During these uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic many organisations are finding themselves implementing a work from home strategy on a large scale.

Therefore, a lot of buildings have low occupancy or are completely empty, so it is imperative that we consider the best way to maintain your building to avoid unnecessary costs and energy usage.

We asked Regional Technical Manager Vince, and Regional Manager Andy to provide their guidance on this, also taking into consideration the recent guidelines provided by CIBSE.

 

What have we largely seen happening with commercial buildings over the last month?

Andy: Some buildings are now virtually empty whereas other multi-tenanted buildings remain partially occupied. Where businesses are operating critical services, the tenants are considered key workers; operating in a supporting role for NHS IT services for example. In these cases, the goal has been striking a balance between energy management and ongoing service provision.

Vince: Most tenants within the buildings I manage have opted to work from home rather than travelling into London and working together within an office space, to reduce the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus

 

For buildings which have a reduced number of occupants in them, how does this affect the way that the plant can be run? Are we able to just turn everything off?

Andy: Although we have a mandate to drive energy efficiency wherever possible, we’re realising that the generic “quick win” energy saving measures are not always appropriate in the medium to long term.

Shutting a building’s plant down with the correct procedure has benefits in the long term. However, in the short to medium term we’re faced with the cost to carry out all the necessary work to safely bring a building back online following conventional mothballing. This would almost certainly outweigh the energy savings. Plus, tenants would probably experience delays in returning to the building while recommissioning work is underway.

Vince: We have recommended alongside our client’s energy partners, that plant is run for 1 hour per day. If we were to completely shut down the plant, mechanical issues would arise causing a negative effect, becoming more costly in the long run. For example, the general deterioration of the plant, i.e. stagnation of closed water systems which without circulation would cause pipework to rot and reduce the overall closed water quality throughout the building.

 

What strategy are we recommending for buildings which are completely empty?

Andy: PPM is being completed as normal where social distancing measures can be maintained and access is granted.

Domestic outlets should be run whenever possible while on site and we recommend the flushing of infrequently used hot & cold domestic water outlets including showers and toilets. Out of hours tasks are being completed during normal working hours and the overall plant operating hours are being drastically reduced.

Vince: Where possible we are continuing with the essential statutory servicing to ensure compliance of the property for our client. For example, weekly Flushing where accessible to avoid risks of legionella bacterial growth to outlets to the entire system plus Cooling Tower checks, F-Gas services, Fire Alarm weekly tests etc.

 

How would this differ to a building which is mostly empty with only a few tenants remaining?

Andy: The recommendations are not too different to that of an empty building. The same steps should be implemented where possible so long as it doesn’t impact any tenants.

Vince: The systems serving the floors are set to operate around the tenants attendance to site, rather than extended normal hours. All other floors would be recommended to run on an hour per day schedule to keep plant turning over. Where tenants are occupying some floors, our engineers have been advised to socially distance themselves and clients have been informed of our limitations to complete services within those areas

 

With the guidance that CIBSE have recently provided on COVID-19, what impact does this have on the recommendations which you have just made?

Vince: We recommend the AHU’s run for at least the occupied time of the building, to ensure as much air turn over as possible. We would also need to consider closing any recirculation dampers etc to avoid risk of bacterial/virus transfer.

Andy: We are advising turning off thermal wheels and adjusting AHUs to provide full fresh air and full extract. Where possible we are recommending opening windows for natural ventilation. Toilet seats should also be closed when flushing to reduce the risk of water droplets being released therefore further reducing the spread of COVID-19.


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