COVID-19 Closures: Mitigating Damage to Unoccupied Buildings

As states across the U.S. are working to flatten the curve, many businesses are impacted by COVID-19 closures as a result of “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders to limit human interaction and prevent the virus’s spread. Additionally, many companies across the country have opted to temporarily close facilities to prevent employees from contracting the disease. With these shutdowns, it can become increasingly difficult to determine the condition of a facility and repair any issues that could be developing while the facility is unoccupied.

COVID-19 closures of restaurants

Damage to Unoccupied Buildings

Consider these scenarios that could arise in an unoccupied facility…

  • A building in the coastal region may experience high humidity that is going unnoticed, which can in turn lead to mold growth. Imagine if the facility is a retail store; the end-result might mean thousands of dollars of damaged, unsalvageable clothing merchandise.
  • If indoor moisture levels drop too low — perhaps in a cooler climate that is shifting from winter to spring temps — it could lead to wood warping. For instance, the frames of wood windows can shrink in size, making them more difficult to open and potentially creating gaps that let in more cold, dry air.
  • Low indoor moisture can also lead to peeling or separated wallpaper, or cracked paint on plaster walls. What would you do if you come back to your facility, only to realize you need to bring in professional painting or remodeling services?
  • Think about a restaurant or bar. There may be hundreds (or thousands) of dollars of liquor or wine in stock, going untouched through the COVID-19 crisis. Corked bottles of wine are not exempt from the effects of dry indoor air. Extremely low humidity levels can slowly chip away at a cork, leaving room for air to get into the bottle and ruin the flavor. The ideal humidity level for wine storage is 60%.
  • Another thought for a restaurant facility: A humid environment allows mold growth to fester. The COVID-19 shutdowns came on suddenly for many facilities. Did kitchen staff have adequate time to scrub walk-ins, pots, and pans? Were grease traps thoroughly degreased? These are potential breeding grounds for mold during non-occupation.
  • Contemplate multi-purpose facilities, such as an apartment complex with retail or dining space on the first floor. Completely shutting down HVAC airflow to the unoccupied businesses could lead to uneven air flow and temperature throughout the larger building.

The bottom line: Scenarios like the ones above will go unnoticed and unrepaired until employees return to the facility to find the damage caused by an unoccupied month.

Preventing Facility Damage During COVID-19 Closures

While these issues may seem frightful, thankfully many state governments have kept issues like this in mind when mandating shelter-in-place orders. Seeing the value and necessity of essential services, many states are allowing skilled trades such as HVAC technicians to continue working. During quarantine, let these technicians be the eyes and ears at the facility to ensure that, when business returns, critical issues didn’t develop, delaying reopening.

In addition, this downtime can also be the ideal occasion to have technicians visit the facility to address any known issues or to perform preventive maintenance. Maybe there is a repair the facility manager has been putting off because its fix requires closing a typically busy corridor or lobby area. By addressing this work now while the facility is shut down, managers can limit future downtime, employee inconvenience, and lost profit.

And as a preventative measure for the duration of this closure or in preparation of future closures, consider installing sensors to remotely monitor a facility’s indoor air quality levels through relative humidity, temperature, building pressure, and CO2 checks. A system like Melink Corporation’s PositiV® building health monitor can remotely track and trend building health, plus send alerts to the facility owner or manager when the system detects measurements outside its set parameters. While a facility may not have this in place to combat the current COVID-19 closures, it can be installed now to prepare for future unplanned closures or even a vacation (Facility managers need a break at some point, right?!). 

Intelli-Hood: Preventive Maintenance Is Critically Important (Not Just in Times of Crisis)

Preventive maintenance is truly important to your business’ operation. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many business owners are continuously evaluating their corporate strategies to determine contingency plans. However, as we ride this roller coaster of uncertainty together, it is important to not just strategize for short-term implications of the virus. Now is the time to determine the best steps — like preventive maintenance and reducing the risk of damage to unoccupied buildings — to assist your company on the road to recovery.

