What To Do If Your Building Has No Occupancy During COVID-19

If all of your tenants have implemented a work from home policy, you now have a unique opportunity to curtail costs and reduce energy usage over the coming weeks and months. But where do you start? Our team of building systems experts has compiled a list of best practices to help you adjust operations during COVID-19. Check out our webinar for even more detailed advice from our team and an expert from Cushman & Wakefield.

Communicate with Your Tenants

It is important to keep tenants apprised of changes in the building, whether they are physically present or not. We recommend at least 4 touchpoints to ensure that all stakeholder needs are met.

  1. Notify tenants of your plan to move the building to a relaxed schedule (5-8 degrees above or below your regular setpoint) and request their feedback/permission to proceed.
  2. Follow up. Plan for 1-2 follow ups; many tenants are not likely to respond right away.
  3. Communicate your plan of action and confirm you have a clear understanding of tenant requirements.
  4. Notify tenants that the changes are taking place effective immediately.

Understand Your Building

As you are preparing to adjust operations, it’s important to begin by assessing the current state of your building. To do this, we recommend the following:

  • Project anticipated occupancy
  • Take stock of major building and control systems
  • Take stock of controls sequences (e.g. SAT Reset, Duct Static Reset, economizing, scheduling, etc.)
  • Understand limitations of building
  • Understand relevant codes
  • Review deferred maintenance and bandwidth to complete

Document Planned Changes

Our current reality highlights the importance of having accurate and complete documentation around your building operations. You may be working with backup engineers or in shifts that are spread out. A written sequence will come in handy for all the people making operational decisions about the building. 

Be sure to document your building’s existing sequence of operations as well as the planned changes. This will ensure that you can track the impact of your efforts, keep all stakeholders aligned, and make it easier to return to normal operations when the time comes.

Adjust Operations

Now that you have properly communicated with your tenants, taken stock of your building operations and documented a course of action, it’s time to adjust your operations to curtail costs and reduce energy usage. Below are some specific recommendations for decentralized systems.

  • Set to relaxed setpoints (e.g. +/- 5 to 8 degrees), continuously monitoring temperature and humidity level. Humidity is particularly important, an upper limit of 60% relative humidity is reasonable. If you exceed that for long periods of time, you risk promoting mold growth.
  • Assess your time of day schedules; you may not need an early of a startup anymore. 
  • Consider rotating building loads, cycling run times between different floors.
  • Understand the outdoor air design of your buildings. Knowing the rates and system capabilities (fixed vs. variable OA systems) will allow you to you make even more tailored adjustments.
  • Walk buildings daily if possible. Temperature and humidity sensors are not infallible, you are the best sensor there is, you can tell when there’s a problem. 

When it’s Time to Resume Normal Operations

Ensure that your building is healthy and well operated before tenants return.

Per ASHRAE Std 189.1-2017, there are two extremes for preparing a building for occupancy. For new construction, ASHRAE dictates a 14-day flush out. For existing buildings, it dictates one hour of ventilation when a space has been unventilated for 24 hours. 

You can expect your preparation efforts to fall somewhere within that range. We recommend that you begin preparation at least 2-3 days before reopening. Be sure to ask tenants for a 1-3 day notice ahead of their return in order to get the space ready. 

During your reopening preparation, return building schedules and setpoints to normal operations and verify all equipment is running properly. Consider flushing out for 1-3 hrs a few times a week.

Be sure to consult the CDC, OSHA and ASHRAE, and any local or federal guidelines along with these best practices.

Additional resource: ASHRAE Guidance for Building Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic 3/24/2020