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Why Investment in IAQ Will Persist Beyond COVID

Daniel Talero
Apr 12, 2022

Corp Governance

As the COVID pandemic wanes in intensity in developed economies and across the globe, employers are considering how to bring back at least some of their workforce to the office. New research from Honeywell and Guidehouse suggests that indoor air quality (IAQ) is emerging as a key condition for returning to work as a baseline expectation for many employees across different industries. HVAC vendors should understand these trends to direct investment toward market demand. 

IAQ Is Here to Stay

COVID might have permanently changed the culture of work. A study of 10,000 employees by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago found that the majority felt they were more productive working from home than at the office. What then can motivate a return to the office for the approximately 25% of the workforce than can work from home, and create a more secure environment for the 75% that cannot? 

Schools may have part of the answer. School COVID recovery funds remain and more investment is likely in facilities and operations, notably into large HVAC and ventilation systems. According to FutureED, these investments are needed to improve the learning environment, help control flu transmission, and make disease-related closures less likely in the future. COVID effectively raised the bar in schools—initial concerns about transmission prevention have developed into concerns for improved overall quality of life inside buildings, with better IAQ an integral element.

These standards are likely to enter the office environment. According to a recent national Honeywell study, some 82% of office worker respondents are concerned about IAQ, with 62% of respondents saying they would quit if their employer did not take necessary measures to create a healthier indoor environment that promotes well-being. 

HVAC Vendor Recommendations

This data aside, different commercial verticals have different HVAC system and IAQ solution buyer price sensitivity, product awareness, and education about features and benefits. According to recent research by Guidehouse Insights, the following trends can be generalized: 

  • Residential leasing: Greater buyer interest in improving tenant relations/rents through IAQ investment and occupant health (e.g., senior communities, assisted living), and likely lower interest in public IAQ metrics
  • Retail: Higher price sensitivity for IAQ solutions, less control of centralized air system investment in chain stores located in shopping centers, and more demand for point solutions rather than large central upgrades
  • Commercial leasing: Greater interest in improving tenant relations/rents through good IAQ and achieving high building performance standards; greater buyer willingness to pay for premium solutions in central air handling system upgrades but also those perceived as premium, such as UV in-duct air treatment and ionization
  • Indoor agriculture: High focus on system reliability in maintaining growing conditions through proper ventilation and pollutant reduction; greater concern with controlling biological and outdoor air pollutants while maintaining low HVAC costs

Alongside these trends, HVAC contractors are expected to play a key role in expanding the IAQ market, by providing trustworthy information on IAQ and investment strategies that return real building health benefits. For example, many buyers do not yet appreciate the role of improved ventilation, in addition to filtration and air treatment technologies, for IAQ. HVAC vendors should empower their contractor and installer partners with improved resources and training, as well as use industry-specific information to pursue differentiated go-to-market strategies. For more information on trends in IAQ purchasing and healthy buildings investment, see Guidehouse Insights’ Healthy Buildings Hardware for the Post-COVID Era report.