How Fresh Air Became the Must-Have Home Upgrade

Candace Jackson
·3 mins read
Photo credit: Courtesy Kar Properties
Photo credit: Courtesy Kar Properties

From Town & Country

There are lots of things that can make a home stand out, but the air indoors typically isn’t one of them. But now, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, developers, real estate agents, and architects are betting on formerly unsexy wish list items like hospital-grade HVAC systems and germ-zapping UV filters. “People are spending more time at home,” says Adam Sires, a Beverly Hills broker with Nourmand & Associates. “Before, these systems were something that was a want. Now they’re becoming something that’s a need.”

It used to be that the bespoke Molteni range in the kitchen and the Amy Sherald painting above the sofa gave you bragging rights. Today you’ve got to drag your guests to the control room to show off the latest status symbols, like a Zehnder ventilation unit or the UV light that’s connected to your HVAC.

Photo credit: Courtesy 111 Murray Street
Photo credit: Courtesy 111 Murray Street

A penthouse in Los Angeles was recently redesigned to include tandem UV light filters that claim to kill mold and 99.9 percent of germs, and get rid of harmful chemicals. It’s on the market for $23.9 million. At 111 Murray Street in Manhattan there are two penthouses with closed-loop HVAC systems that filter fresh air from the rooftop and don’t let it mingle with the rest of the building’s. An electronic UV air filter helps get rid of viral particles, according to developers.

Greg Malin, CEO of San Francisco’s Troon Pacific, has been building wellness-centric high-end homes for years. He typically installs an air exchange system that switches out the air in a home between eight and 12 times a day, and a MERV-13 filter, a system more often found in a clinical setting, to scrub it clean. Today he’s considering upgrading to more powerful MERV-16 filters. “The better your air,” says Malin, “the better you perform as a person.”

But how do you market something as ethereal as air? “We talk about the glossy stuff, the family room, the pool, and the kitchen,” says Rayni Williams, a Los Angeles real estate agent. “We don’t usually talk about the inner workings.” Now she and potential buyers discuss a larger wellness message, and it’s not a tough sell; after difficult wildfire seasons in California, many homeowners had been giving air quality serious consideration even before Covid.

Another reason builders install souped-up air filters is that newer, energy-efficient homes are often built to be airtight. To mitigate that, systems that intentionally replace air regularly are necessary, says architect Chris Ward. “I’ve always thought fresh air was way more important.”

Dean Blumberg, the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis, agrees. He says increasing indoor air exchanges is a good idea, but he adds that it’s hard to pinpoint what level of filtration is effective. “I would categorize this as an emotional decision,” he says. “But if it makes people feel better, it’s worth doing.”

This story appears in the September 2020 issue of Town & Country. Subscribe Now

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