Dealing with COVID-19 Closures
Many U.S. states are working to flatten the curve as businesses are impacted by COVID-19 closures. The “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders have limited human interaction in attempt to prevent spreading the virus. Additionally, many companies across the country opted to temporarily close facilities, preventing employees from contracting the disease. With shutdowns it’s become increasingly difficult to determine a facility’s condition, or to repair any issues developing while the facility is unoccupied.
Damage to Unoccupied Buildings
Consider these scenarios that could arise in an unoccupied facility…
- Buildings in coastal regions may experience high humidity that goes 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.
- Think about a restaurant or bar. There may be hundreds (or thousands) of dollars of alcohol 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 in the bottle and ruining the flavor. The ideal humidity level for wine storage is 60%.
- Another thought for restaurant facilities: A humid environment allows mold growth to fester. The COVID-19 shutdowns began 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.
- If indoor moisture levels drop too low — like cooler climates that are shifting from winter to spring temps — wood can begin warping. For instance, wooden window frames can shrink, making them difficult to open. This can potentially create gaps that let in cold, dry air.
- Low indoor moisture can also lead to peeling or separated wallpaper and cracked paint on plaster walls. What if you returned to your facility, only to realize you’ll need professional painting or remodeling services?
- Contemplate multi-purpose facilities, like an apartment complex with retail or dining space on the first floor. Completely shutting down HVAC airflow to unoccupied businesses could lead to uneven air flow and temperatures throughout the larger building.
The bottom line: Scenarios like these will go unnoticed and unrepaired until employees return to their facilities. Only then will they uncover the damage caused by an unoccupied month.
Preventing Facility Damage During COVID-19 Closures
While these issues seem frightful, many state governments have kept issues like this in mind when mandating shelter-in-place orders. Seeing value and necessity in essential services, many states are allowing skilled trades such as HVAC technicians to continue working. During quarantine, let technicians be the eyes and ears at your facilities to ensure critical issues didn’t develop, and further delay 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?!).