The long-staid world of HVAC is suddenly in the spotlight.

With research showing the coronavirus may spread through shared air, property managers are rushing to upgrade heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems before reopening buildings. That’s leading to costly upgrades for equipment that armies of professionals used to take for granted.

Building specialists are poring over how well heavy-duty filters block microbes and considering whether to install systems that use ultraviolet light or electrically charged particles in the ductwork to kill the virus. Companies including Honeywell International Inc., Carrier Global Corp. and Trane Technologies Plc are benefiting from the surge in demand, offering everything from air-monitoring sensors to portable filter machines to help make up for deficiencies in ventilation.

“Every building is going to have some kind of solution. Is it going to be 100%? No,” said Hani Salama, head of the New York chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association. “But it’s going to be better than what they have now, and will help mitigate some of these airborne transmission issues that everybody is afraid of.”

Much of the concern for buildings has been centered on whether the virus can spread through surfaces, prompting remedies such as new cleaning procedures, gallons of hand sanitizer and touchless doors and bathroom fixtures. However, more than 200 researchers have urged the World Health Organization to recognize the disease can spread through air currents.

A study this spring led by researchers at the University of Oregon found the presence of the virus in a quarter of HVAC systems in hospitals that treated Covid-19 patients. The findings suggest the potential for transmission from shared air from locations separate from the infected person, the authors said.

Not all experts agree. The virus would be diluted and decayed even if it were to get into the air ducts, making them ineffective conduits, said Edward Nardell, a Harvard University professor who researches airborne transmission. He’s more concerned with people returning to buildings with inadequate air circulation, which can allow the virus to linger in a room.

For building owners, the trade-offs abound. It’s best to let in more fresh air, but that puts a strain on cooling or heating. Dense filters that trap more microbes are coveted, yet can choke off airflow and worsen ventilation if a building’s fans aren’t powerful enough. And most solutions require more energy consumption.

Building-safety products are proving to be a bright spot for sales at companies like Honeywell, which has technology for “frictionless entry,” automatic temperature-taking and sensors that monitor air quality. Carrier, which specializes in HVAC and reports earnings this week, has seen its stock more than double since its separation in March from the former United Technologies Corp.

“We’re seeing a very huge demand,” said Manish Sharma, chief technology officer for Honeywell’s building technologies unit. “Everyone wants to see how you can get back to business.”

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