Even though businesses have been closed due to COVID-19, they still have to continue being updated and serviced as if operations are normal. These buildings that are closed or have reduced occupancy may have reduced their HVAC systems schedule or even turned them off. Maintenance checks will be needed as these systems start to move to their regular schedule. Read the article below to learn more! For more information regarding your HVAC system, give us a call at 800-382-3150 or click here to see what services we offer.
During this unprecedented societal shutdown due to COVID-19, many individuals are working from home, so most commercial buildings have either been closed down or are operating with a limited number of occupants. As a result, the HVAC systems in those buildings are likely operating on a reduced schedule, or else they may have been turned off completely.
However, just because buildings are closed does not mean that routine maintenance on HVAC equipment should be put off until occupants return to the building. Indeed, this is a good time for contractors to remind their commercial customers to take the opportunity to make repairs or upgrade their systems, or at a minimum, to keep up with the regularly scheduled maintenance.
Some Companies Are Open And Operational
The majority of the commercial customers at Air Pros USA, which has locations in Florida, Georgia, Colorado, Texas, and Washington state, have remained open during the pandemic, so their HVAC systems have been operating as they normally would, said Anthony Perera, company president, and founder.
“Most of our commercial clients are banks and data centers, and they are still operating as usual,” he said. “The demand for regular maintenance is still there, but a lot of major projects and retrofits are being put off for now. We’ve had some requests for UV lights, hospital-grade filtration, coil cleanings, and duct sanitation, but for the most part, owners just want to keep their equipment running as optimally as possible right now.”
For those commercial customers whose buildings have been closed, Perera’s staff has been in close contact with them, reminding them of the need to keep their HVAC systems maintained and serviced before occupants return.
“We’ve been suggesting that now is the time to take the opportunity to go through and clean the systems and get them ready for occupants,” said Perera. “Otherwise, if the systems are not running and then they are turned back on, there will be a lot of stress on the equipment, which could lead to failures. We’re expecting that could happen, and we’re ready for that.”
David Geith, vice president of service at EMCOR Services Mesa Energy Systems in Irvine, California, noted that in the commercial office space, most of their clients have tenants that are considered essential businesses, so while the buildings are running at a substantially lower load, they are occupied and therefore still operating. For this reason, Mesa, which operates all over California, Arizona, and Nevada, is still on-site at the majority of its customer locations.
“Some customers are taking advantage of their building’s low occupancy to complete needed repairs and replacement, and many customers are asking us about coil cleanings, enhanced filtration, UV lighting, and bipolar ionization,” he said.
While there is not enough information regarding whether or not ductwork and coils should be disinfected before tenants return to work, cleaning coils with biocide is always a good practice, said Geith. In addition, over-ventilation and the implementation of UV lighting coupled with proper filtration is an ASHRAE 170-recommended strategy for hospitals, he said, which makes it appropriate to use for infectious disease control in commercial buildings.
“The question we get most often is if the virus can be spread by the HVAC system, and unfortunately, no one can give a clear definitive answer to that question,” said Geith. “Having said that, we believe it is prudent to offer our clients guidance based on standards set by ASHRAE for infectious disease in hospitals. Hospitals go to great lengths to enhance their filtration, increase ventilation rates, and sometimes include UV lighting to disinfect coils and equipment. By following these standards, we can offer solutions for customers who have similar concerns in their buildings.”
The commercial clients at Whole Building Systems LLC in Charleston, South Carolina, include K-12 school districts, universities, and state and local government agencies. Most have large building portfolios and use district or campus-wide BAS to control and monitor their HVAC system performance, and all have continued to operate their systems during the existing shutdown, said M. Dennis Knight, P.E., FASHRAE, principal/engineer at Whole Building Systems and member of ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force.
“We are in a warm and humid climate zone, and it is never a good idea to completely shut down an HVAC system in a building in this climate zone for long periods of time,” he said. “Our clients have typically operated their systems in the unoccupied mode, where cooling thermostat set points have been set up from a normal occupied setting of 74°F to 78 to 80°F, and heating thermostat set points have been set back from normal occupied settings of 70°F to 65°F. Humidity settings have been relaxed from an occupied setting of 55 percent relative humidity to an unoccupied setting of 60 percent.”
While buildings are empty or partially occupied, Knight has recommended that clients take the opportunity to do both routine maintenance and to perform some deferred maintenance work, such as replacing units that are at the end of their useful life. (Of course, any work performed by the maintenance staff and/or contractors should follow CDC and OSHA guidelines for safe work practices.)
“I would suspect that many private sector building owners may not be as proactive or have the financial capability to take similar actions and have had to either reduce system maintenance or defer it altogether,” said Knight. “For owners who have had to bring their operations to an almost complete stop, as a minimum, I would suggest to inspect their facilities as often as possible for signs of problems and keep condensate drain traps filled to help avoid IAQ issues when restarting the systems.”
Integrated Facility Services (IFS), which is a full-service HVAC, plumbing, piping, fire protection, and building automation firm in St. Louis, Missouri, did have several commercial clients specifically request that their HVAC equipment be turned off.
“However, we strongly encourage that they run their equipment in a reduced mode to allow for continued air exchanges and to keep equipment from sitting dormant for too long,” said Chris Ruth, controls manager at IFS. “If equipment has been turned off completely, it should be closely monitored upon startup, and filter changes are always good to do after extended periods of non-operation. We recommend starting equipment up a week before occupancy to allow plenty of time for service if needed.”
Service for some customers was halted for a brief time during the pandemic, said Ruth, as many owners and operators completely closed their buildings to visitors. However, as service work orders continued to come in, building owners realized the need to continue maintaining their equipment, so customers are slowly beginning to allow IFS to service equipment again. Other projects were completed, too, such as mechanical and controls work that involved building pressure and IAQ.
“Customers are seeing the need to better control the amount of air, and quality of air, being added to and removed from buildings,” said Ruth. “Medical facilities are requesting specific rooms or wings be configured to operate under negative pressure in order to mitigate the amount of airborne particles leaving said areas.”