COVID-19 has not only altered where we work, but also the way we work. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two of the top four ways to contract airborne COVID-19 describe most pre-pandemic buildings and office layouts. Before many states mandated employees to work from home, employees often sat at desks within six feet of each other and conference rooms included stuffy or recirculated air.
Changing those dynamics is just one of the many building operations challenges that facilities managers face in reopening, once work can resume as we knew it before the pandemic. Facilities managers will also have to address dormant spaces, or even entire dormant buildings, where additional challenges may crop up, such as improving and maintaining safe airflow and restoring water quality.
To kick-start your planning for post-COVID-19, Able Services has consolidated lessons learned and building operations best practices from other return-to-work initiatives. Here are some key facets to consider adding to your plan.
Restore Water Quality
“When a large facility sits vacant, you don’t get the flow of water throughout the piping infrastructure,” says Erik Carlson, Engineering Manager with Able Services. “The chlorine levels that are supplied from the city water supply that help to fight legionella or bacterial growth—sometimes that water gets really stagnant.”
To combat this and other risks, ensure the following:
- The water heating system works properly
- All sinks and fountains are cleaned thoroughly
- Hot and cold water systems are flushed through all points of use
Carlson adds, “With some of the facilities we service, we're having to flush the water much more thoroughly than you initially would have thought. So we've teamed up with water treatment partners to create safe water quality.” This is also a great time to update or upgrade your water treatment program to a comprehensive water management program, which helps to minimize risk from systems with little or no use.
Find the Right HVAC Balance
Given the ebb and flow of building occupancy and variable weather conditions, it can be difficult to decide what to do with your HVAC systems. Although turning them off completely saves money, this can also come with risks of mold, bacteria or dust from stagnant air. On the other hand, having air that is too humid creates the risk of mold, even though studies have found that COVID-19 survives longer in a dryer environment.
The Able Services team suggests allowing your HVAC system to run at a non-peak level, which can lower utilities costs while simultaneously reducing the risk of mold. Running at this level can also lead to lower costs in the future when peak performance is needed for resetting the building’s overall temperature.
To help facilities managers find the right balance, each climate region in the U.S. has their own recommended air exchange rates. Consider finding your suggested rate via ASHRAE guidelines, and apply it to your planning.
Reestablish Pest Control
Varying temperatures combined with lower occupancy is likely to encourage pests to move around more in your buildings than they typically do. On the exterior, it can also mean more pests nesting in eaves, ledges and unscreened vents.
Even if you had regular pest control before COVID-19 precautions forced building occupancy rates to drop, use the time before reopening to look for signs of pest activity, clear out obvious and obstructive nesting and cut back overgrown landscaping. Fix any weatherproofing seals and ensure areas that may have been contaminated are repaired and cleaned.
Take the Next Step
We understand that your team is juggling a lot in these uncertain times. Know that there are plenty of resources, best practices and experts available to guide you and your team.
If you want to learn how Able Services can jumpstart your work or lend a hand in some of your special projects, reach out to our team.