Air and water purification firm Clear Inc. began as Gil Blutrich’s mission to address sick building syndrome.
“The whole idea started with a personal situation when my daughter got sick (10 years ago) with a chronic digestive disease. We understood from the doctors it was because of biological contamination in drinking water,” says Blutrich.
The Toronto-based real estate developer began investigating water and air quality in buildings and became convinced there is a major public health issue in North America.
In 2019 he founded Clear, which provides water and air purification systems for commercial buildings. Now the business is ramping up at a time when health and air quality are top of mind as building owners and their tenants grapple with pandemic and climate change air quality issues.
A subscription business
The firm operates on a subscription basis. Clear owns the equipment, does the installation, provides maintenance and parts replacement and charges a monthly fee.
Blutrich says he chose subscription because as a developer and real estate owner himself he wouldn’t want the headache of being sold an expensive system and left alone with it.
A subscription system means there’s no capital cost to developers. The fee for 300 condos in a tower should be around $3,000 which means $10 per unit, says Blutrich.
The Clear equipment can be used in existing properties as well as new projects.
Clear has installed its system in the Vogue Hotel in Montreal where it is up and running.
Toronto-based Lifetime Developments signed a strategic partnership with the firm in March to employ the Clear system in future projects. And Blutrich says his private development company will put the systems into a planned hotel in Toronto and two projects in Miami.
How water purification technology works
Ryan Merkur, chief operating officer and vice president of sales for Clear, says the technology being used for water purification is the same technology used by drink manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.
Water entering the main pipe of the building is treated with UV sterilization. No chemicals are added to the water. Merkur says the equipment kills 99.97 per cent of viruses, pathogens and bacteria.
It does not filter particulate or sediment.
Merkur says cities do a fine job of water treatment at central facilities.
“The problem is most of our cities have 75 year-old-pipes … Every year they replace sections but it’s an imperfect solution. The result is redundancy. They send the treated water through pipes that are reintroducing bacteria and that’s what is coming into our buildings,” he says.
Air purification technology and data
The air purification side of the system involves wall-mounted units in public areas of buildings which receive little airflow, such as corridors, elevators, lobbies and amenities.
Clear custom designs its system to ensure proper coverage based on square footage and airflow, Merkur says.
The system includes sensors monitoring water and air quality throughout the building and the information is displayed for residents.
“On our back end we’re able to track the system, with access to all the technology to see if there are any alerts. We track 24/7 through our remote connection,” says Merkur.
Blutrich says Clear will provide the data collected by its systems free to research institutions to boost research into indoor water and air indicators and health.
The firm has fewer than 10 employees but with subcontractors, there are about 40 people working on the technology and execution, says Blutrich.
Interest in Clear’s offerings is high, especially because of the pandemic, he says.
In the past real estate owners were interested in nice lifestyle, a nice view and finishes in the kitchens.
“I think it is moment in history we are starting to understand better how important it is to live in buildings that keep us healthier,” says Blutrich.