And, just like any rollercoaster at an amusement park, the beginning and end have a pinnacle moment. Currently, we are adapting to the changes being implemented to minimize the impact. How we adapt will influence what the pinnacle moment will look like as we return to normalcy.

Of course, it is anticipated by many that financial strains will be incurred by companies across the United States as well as the world. In recent years, the buzzword “resiliency” has swept many energy tradeshows. One thing to add to this — although not glamorous — is the critical importance of executing preventative maintenance on equipment. A few benefits of preventative maintenance include:

  • Maximizing the efficiency of the equipment
  • Reducing downtime cost
  • Avoiding costly, last-ditch-effort service repairs
  • Improving reliability

Therefore, during an economic challenge, it is critically important to the bottom line of any company to have its systems operating correctly.

Intelli-Hood preventive maintenance

Intelli-Hood Preventive Maintenance

Melink Corp has implemented Demand Control Kitchen Ventilation (DCKV) systems across thousands of kitchens as an energy control measure to reduce operating costs. When preventive maintenance is not performed, it can lead to expensive repairs and downtime. Consider these examples…

Systems are designed to “fail safe,” meaning even a simple error can result in all associated fans operating at 100% speed.

One VFD reaches its end-of-life cycle and fails. Instead of replacing the component, Operations decides it is best to bypass the VFD, which now has fans operating 24/7.

These examples have obvious implications to the facility’s bottom line and operating costs.

And taking the idea of preventive maintenance even further, businesses should plan for staff turnover. For example, if a system was installed 15 years ago, the likelihood of the same staff on site is low. Therefore, it is important to have all individuals trained on the equipment to understand standard maintenance operations.

Taking Preventive Maintenance Steps

So how can your business prevent fix-on-fail for DCKV systems and other equipment?

Discuss with manufacturers to see if preventative maintenance services are offered. The cost of a service is low compared to the potential savings that can be lost with a system not operating correctly. The goal is to have a company maximize its bottom line to become financially stable or, should I say, resilient.

Think of preventive maintenance actions as opportunities. Take advantage of the opportunity to complete a preventative maintenance service. This is the time to make adjustments to maximize efficiency and provide training to your team. All this assures your facility’s DCKV system is operating correctly to maximize comfort within the work environment.

We shall all remain hopeful and confident that through working together, we can ride out the roller coaster ride of COVID-19. Melink’s team of technicians is available to help with Intelli-Hood preventive maintenance or troubleshooting. Or maybe you’re wondering if it’s time to discuss a facility upgrade for your aging system. Contact us today.  

Coronavirus & Indoor Air Quality

Now, maybe more than ever, many businesses are concerned about indoor air quality (IAQ) to protect employees and customers from coronavirus. With the current spread of COVID-19 across the globe, it is important that we are all taking the necessary steps to reduce the spread of the virus. As part of this, it is important to recognize how your HVAC system can impact your IAQ during long hours of social distancing, as well as steps that can be taken to limit the spread of the virus in buildings.

In a normal year, the typical American spends 90% of his or her time indoors. With current guidelines about social distancing, this number is expected to increase over the next few months. Prior to recent events, the American Medical Association stated they believe 50% of illnesses are caused, or aggravated, by polluted indoor air. Furthermore, per the EPA, indoor air contains two to five times more pollutants than typical outside air.

Coronavirus
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

So what does this mean for the COVID-19 crisis? Now that we have learned the novel coronavirus can be spread via airborne transmission when in close contact, there is the possibility that the HVAC system could cross-contaminate. That means air from an infected person could recirculate through a facility’s HVAC system and infect another individual. An example of this is how cruise ships experienced severe outbreaks. All cabins share an HVAC system, which is working as a mode of transmission from one individual to another.

