It’s been over a year now since coronavirus restrictions closed various commercial buildings. Although the lifting of restrictions has been delayed by another four weeks, the great unlocking will happen – and it’s essential that these dormant venues are opened properly. This is because if a building has been vacant for a while, buildings will have more than COVID protocols to keep in mind.
It will particularly be the shutdown or reduced operation of water and HVAC systems that can cause hazards for returning building users. Such dangers could include mould, Legionella bacteria, and lead or copper contamination from corroded plumbing. Remember, the definition of a “prolonged period” shifts depending on weather conditions, so it’s essential to be cautious.
Ventilation, key for COVID and other hazards
When preparing the building for re-opening, adjusting the HVAC system to boost the ventilation rate is essential. A well-ventilated building isn’t only important for limiting the spread of COVID-19, it also manages humidity and temperature, which contribute to the build-up of contaminants like mould.
Maximizing outside air flow-through while maintaining users’ comfort is a tricky balance, so there may be some teething problems in the early days of the reopening. Engineers might have to adjust the system multiple times a day, so ensure this is communicated to occupants to avoid complaints.
Reopening could also be a good juncture to perform some upgrades on the HVAC system. Engineers recommend MERV-13 or MERV-14 filters are installed before re-occupancy. This will ensure the air is safe and healthy, limiting the concentration of viruses and bacteria like COVID-19 in the atmosphere.
Checking water quality is up to standard
Another essential area to examine before reopening is water quality. The source of poor water quality can come from the plumbing itself. Contamination will depend on whether there are protective scales or coating and the materials used to build the plumbing system.
Standing water can create the conditions ideal for the growth of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires disease. It’s critical to remember that the growth of Legionella depends on various factors, including water temperature, usage patterns, or preexisting colonisation.
Stagnant water can also lead to unsuitable concentrations of disinfectants, like chlorine. Other hazards can include sewer gases that enter the system through dry sewer drain traps. Flushing the building’s water system through every point of use every few days is an effective way to avoid such issues, especially in low occupancy buildings.
Protect users and prepare to unlock
When buildings reopen, mechanical systems and components will require some tuning up. Although maintaining social distancing and hygiene protocols is important, it is crucial that these fundamentals of building management don’t fall by the wayside. Standing water and under-maintained HVAC systems can be sources of nasty infections, posing public health problems of comparable concern to coronavirus.
Considering that many people will be hesitant to return to the workplace and other public spaces, we have to ensure building users feel safe and confident. Creating healthy, high-functioning public buildings is essential to getting the economy up and running – so companies, landlords, and property managers need to do their bit to help us unlock safely.