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How to create safe schools, offices with proper ventilation during the coronavirus pandemic

As students, educators and employers look to return to school and the workplace, proper air quality and ventilation systems remain top of mind. Dan Diehl, Aircurity CEO, joins Yahoo Finance's The First Trade with Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi to discuss.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: A data-driven approach to ventilation, that's what Aircurity aims to do is it helps buildings get up to code for employees to head back to work. The CEO Dan Diehl joins us now. Dan, your company is not a startup. It's been around for the past 20 years doing ventilation systems, such as-- that you have in your portfolio. But how has the pandemic changed your business the past three to six months?

DAN DIEHL: Well, we've been very busy, thankfully, helping our existing customers and also talking to a lot of new customers who are trying to get people back to work, back to research, back to health care institutions, et cetera, K through 12, into healthy buildings, feeling safe and comfortable. And as it's been widely talked about, ventilation and improved air quality is a topic that is top of mind. And as I just was telling someone this morning, the great news is is that it can be done. We've been doing this in critical environments, in our industry term, for laboratories and operating rooms for 20 years, and everybody knows you can't accurately control what you don't measure.

So the Harvard School of Public Health and other industry institutions have healthy building parameters that we monitor. Carbon monoxide and dioxide are very commonly known, but humidity and volatile organic compounds, like harmful gases, and small particles, which carry pathogens and can even bypass the human immune system and go deep into your lungs. This is what carries COVID-19, and it's really causes many other healthy building problems.

And so we manage these and control these in critical environments. We've done so for 20 years, and we can do it in these other environments-- K through 12, commercial offices, et cetera. It's a about making ventilation management a priority and healthy buildings a priority and the Harvard School of Public Health. And I think the industry now has really woken up to the fact that we can do this. We must do this. And even beyond COVID, providing healthy, safe working and learning environments has to be a priority for-- I think for the industry and for the world. And it's clear, if you look at the economic impact, I think it's a given at this point.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Dan, you have a lot of big name clients, including Google and Amazon. You talked about universities and hospitals as well. How many new customers have you brought on during this pandemic? And I'm also wondering about cost. What is the real cost for a business to have a filtration system like yours?

DAN DIEHL: Excellent question. And cost is actually very achievable. There-- when you manage ventilation, you're actually-- there is a cost to operate the building. You're moving air-- large amounts of air with fans and heating and cooling that air and moving it through a building. And especially as you start to increase the amount of ventilation that goes through there, the cost can be-- can increase.

So to do this intelligently is very important because you can actually help people with their operating costs. But also to do it intelligently informs the building owners and operators and a lot of other constituents-- environment health and safety, infectious control personnel, and even occupants now who are concerned about this-- as to what the quality of the environment that they're working or learning in is. And so there can be a return on investment for this for building operators. And obviously, getting people back into buildings is a return on their business investment, which is undeniable.

And I think, you know, all of these buildings, this can be done. And you'll see that ventilation, improved air filtration, and improved air-- fresh air-- are really the cornerstones of providing healthy building, along with the other parameters that I mentioned earlier.

BRIAN SOZZI: Dan, how long does it take to completely retrofit a building or an office space?

DAN DIEHL: That varies by the size, obviously, but it's not that complex. We do a lot of new construction projects, but probably 3/4 of our business is what we call retrofit of existing spaces. We sit over top of the buildings HVAC and control systems, and we integrate them. We work with all of them in an open way, and we provide them a smart ventilation management signal to increase ventilation or direct more air where and when needed. And that process can take as short as a month, a month and a half.

But you know, for a larger building, it could take up to three to four months for an existing building. It depends how much of the building you're trying to cover, and it depends, obviously, of the size. We do 1 million square foot, 3 million square foot commercial office spaces, but we also work in 100,000 square foot, you know, school districts and commercial office spaces as well.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: What's the single most important thing a business, a school can do to have better air quality right away for people-- so-- because a lot of people are coming back to the office and/or school in the coming weeks.

DAN DIEHL: Yeah, well, you really want to understand what's happening in your facility. The very first thing, as I mentioned before, is increase the amount of ventilation, fresh-air ventilation, as much as the system can allow. And also improve the air filtration. You're hearing a lot of talk-- not that this isn't common knowledge-- but like a MERV filtration, most residential units use lower particle filters. You really want to increase that filtration as much as you possibly can that a system will allow. And that might take an expert-- an engineering expert-- to help you understand that if it's a large building.

But there-- improving those two things are the cornerstones. Then there's other technologies that can be added onto that if problems still exist or if you're trying to get to the next level of purity, if you will, in terms of the environment. But ventilation, improved filtration is going to go a long way. And again, measuring it all and being able to validate that that's working I think is a critical aspect of doing this intelligently.