While this risk of shared indoor air cannot be completely eliminated, there are a few items that can be addressed to reduce the potential for transmission through the HVAC system including:

  • Enhanced Ventilation & Ventilation Effectiveness
  • Source Separation
  • Air Filtration
  • Operable Windows

First and foremost, facilities should ensure their HVAC equipment is bringing in the correct amount of outside air required by the engineered designed plans, as well as managing the pollution and exhaust from your building properly. To further mitigate this risk, one should attempt to increase the percentage of outside air being brought into a facility to a higher percentage than minimally specified. In doing this, the equipment will reduce the amount of air being recirculated through a building. This will not only reduce “shared air,” but will also decrease levels of CO2 and other indoor air pollutants that can create an uncomfortable, or unhealthy, facility.

For a residential facility, where air source isn’t as easily controlled, it can also be helpful to open windows to bring in fresh air to any given room. In addition, it is worth verifying that any fresh air being brought in is being evenly distributed. If it isn’t, certain rooms may have less air turnover, meaning that the air isn’t circulating in and out of the facility properly.

The next few months may be difficult with longer hours than normal spent indoors. It is important that we are all taking steps to minimize the spread of coronavirus and other airborne illnesses both now and in the future. Melink offers products and services specifically designed to track, trend, and improve indoor air quality. Click to learn more about our HVAC test and balance services or PositiV® building health monitor, or contact us today. Our techs are the certified pros in indoor air quality — let us help you mitigate your risk while protecting employee and customer wellness.

Tariffs Impacting Growth of U.S. Solar Industry

The growth of solar in the United States continues to be prohibited by tariffs placed on the industry in 2018. However, despite the tariffs, the commercial solar growth forecast is not all doom and gloom.

Tariffs and the Commercial Solar Industry

While tariffs may be prohibiting the overall solar industry from quickly growing in the U.S., the commercial sector is experiencing steady growth.

Wood Mackenzie reports costs for utility-scale solar engineering, procurement and construction (EPC services like what Melink Solar offers) fell by more than 50% from 2013 to 2019 in the U.S. Moreover, Business Energy Investment Tax Credits (ITC), as well as state and federal financing programs, available for commercial projects can offset the tariffs’ impact.

Likewise, a business’ investment in solar can reduce its carbon footprint by 10% to 100%, lock in its energy rate for the next 30 years, and support its long-term corporate social responsibility goals.

Understanding the Tariffs

The tariffs impacting the solar industry vary by amount and regulation.

Section 201

The most well-known solar tariff is Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. Section 201 composes a four-year program targeting imported solar crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules, These tariffs — starting at 30% and dropping by five percentage points each year through 2021 — were designed to boost U.S. manufacturing and to lock out unfair competition from foreign countries, primarily China.

Section 232

Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 declares a 25% tariff on steel and 10% tariff on aluminum. In turn, this increases the cost of solar racking, wiring, and ground mount posts.

Section 301

Lastly, Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 taxes U.S.imports from China. In regard to solar, the tariffs target companies that manufacture products with semiconductors from China. This plays into solar inverters and modules.

The Tariffs’ Impact

Ultimately, the tariffs have slowed the flow of lower-cost product available to U.S. developers, keeping the overall cost of solar projects cost-prohibitive to many, especially in the residential sector. Consider the average homeowner: the higher cost of a home solar project due to tariffs does not make the technology as easily attainable.

In fact, according to energy research firm Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, solar modules imported into the U.S. are 45% more expensive than those sold into Europe and Australia.

The tariffs (and the resulting lost projects due to the cost of investment) equate to 10.5 gigawatts in missed solar energy installations, according to the U.S. Solar Industries Association, the leading solar trade association in the U.S.

The Future of U.S. Solar Tariffs

At this time, approximately 98% of solar panels and their components are manufactured outside the U.S., according to the Congressional Research Service. In light of the tariffs, many solar manufacturers are circumventing the restrictions by cutting prices and moving production factories from China to Section 201-exempt countries such as Mexico and the Philippines.

