With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were forced to close their doors and send their employees home. But what happens to the building during that time and how do we transition toward getting people back in the office?
Systems to Check Before Employees Come Back
Stagnant water becomes a cesspool for microbial hazards in buildings. Mold can also be a common issue when there is prolonged inactivity. In fact, mold can begin to grow within days under the right conditions, and water contaminants can become hazardous in just a few weeks depending on the building’s plumbing.
To help prevent mold, keep the indoor humidity no higher than 50% during closure. When occupants return, first have the building inspected for mold or excess moisture. For stagnant water remediation, make sure the water heater is properly maintained by determining the best way to maintenance it from the equipment manufacturer after prolonged period of disuse. Flush the building’s water system by running hot and cold water through all points of use, like bathroom or kitchen sinks. Other water using devices, like ice makers or coffee machines, should be flushed and cleaned as well.
If the building’s HVAC has been minimally operated or shut down, facility operators, owners and building managers should go through a startup process and functionally test the HVAC systems as if the system is being started up for the first time.
There are several ways to go about this, one is by using the ASHRAE 180-2018, Standard Practice for the Inspection and Maintenance of Commercial Building HVAC Systems. It would be best to consult with the design engineer of record and a licensed HVAC service provider to address known issues, system deficiencies and any maintenance that has been deferred.
The second way is to contract out for an airflow study, which is an assessment of the entire HVAC system. It checks pressurization, cleanliness, and ventilation rates throughout the entire building. The study can help determine root problems before they become a setback in operations. You can find a more detailed breakdown of airflow studies here.
The third option is to have the building recommissioned - or retro-commissioning if the building was never commissioned to begin with. Commissioning is an all-inclusive process, meaning it will not only cover the HVAC system, but the electrical systems, chillers, plumbing and piping, and the building envelope. A commissioning agent would be contracted to prepare a commissioning plan for the building, and they would oversee the functional performance testing. The Commissioning Agent would also collaborate directly with the building owner, any maintenance personnel, the original design engineer, and equipment manufacturers.
Plant and Machinery
Regular maintenance or CAPEX projects might have been put on hold with the uncertainty of the economy. Now that facilities are getting up and running again, Facility Managers should appoint a competent person to carry out re-commissioning inspections to ensure that all equipment is operating as intended in the original design. This is especially important if the equipment did not go through a proper decommissioning.