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What Does It Mean to Recommission a Building? Best Practices for Reopening During COVID-19

[Updated: Aug 26, 2020 ] May 28, 2020 by Tara Mastroeni
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If you own a commercial building, odds are that you were forced to shut down during the initial spread of the coronavirus. As stay-at-home orders are slowly relaxed, you've likely planned to reopen. However, before you can do so, you'll need to go through the recommissioning process. Here's what you need to do to reopen your building safely.

What does it mean to recommission a building?

Believe it or not, the term "commissioning" comes from shipbuilding. A ship that has been commissioned is one that is considered ready for operation. However, before receiving that title, all of the ship's equipment must be tested, the crew must be trained, and any operational problems must be identified and resolved.

Building commissioning works in much the same way. In particular, recommissioning happens when a building that has already been commissioned undergoes another round of the commissioning process.

Typically, this happens when there has been a change of ownership or a severe operational problem has been discovered. However, these days, many large buildings will need to be recommissioned after being shut down during the spread of the coronavirus.

What to consider in the recommissioning process

At its core, the recommissioning process typically involves restarting all of your building systems and ensuring that they're working as well as before you turned them off. However, in this case, there is an additional layer to the project. You must implement new health and safety standards in order to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Environmental concerns

According to the CDC, two of the biggest environmental concerns after a prolonged shutdown are mold growth and Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease. Here's what they recommend doing during recommissioning to ensure that they do not become a problem.

Where mold is concerned, they recommend:

  1. Having the building staff or maintenance crew use dampness and mold assessment tools to assess the mold risk.
  2. If dampness is found, address the water source and plan remediation measures.
  3. Run the HVAC system for at least 48 to 72 hours before occupants return.
  4. Replace or clean the filters used for the HVAC system.

To prevent Legionella, a bacteria that grows in stagnant water, they recommend:

  1. Ensuring the building's water heater is properly maintained and the temperature is set correctly.
  2. Flushing the building's water system through all points of use.
  3. Cleaning any water-using devices like water fountains, ice machines, hot tubs, or cooling towers.

Building systems

Additionally, you'll want to be sure to run all of the building's systems -- including the electrical system, mechanical system, telecom system, and security system -- to assess overall building performance. Your goal should be to ensure that all your systems are operating properly. If anything is amiss, proper maintenance should be done before you reopen.

Energy performance

While you're recommissioning the building, it may be a good time to assess its energy performance. To that end, think about the cost of your current energy consumption and look for ways to cut it down. For example, you could consider investing in a building automation system, which will automatically control the building's HVAC and electrical systems based on its occupancy schedule.

Health concerns

Though there is some evidence that the virus will die within 72 hours of when it last touched a surface, you'll still want to invest some time and energy into disinfection procedures before you reopen the facility.

The bottom line

If your building has been shut down for a while due to the coronavirus, you'll need to put together a recommissioning plan before you can reopen for operation. With that in mind, use the tips above to help you put a plan together to undertake this project. Armed with this knowledge, you should feel confident that your building will be as safe as possible.

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