Currently, the U.S. administration is conducting a midterm review of the tariffs. Experts suggest that a complete removal of the tariffs would result in a 30% drop in solar pricing, potentially creating an influx of large-scale solar projects for developers.

How Do Seasonal Changes Affect Building Health?

As we transition from dry, cool winter months to hot, humid summer months, you may be saying to yourself, “Woohoo! Bring on the heat!” However, seasonal changes can affect building health. Specifically, the summer season can present major problems for facility managers and building owners as their buildings’ HVAC systems struggle to keep up with increasing cooling loads and extremely humid outdoor air.

Just as spring plant life sprouts, HVAC mechanical issues can pop up with warmer temperatures. Poor indoor conditions such as high indoor relative humidity, negative building pressure, CO2 buildup, or drastic temperature fluctuations are just a few examples.

Staying ahead of these issues before they become noticeable, costly problems is crucial when considering the overall health of your building and its HVAC systems.

Humidity: A Common Seasonal Issue

At various facilities, a common issue that comes with changing seasons is humidity. Specifically, humidity can be difficult to maintain at a comfortable level.

Condensation on building window, a seasonal building health issue.
Condensation in office building

In the winter, the heating mode on air handling equipment can heat or evaporate the existing moisture in the air to reduce the overall relative humidity as outdoor air is brought into the building. However, in the summer, the opposite occurs: the air handling equipment cools the building space and doesn’t heat or evaporate the moisture out of incoming air. This combination of high relative humidity and indoor dew point ultimately creates conditions that promote condensation or organic growth within the facility.

A Year-Round Solution for Indoor Building Health

The most cost-effective solution to verifying and ensuring long-term indoor building health is with a sensor capable of measuring key building health metrics like differential pressure, relative humidity, dew point, temperature, and CO2.

Components of building health

By gathering data on these building health metrics, the facility manager, operator, and/or building owner can quickly verify on-site conditions in real-time, while also gaining peace of mind in knowing their buildings are meeting engineering specifications per design as seasons change. In addition to these benefits, sensors’ data gathering gives users the ability to track and trend building health over a long-term period.

Using Data to Plan for Seasonal Building Health Changes

Getting and staying ahead of maintenance doesn’t need to start with expensive truck rolls and frequent site visits. Instead, sensor solutions provide an inexpensive, effective avenue to implement a proactive mindset. The collected data can be aggregated to an easy-to-use online portal capable of summarizing, visualizing, and diagnosing issues on site, while also granting users the ability to trend and predict HVAC performance for a lasting solution.

Get ahead of the changing seasons by verifying your building is healthy today!

How Indoor Air Quality Influences Wellness

Indoor air quality (IAQ) can influence the cold/flu season. According to the American Medical Association, 50% of illnesses are caused or aggravated by polluted indoor air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes this is because indoor air contains two to five times more pollutants compared to typical outside air.

While the average person spends 90% of their time indoors, many groups of people considered to be “high risk” spend even more time indoors. These populations include but are not limited to babies, the elderly, and those with health conditions. So when you consider the ample amount of time people are spending indoors with potentially polluted air, it is easy to understand how IAQ can be linked to sickness. In fact, IAQ poses such a large risk to human health globally that the EPA recognizes it as one of its top 5 health hazards.

Sick building showing indoor air quality

While most people think that poor IAQ is easily noticeable because they can sense it through vision or smell, this is not normally the case. Many times, the IAQ in a facility may be poor because the CO2 level is far higher than recommended. Typically, a “safe” level of CO2 is between 400-1,000ppm, but levels can reach as high as 2,000ppm. At this high level, occupants can experience headaches, sleepiness, decreased cognitive function, and increased heart rates.

To ensure that CO2 levels are kept in check, it is best to have a building health monitor (such as PositiV) installed to examine these levels. If the CO2 level is above the 1,000ppm mark, it is best to examine the outside air intake on the air conditioning equipment to ensure the facility is receiving the proper air changes per hour and enough fresh air is entering the facility.