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The COVID-19 crisis has caused buildings across America to sit vacant for weeks or in some cases months. As facility managers across the country being the process of reopening buildings, they need to ensure the proper steps are taken to protect public health and provide a seamless transition as the buildings become repopulated. What steps should be taken to properly reopen a building?

Reopening Buildings

Inspect the Building

The first step is an inspection of the building. Check for evidence of infestation, weeks or months is more than long enough for rodents and insects to have moved in. A thorough and complete inspection of the entire building will rule out infestation in areas that may not immediately come to mind such as roof/overhang areas which could be subject to bat infestation.

Perform a diligently-executed inspection of the entire HVAC system. This includes camera-assisted inspections within duct systems. Conduct any inspection prior to turning the system on if it has been turned off. Turning on a contaminated system will disperse the contaminate throughout the system and make the issue more difficult and costly to fix.

Inspect for water damage. Check any plumbing systems for leaking pipes and damage. Check under sinks and anywhere there is a water connection such as water lines to refrigerators for damage.

Inspect for mold. Mold can grow on many surfaces, such as ceiling tiles, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, and carpet. Mold is likely if water damage is found but can occur even if no water damage is found due to condensation. According to the CDC, building inspections by trained industrial hygienists can recognize dampness or mold by sight or odor, without the need for sampling and laboratory analysis. Facility Managers should consider frequent monitoring with a hygrometer to ensure humidity and moisture levels within the building are in an appropriate range.

An early walk through should provide enough time to remediate any issues before the building is open again.

Clean the Building

Any issues found during the inspection phase should be addressed. Determine what level of cleaning the facility requires prior to opening. Follow these steps to determine what level of cleaning is required. Additionally, steps should be taken by staff to remove any dust or allergens that have built up in the environment prior to reopening buildings for the public.

Flush the Water

Water testing for contaminates should be performed prior to reopening the facility. Water will have been sitting in the system during the period of vacancy. During this time reactions in the water may have caused leeching which can lead to lead contamination. Also of high concern is bacterial contamination and stagnant water can lead to Legionnaire’s disease. The CDC has provided a step by step guide on how to minimize Legionella bacteria in the water supply prior to letting the public back into buildings.

Air Out the Building

After ensuring the HVAC system does not contain mold or any similar hazards, the air system should be run for 48-72 hours. While monitoring for humidity and air temperature, allow for the most outdoor air to be taken into the system as possible. If the air has any odor after the 72 hour period another mold inspection should be completed. Filters should be assessed and changed if necessary. A complete HVAC maintenance and inspection schedule should be created, if one does not already exist, with frequent checks on the system after reopening buildings.

Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. (IRS) is a premier provider of disaster recovery mitigation, environmental remediation, biohazard emergency response and HVAC inspection and cleaning in the New Jersey-Philadelphia-New York City area. IRS is certified by NADCA and have Certified Air Systems Cleaning Technicians and a Certified Ventilation System Inspector on staff. Services include mold removal,water damage restoration, fire damage restoration, flood damage cleanup, smoke damage remediation, and biohazard remediation.