained. “And the beauty of this system is that it’s not just a UV light system, which is what a lot of other landlords across the country are doing. That’s germicidal, but ionization paired with a UV system will go after all sorts of other airborne pollutants, even smells, any sort of organic smells.”
Feldman said his company’s office in Tampa is right next door to a café in the building, and so it always smelled like fried food. Upgrading the HVAC system led him to immediately notice an improvement in the smell and general quality of the air.
Because of the sheer volume of office space that it controls in Tampa Bay, Feldman Equities was able to get large orders of the REME HALO devices filled more quickly than smaller landlords that don’t have as much purchasing power. Feldman said the company is installing the devices in all high-traffic common areas on a floor-by-floor basis depending on whether tenants request them. And he’s firmly of the belief that having an upgraded HVAC system will be a powerful marketing tool in the post-Covid commercial property sector.
“We’re going to put up signs in the lobby,” he said, “to let tenants know, ‘Hey, we’re doing something different than any other landlord in town to make it a little bit safer, a little bit more comfortable, to come back to the building.’”