Less shared air?
July 29, 2020 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Apartment search if prioritizing covid safety – no shared HVAC, private entrance if possible, low enough in the building you can take stairs not elevator – what else?

If a current U.S. apartment seeker's first priority is minimizing covid exposure and second priority is isolation from other people's noise/music, is this list in the right order?

1) ideal: shares no enclosed airspace with anyone (freestanding unit such as a house or converted separate garage)

2) next best: does NOT share hvac with other units, but DOES have shared lobby/hallways

3) less good: DOES share hvac with other units, but does NOT share lobby/hallways (private entrance from the outdoors)

4) not good: shares both hvac AND lobby/hallways with other units
5) not good: on a high floor (daily elevator use)

6) least good: inside a house with no private entrance (you pass through the interior airspace of someone's home in order to enter yours)
posted by kalapierson to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Another consideration: Shared laundry vs. in-unit washer and dryer
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:21 PM on July 29 [9 favorites]

personally I'd rather pass through a house that has one or two other people in it, whom I know and whose condition and activities I can see; than share HVAC with people that I don't even know who they are.

But I guess it depends a lot on the arrangement, i.e. if there is a private ensuite bathroom, or a way of avoiding a shared kitchen. (If not, then the shared house becomes much more of a problem and probably moves down the list to where you put it.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:22 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]

private/personal outdoor space?
posted by TDIpod at 1:36 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]

Windows that open so that you can ventilate the place yourself with outside air. Bonus points if you can get a cross draft, e.g. windows that are not on the same wall, nor obstructed.

Control over HVAC so that you can shut down any shared air if it does exist. In a pinch you could close and seal the heating vents and bring in your own heater during a bad peak in the pandemic. Consider also covering your vents with filters that do not block heat or air but would block any large droplets of moisture that might carry the virus.

Covered balcony, for sleeping outside or nursing yourself if you do become ill. Electric outlet on balcony or terrace for heater/fan/lights etc. an additional bonus.

Non-dense housing with fewer people per unit so if your neighbours do become ill they are more likely to have less serious cases.

Proximity to grocery delivery and other services. Reception area for deliveries other than a shared vestible. Private mail reception another bonus.

Parking. If fewer people in your building are taking public transit fewer of them will get infected and potentially spread it to you.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:41 PM on July 29

I would prioritize no shared HVAC over no common space.
posted by Automocar at 1:49 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]

Mail room vs outdoor mailboxes, open catwalks and breezeways vs enclosed stairways
posted by assenav at 2:24 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]

This might be obvious but it depends on the kind of heating. I would feel fine (from a COVID perspective, at least) in a building where there's shared radiant heating (like steam or hot water radiators) since it doesn't circulate *air* between spaces.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:33 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]

In my opinion, the major factors that matters in apartment searching is income - ie rent in a higher income place and secondly, don't have any roommates. A slightly more distant 3rd is be young and mostly around the young.

Income is the biggest differential in both covid risk and likelihood of recovery in the United States, coupled with low interpersonal density. IE, living in a one-bedroom in a big apartment building is way safer than living in a single-family home with your family and living with extended family makes it worse.

There are way too many buildings with shared A/C and heating systems and if that really was a major transmission factor, the sickness profile would be very very different.

Here's a good chart:
APM Research Lab

Unfortunately the things that keep you statistically safer from covid are in conflict with noise, to some degree (young) but that's the way it goes.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:57 PM on July 29

Totally, an older building with radiators would be ideal, both for sound reduction (thicker walls than modern construction) and for heating.

(I might have used "HVAC" imprecisely – by shared HVAC, I meant shared forced-air heat/AC.)

To answer other questions:
– area in question is decently mask-compliant, non-dense, and full of uncrowded outdoor spaces;
– roommates are no factor / this is definitely a search for a self-contained unit;
– none of the area's housing stock is modern highrises where the windows don't open (great point about that, though)

Thank you all so far!
posted by kalapierson at 3:04 PM on July 29

For what it’s worth, I’m not sure about what you mean by ‘shared HVAC’ but no air conditioners in well-designed buildings should be able to (re)circulate air between different dwellings—the intake may be common, but it’s usually on a roof, the whole point of a well designed system is to prevent recirculation (and especially of aerosols, fumes and droplets!). If droplet/aerosol transmission through HVAC were common you’d see more buildings getting slammed with Legionnaire’s, rather than COVID.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:51 PM on July 29 [5 favorites]

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