THE Covid-19 pandemic is changing the way users and owners view the office.
The question now being asked is, how safe is the office?
The pandemic, the halt in economic activities and the stringent lockdown followed by a nervous reopening have forced owners to differentiate their premises, especially in view of the Klang Valley’s oversupply issue.
According to the National Property Information Centre (Napic) earlier this week, there was about 143 million sq ft of purpose-built office space in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor combined as at June 31,2020.
Rental rates and occupancy in the Klang Valley have been under pressure for years. The pandemic has amplified the cracks in the office market, but the need for office space is far from dead.
Even before the pandemic, the oversupply situation had raised concerns, but there was not enough political will to resolve the issue. The entrance of co-working space and the work-from-home trend has once again pushed the issue to the forefront.
But property consultants concur that the office space is far from dead. Instead, the consideration today is how to use the office space. This, in turn, has forced owners to improve safety and security features, with some of them seeking the installation of ultraviolet (UV) rays to disinfect surfaces, says Pureaire Sdn Bhd executive director Soong Peng Soon.
The demand for safety features is evolving as a result of Covid-19. Soong has never been this busy with testing before or being invited to give talks about various green features to improve the office environment.
Usually, the office building owner will install the UV light because a foreign office tenant requests for it, and this will be limited to a small area, he says.
“There were budget constraints before but the pandemic has changed this, ” says Soong.
A mechanical engineer by training, and a Green Building Index (GBI)-registered commissioning specialist, Soong says Menara TCM, 215 Jalan Tun Razak is the only office building which is fully installed with UV lamps.
Every floor in Menara TCM has two air-handling units (AHU). Each AHU has a custom-made UV lamp.
“We are going to set an official testing procedure starting with Menara TCM, ” he says.
There is a need for commissioning specialists to verify and test the efficiency and effectiveness of some of the so-called green features installed as demand grows, he says.
GBI is the Malaysian standard, BCA Green Mark is Singapore’s and LEEDS, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Standards, is American.
Maxis Tower near the KL City Centre is the second office building to request for UV lamp installation. It is not known if it is seeking full installation of UV lamps.
A Petaling Jaya mall which opened at the end of 2016/17 has also installed this UV feature together with other companies, a warehouse and a hospital.
Soong says Menara TCM also has a built-in automatic system which signals when the UV intensity drops below 30%. UV lamp lifespans vary.
“Excluding overtime, the normal industrial standard working hours is 2,700 hours per year. For Menara TCM, we plan to recheck and ‘re-lamp’ the UV light every 1,000 hours, which is about every six months.”
He says the building has an advanced automation system that tracks the UV running hours for “re-lamping purposes”.
This automation system also reports immediately to operation personnel if the UV light is faulty in, he says.
Soong says the UV lamp was previously, and essentially, more for industrial use.
“Budget is not a factor because it is an industrial requirement, for example, in food industries and pharmaceuticals. But we are seeing offices and a mall seeking this safety feature today.
Soong says Menara TCM has also installed an electric air filter to remove dust in the air stream to the size of 2.5 microns, about 4% the size of a human hair, what Soong calls “ultra filtration”.
Dust of that size can travel thousands of kilometres. We have experienced this many times when there is open burning in another country, he says.
Green technology is ever changing and involves heavy and continuous investment by building owners. In its early days, consultants were hired but they did not have the equipment, training or experience to test and verify their efficiency.
This led to wastage at best, or white elephants at worst, he says. There are also fake products out there. Precisely because it is a new technology, there needs to be trained commissioning specialists, he says.
Some UV lamps can be left switched on for the entire day unlike Menara TCM where the UV lamps are to be switched off after 10 to 20 minutes.
“Therefore, two factors govern its effectiveness – intensity and duration of use, ” says Soong.
Social distancing is effective under certain circumstances. In an office environment, nobody knows who had used that meeting room or sat in that chair. This is where continuous need for disinfection comes in.
Menara TCM belongs to Tong Ah Co Sdn Bhd, which is involved in the liqueur business.
Like other businesses diversifying into the property sector, the family converted the former family home at 215 Jalan Tun Razak into a 32-storey Grade A office block.
Just before the conversion, the restaurant Bombay Palace was located there, and prior to that, a kindergarten.
Tong Ah Co managing director Tay Chong Shek says the family is aware of the oversupply situation.
His late father, who wanted to leave behind a legacy, had commented that “year-after-year, there were reports of an oversupply”.
So, despite the abundance of office space, the family went ahead. Tay says his grandfather had arrived from China in the early 1900s. Menara TCM carries the initials of his grandfather Tay Chek Meng.