There Is Still a Need to Maintain Unoccupied Buildings during the COVID-19 Pandemic

In this article, Paul Jackson, associate director with Tetra Tech’s High Performance Buildings Group in Perth, Australia, discusses the importance of continued maintenance on buildings during shutdown to prevent long term damage to building services.

As large numbers of employees have embraced working from home during the COVID-19 crisis, many building operators are faced with managing facilities that are now empty or only partially occupied. How do we now manage buildings to minimize operating costs while being prepared to turn it all back on when business returns to the office?

Many building operators assume that building services can be switched off, but unfortunately, it is not that simple. A good analogy is that a building or facility is no different than a motor vehicle. If you park your car in the garage, the likelihood of you being able to jump into it and drive it in six months’ time is low. The battery will be flat, the settings will be forgotten, the tires may have flat spots, and a lot of mechanisms will have seized and require lubrication. Buildings are the same—the difference being that car manufacturers have well-documented processes for operation and maintenance and buildings typically do not.

Within a building there are many systems that interact with each other to provide comfort conditions, power, lighting, and many other amenities that we generally take for granted when we walk in and take the elevator to our place of work. So, with regards to ongoing maintenance, there is a real need to put in place a plan, such as a shut down or even a decommissioning plan, depending on the type of systems that are in place.

The process to shut the building down and leave it in a condition whereby it can be restarted needs to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Most buildings are unique and may have systems that require more maintenance when isolated—for example, the cooling towers where corrosion may be an issue during a prolonged shutdown and air handling equipment where mold build up may take place. There also may be a need, depending upon the length of the shutdown, to carry out some recommissioning to verify performance.

The best solution is to have a collaborative discussion with your existing maintenance providers and consulting group or a trusted advisor with experience in building services both from a design and operational perspective.

The last thing that building owners or operators want is to find all the occupants returning to a building that will not start because it has been left parked with no consideration for ongoing maintenance.

Photo courtesy of Hunter Kerhart

Paul Jackson

Paul Jackson

Paul Jackson, associate director for Tetra Tech's High Performance Buildings Group in Australia, has more than 35 years of experience in the building service industry and has been involved in the field of diagnostics and commissioning of a wide variety of building services and plants. His expertise encompasses mechanical, electrical, air conditioning, associated control systems, and building management systems. Paul is currently working with Standards Australia on the revision of guidelines around commissioning.

Additionally, Paul holds several roles for the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning, and Heating, including president for the Western Australia committee, chair of the Big Data and Analytics Special Technical Group, and member of the board of directors.