As our country and world are starting to return to some semblance of normalcy, some of our standard utilities might need a little adjustment period of their own. According to a study conducted by Purdue University, many commercial office buildings need to consider the safety of their water supply upon their return.
Many around the country are still working from home, which causes a standstill in the treated water that normally flows through a building’s piping.
With municipal facilities unoccupied or at reduced occupancy in recent weeks as a response to coronavirus, both in regions experiencing breakouts and those following state mandates, many water systems aren’t experiencing the same flow they’re designed to receive. Especially in rural or suburban areas, this water is simply sitting in facilities and becoming increasingly ineffective.
There are 5.6 million non-residential buildings in the United States, including schools, daycares, lodging, offices, places of worship, retail centers, to name a few, many of which are still months away from returning into their space full-time.
Upon the return to spaces, a study from Purdue University demonstrates why it will be important for facilities to perform maintenance measures, otherwise, they won’t be able to ensure water safety for their occupants.
“Building owners generally do not have emergency response plans,” said Andrew Whelton, associate professor of civil, environmental, and ecological engineering at Purdue University. “The majority of building owners, excluding healthcare facilities which generally understand their building water systems, the majority of building owners do not think about their building’s water systems safety when they leave it for a weekend or come back after a week. State and federal agencies generally do not consider building reopening as a core public mission, but they should.”
Evaluating the Plumbing System Cleaning Checklist upon return is a big first step.
While it’s still important for owners to contact their public health officials to get a true understanding of their water situation, requesting assistance from mechanical and plumbing engineers is an effective way to get an evaluation of a current system’s standing.
Not only do engineers provide expertise and insight on the situation, but they’re also capable of collaborating on a comprehensive water safety checklist, ensuring it’s safe for occupants to use the building’s utilities without potential harm.
Plumbing systems are crucial to the infrastructure of a building and ensuring their proper cleanliness is key to their integrity. Reconsidering the cleaning and sanitation guidelines in all buildings helps promote health throughout a space.
Flushing the system on a more frequent basis
The study from Purdue University also recommends building operators flush their water supplies at least once weekly to stave off harmful chemicals. These system-wide flushes dispose of water with unacceptable levels of lead and copper, which will continue to build up if the system doesn’t receive a proper refresh.
Increasingly, water companies and state officials are calling on offices to give their system a total flush when they return to offices.
While major U.S. cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh operate in an urban environment with more water in constant motion than the rural communities that are of Purdue University's greatest concern, it's telling that public entities are calling on commercial office spaces to ensure the integrity of their systems.
Reviewing the system's strength
Heading back into the office, owners may consider reevaluation of their plumbing and water systems. Especially in older buildings where the system might be due for a maintenance check, it may be time for owners to bring in an expert for a review.
Contacting an engineer gives owners an expert resource, which helps create a better understanding and insight into the needs of their system. Further, mechanical and plumbing design engineers catch the smaller problems that could cause issues further down the road.
Consulting an engineer mitigates the risk of a building shut down due to improper plumbing, water, waste, and sanitation systems within. With businesses already spending lengthy spans away from the office during 2020, minimizing downtime is going to be at the top of mind for many.
In order for offices to guarantee the safety of their water, building owners should proceed with a flush of their systems, especially in spaces that remained unoccupied for several weeks in the wake of coronavirus.
Especially as businesses attempt to keep their staff in the office following several weeks of remote work, it's important for owners to ensure their utilities allow for a safe environment for occupants.
Owners desiring a better understanding of their system, in addition to recommendations to better ensure your building's water and plumbing safety, can reach out to Tec Inc. and contact John Milenius, PE, LEED AP for a consultation.
John Milenius, PE, LEED AP
Recognized as a pragmatic and skilled expert in HVAC engineering and plumbing design, John focuses on making the most of project budgets and schedules for our clients. A skilled troubleshooter and proponent of increasing energy efficiency, John manages and leads our mechanical engineering staff at Tec. In addition, he is always looking to help future AEC professionals along the way.