Implications of Covid 19 for Commercial and Residential real estate

Services for Real Estate Pros with John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. 13013

I am writing this not as a medical expert but on this virus's potential architectural impact on the quality and value of residential and commercial real estate.

The most recent understanding is that Covid-19 is most effectively transmitted as an airborne pathogen which can be expelled by coughing, sneezing, loud talking, singing, etc. further than a 6-foot distance to others in a stable environment -- one in which little air movement occurs.  See this article in the Atlantic.

In outdoor areas, there is less chance of being infected.  In areas with much wind movement, it is nearly impossible to transmit as it is diluted by the large volume of air.  This is the clue in order to manage infection indoors.

But our activities are mostly indoors for many hours of the day.  Education, business, restaurants, hospitals, etc.

And unfortunately, the mechanical means by which air is distributed and possibly cleansed are below any current recommended standards to prevent further transmission of Covid-19.

If buildings of all types had constant fresh air intake and a higher volume of air pushed in and evacuated on a regular basis, we would have a better chance of fighting not only Covid-19 but any future airborne viruses, including influenzas and other diseases.

But in order to make outside air 'usable' for indoor working and living, the humidity and temperature at least need to be modified before blowing through ducts and grills.  In some hospitals and allergy defensive systems in private homes, hepa and other filters can reduce particulates.

My guess is that more than 90% of all air conditioning and forced heating for buildings of all occupancies do not have periodic fresh air intake which means the same quality of air is recirculated constantly.  Advanced systems in offices and some residences have programmed fresh air on intervals.

Covid-19 can stay in the air long enough to keep active and continue to infect.  The exact period of time it is potent is not known but simply moving air through registers and ducts in any building where this pathogen is known to be active poses a continual threat to everyone sharing the same AC or heating system. 

Our current machinery in public and private buildings is not designed to run continuously and at high volume, which would be the first step to ward off infection.  In extreme outdoor temperatures of heat and cold, the existing mechanical systems would have to heat the coldest air and cool the hottest constantly and no existing system is designed for that. 

In fact, unless every mechanical system is upgraded for higher volume and continual air intake and recirculation every single building worldwide is nothing but an incubator and no one is really safe.

The costs for retrofitting all existing systems is completely out of practical means, and to mandate future construction with these systems means very high initial costs and outrageously high monthly energy costs.  However, retrofitting with UV light will kill most pathogens in forced-air heating and cooling systems.  They are readily available for most residential applications and probably should be installed to ward off many other potential infections.

Schools, if opening now, will be shut down quickly as the virus will simply move from room to room using the same air conditioning and heating systems and infect the student body.  

If you must go to any public venue, do not stay or linger very long as the ventilation system is basically pushing the same infected air around.

The idea of multi-gen living, as you might suspect, is now an obvious negative as too many people too close to each other for long periods of time under the same roof and breathing the same recirculated air means that everyone will be infected.  Unfortunately, the many small retirement centers and clustered hospital rooms in small clinics with single HVAC systems are susceptible, as we have seen, to virulent activity.

Developers and builders may offer optional upgraded systems in homes and small public buildings but unless the government mandates improved HVAC systems, airborne transmission will continue unabated.  See my in-depth essay here.

Large high rise office buildings tend to generate more heat within than is absorbed from the outer skin and are constantly in a cooling mode.  There are requirements for certain occupancies for upgraded air exchange and this is the key.  Without constant clean air replacing breathed air immediately the chance of infection increases.

Due to the burden of initial cost, operation, and upkeep most new construction will not see the systems required to keep infection in check installed.  

It seems now that only vaccines and other remedial medications will actually slow down or reduce the deadly effects of this virus.

In other news...

Shutdowns or delayed openings in many states and cities have inconvenienced a large number of city dwellers to the point that they are moving to suburban locations and working from second homes or seeking new homes.  Rural areas are seeing a seller's market for homes outside metro areas.  Houses on large lots and acreage are being bought in higher numbers than townhomes and other higher density models. reports: "During the second quarter of the year, suburban home searches by city dwellers in the 100 largest metro areas increased to 51%"

Commercial real estate -- offices and condos -- is seeing a drop in value as the need for business lease space is evaporating as more companies order their workers to stay home and digitally commute.  Those living in high-density condos are also electing to move, at least temporarily, outside of the city limits.  It is turning into a buyer's market now.

For years homes in the United States that have included small work areas and offices, many still do not have a sufficiently private area to allow confidential and acoustically insulated business communications.  With children at home especially, one cannot ideally maintain the image of a work environment.  A workroom for a business should be acoustically insulated at least.  The accessory building market should show an increase.

Final pondering...

It seems that our high tech conditioned indoor world is actually much to blame for any infectious spread of disease.  Ah, to live back in agrarian times where a single house on the hill was charming and preferred in fact to city life...  Going back a few centuries you will find most people lived in drafty houses with little insulation, zero mechanical heat and cooling, fireplaces only.  And people seemed healthier?  Were they?  Those in the countryside apparently escaped the effects of the bubonic plague and probably many other diseases that festered in the large high dense cities.  A few more thoughts on that here. 



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Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi John Henry, Florida Architect - Great insight, especially from your perspective. The great room and open concept may see some changes to include many smaller spaces for families to have their own individual spaces.  Quiet office space and high-tech internet connectivity is also a must. 

I live in an area where we do not have to run the air conditioner all day.  During the evenings, night, and early mornings, the window and sliders are left open to get that fresh air.  I will be more cognizant of this in the future as well. Because of allergies, we also added a "CleanEffects' system to trap microbes electronically.  I am glad I did that now. 

