May 26, 2020
By Dennis Kaiser
Workplaces and businesses across the country are turning an eye toward reopening buildings and facilities following COVID-19 shut-downs. The process will require a bit of strategy and planning, depending on how long or how much of the systems were shut down. Seattle-based McKinstry launched new service offering designed to help building owners and operators ensure their facilities are ready to safely reopen for occupants. As part of a free consultation, the company will evaluate indoor air quality, ventilation, temperature, humidity, mechanical systems and water quality following CDC, ASHRAE and OSHA guidance. McKinstry’s team of experts will then provide a tailored assessment based on each building’s unique needs.
Connect Media asked the company’s Adam Gloss to share insights from its perspective as a building designer, constructor, operator and maintenance firm. Check out his responses in our latest 3 CRE Q&A.
Q: Many people are wondering what it will look like when we all return to work in buildings that have been mostly vacant for weeks or even months. How do we get our buildings – particularly our HVAC systems – ready so occupants can return with confidence?
A: Reopening requires specific procedures to ensure the health and safety of all occupants. Even buildings that have remained operational need to be assessed, retuned and reprogrammed to minimize the spread of illnesses like COVID-19. As part of our new “Return with Confidence” service, our team of experts will assess a building and create a custom action plan. For example, we’ll evaluate indoor air quality, ventilation, temperature, humidity, mechanical systems and water quality following CDC, ASHRAE and OSHA guidance. Action plans may include measures to reassure and inform occupants on steps taken to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria, ranging from simple building signage, to comprehensive dashboards that engage building occupants to remind them to follow proper social distancing and handwashing protocol, wear proper protection equipment, and more.
Q: What are some steps building owners should take from an air filtration or ventilation perspective?
A: For air filtration, we recommend performing a physical inspection of filters for loading, damage and gaps where air can bypass, sealing any air gaps. Since building occupancy will ramp up slowly and initially no buildings will be at full capacity, there is no need to have total system airflow at full capacity. If you must keep high occupancy spaces operational (e.g., restaurants, conference rooms and meeting spaces, etc.), consider localized filtration and ensure the system is sized appropriately for the space it is serving. In addition, if your ventilation system has been off for an extended period, posture your HVAC system to perform a building flush with clean filters in place. Lastly, once your system is up and running, keep your ventilation system running 24/7 (at lower ventilation rates during unoccupied times) to ensure any virus-laden particles have the maximum chance of being exhausted out of the building.
Q: You mentioned evaluating water quality. What’s the importance of doing so when reopening buildings?
A: The CDC has issued guidance advising building owners to test water before people return, and to have a plan in place to test water and maintain water quality. Time and temperature are natural enemies to chlorine levels in water that keep bacteria from blooming. When water is stagnant and warm, it is ideal for Legionella growth. Testing can tell you whether your water quality has deteriorated and whether bacteria is present. In an overabundance of caution, the CDC recommends building owners take the step of flushing the system to ensure the bacteria, biofilm build-up and stagnant water is removed, and chlorine levels are appropriate to keep blooms from developing. There are no states mandating this precautionary step yet, but I imagine in the wake of the recent shutdowns that many will take up the cause.
For comments, questions or concerns, please contact Dennis Kaiser