Reopening Buildings after Coronavirus

An untold number of buildings across the globe were temporarily closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many were vacated on short notice without enough time for the proper decommissioning of the building systems and a large number had minimal ongoing maintenance. Reopening buildings after the coronavirus pandemic presents many challenges to facility managers.

As properties in this type of situation reopen, they can pose a challenge for building owners and operators. Not only can there be damage to the buildings, there could also be indoor environmental quality (IEQ) issues that now pose health concerns in some circumstances. This is why a number of things should be considered before building occupants return.

This includes the possible presence of Legionella in the building water systems which could cause Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever. During the non-occupancy, when water systems were not being used, the bacteria may have multiplied, increasing the risk of an outbreak.

Another concern involves the relative humidity in the building. Was the HVAC system working properly while people were away and was it adjusted for the temporary environment of no people or activities taking place? Too much humidity and mold can quickly begin to grow. This is also true for any water damage that may have taken place while the building was empty due to plumbing issues or weather-related events.

A likely problem in many buildings includes odors. This is especially true for sewer gas, smelling of rotten eggs. Sewer gas can enter a building in a number of ways, but in an empty building the water may have evaporated out of p-traps and floor drains which would normally prevent the sewer gas from impacting the indoor air quality (IAQ).

The buildup of dust from a lack of maintenance and cleaning may also cause respiratory concerns. This dust might include allergens from rodents and cockroaches which may have increased exponentially while the building remained vacant.

Yet another important issue is the need to thoroughly clean and disinfect mechanical systems and interior spaces before building occupants return.

These are just a few of the many things to consider before reopening a building that was closed due to a pandemic or other disaster. To learn more about this or other building science, property damage, environmental, health or safety issues, please contact us.