Aug 10, 2020 12:34 PM #1
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

John Henry all I can say is Blah Blah Blah.... even the Global Scientists don't agree, Sweden no Mask few deaths USA lots of masks lots of deaths.... and with that I say since we you and I do not connect or  have been interacting over the past year or so  anyway feel free to delete my comment and me... Endre

Aug 10, 2020 11:21 PM #2
James Dray
Fathom Realty - Bentonville, AR
Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results

Morning John.

Long time no see, I agree with Endre Barath, Jr.   My wife spoke to her doctor.  He told her not even the N-95 mask will help.  All media hype

Aug 11, 2020 01:06 AM #3
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Hello John - thanks for the link to your interesting article.  I have long appreciated the work of Paolo Soleri yet was unaware of Poundbury so thank you for including that reference.     Thought provoking.       

Here's to good health and better living. 

Aug 11, 2020 06:21 AM #4
Kathy Streib
Room Service Home Staging - Delray Beach, FL
Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224

Hi John- there are so many opinions floating around (besides the virus) it's hard to decipher what is true. Even the medical community sends us mixed signals. Larry and i are just doing what we can and still live our lives. 

Aug 11, 2020 02:42 PM #5
Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089
Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers - Haiku, HI
Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info

I have to agree that AC has become a necessary evil in new construction.  Yet as you say, once upon a time we all lived without it.  Homes and buildings were designed to allow air flow, shading, etc.  Now with AC as a quick fix, designers have forgotten how to incorporate these simple elements to make life easier.  I think it's a shame that we rely on AC so much these days.  I can keep my windows open every day of the year and enjoy wonderful clean air at all times... yes we love our country lifestyle with no heating/cooling.  Don't miss that crowded city life at all.

Aug 12, 2020 01:37 PM #6
Jerry Lucas
ABC Legal Docs LLC - Colorado Springs, CO
Mobile Notary Colorado Springs, CO Notary Training

Early in the pandemic, I completed all the online courses in infection control offered on the CDC and WHO websites and some university video courses on bacteria, viruses, pandemics and the immune system.

They are intended for medical professionals but they are free and open to the public. Most are 60 minutes or less and you earn a class certificate when you pass the quiz at the end. I posted all the certificates I received on my website.

I also read and subscribe to professional articles published by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

I used the information from the courses, articles, and OSHA to write an Infection Control Policy for my business. It includes details of bacteria, viruses, expelled moisture droplets from talking, coughing, sneezing, and pollutant particulate sizes and pore sizes of various filters and masks.

WHO has a course on facility design and airflow for infection prevention and control (IPC) at WHO course SARI facilities. Copper is a useful surface material for killing bacteria. Can be used for high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, drawer pulls and cabinet handles. UV-C kills bacteria and viruses and is used in room air purifiers and disinfecting machines. Beware of fake or ineffective UV-C equipment using incorrect UV wavelength.

Aug 12, 2020 10:35 PM #7
Eileen Burns
Trans State Commercial RE Ft. Lauderdale/Miami/Palm Beach - Fort Lauderdale, FL
FL Probate Agent, Hotel & Land Specialist

John Henry, Florida Architect what an insightful blog post   Here is sunny south Florida, metro Fort Lauderdale I live on a golf course that faces east for the tropical breezes in the cool months of the year with cross ventilation.

I installed UV lighting to my HVAC in 2017 and did not have to replace the bulb until this month.  I have my air ducts cleaned every two to three years.


Recently I purchase a cooper mat for the entrance to my condo.  Now I am

purchasing masks that include copper.


I know you will be adding these elemnts in your future designs to help alleviate this bilogical warfare created by China.


Agree with you that country living is the best of both worlds.

Aug 13, 2020 07:00 AM #8
Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate-Kansas City Homes - Kansas City, MO
Experienced Agent in Kansas City Metro area

Interesting read...the lack of fresh air is one reason I never liked extended periods in an office building!  I think this can apply to retail stores as well.  It seems like so many large buildings will sit empty for years and years...retail/restaurants will bail out of the cities as well due to lack of foot traffic from office workers.  Inevivitable changes..

Aug 13, 2020 09:35 AM #9
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hi Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089   Exactly, and you will be safer from any infection living in that beautiful open air environment you have there!  Thanks, JH

Hello Jerry Lucas   You have done a remarkable job reading all the medical literature.  I did not know about copper!!  That is quite interesting.  There are companies who will rent out UV and ozone mobile units to put in your house or you can have at least the UV system installed at the return air to the air handler indoors.  Thank you very much.

Hello Eileen Burns   Oh, if we didn't have dehumidify the air here in Central Florida!  Would love the fresh sea breezes!  Good ideas with the copper and UV.  Stay safe, thank you

Hello Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR   Yes, until some kind of UV and other fixes are incorporated into office buildings, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. then the sum total of all our problems will be a huge outflow of large metro areas into suburbs and lease space sitting empty for months or years.  I see commercial construction grinding to a standstill and residential real estate booming.  It is going to be a 'great migration'.  Of course, modern planners hate that this will happen but if you can't move around in these shut down metro areas, aren't able to go to work, can't see a movie or attend a broadway show, etc. then you are stuck and isolated.  Back to the suburbs and the automobile Americana we have had for so long and seem to work well.  Yes, more infrastructure waste, some pollution, etc. but distancing seems to work.

Aug 15, 2020 09:13 AM #10
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