April 30, 2020

Maintaining Building Water Systems While Unoccupied During COVID-19 Pandemic

Maintaining Building Water Systems While Buildings are Empty during COVID-19 Pandemic

A vacant State Street in downtown Chicago as people stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the world, many buildings and facilities are practically unoccupied, meaning their water usage has come to a screeching halt.

As we all adjust to a new normal during this COVID-19 pandemic, it goes without saying that we as a society collectively are extremely thankful for the doctors, nurses and medical staff who courageously step into harm’s way each day to save lives. Meanwhile, we now also have a greater appreciation for the frontline workers at essential businesses who ensure that our food and supplies can be produced, packaged, transported, stocked and distributed to the rest of us.

At Metropolitan Industries, we especially are mindful and appreciative of the essential building managers and their crews responsible for maintaining building water systems. During normal times, offices, schools, stores, stadiums, convention centers and manufacturing plants are engineered with robust plumbing systems expected to keep up with high levels of water demand.

Now that many of these buildings and facilities are unoccupied, maintaining building water has an entirely new purpose. The stoppage of water flow during this prolong period of time can pose unexpected consequences on pipes, faucets, filters, valves and various equipment that are now figuratively running on dry, all of which can lead to building water degradation.

Such building water degradation concerns include:

  • Microorganisms can grow in pipes, fixtures and tanks.
  • The protective scale on pipes may begin to dissolve allowing for lead particles to dissolve into the water supply.
  • Disinfection byproducts and other harmful substances may build up over time.

A proactive measure to protect building water systems is to flush the entire building (multiple times for larger buildings), zone by zone. This ensures that fresh cold water from the municipal supply flows through the entire plumbing system, removing low-quality water and contaminants.

It is recommended to first flush closest to the building supply and move outward, while flushing cold water plumbing first and hot water second. It is important to identify and flush as many water outlets as possible, while also running smaller individual equipment including ice machines and dish washers.

Following the resumption of flow, hot water tanks should be drained on the first flush. It is necessary to maintain the water heater temperature by not turning off the heater. Maintaining the necessary water temperature will prevent microorganisms from growing in the heater and further affecting aerosols.

For buildings (i.e. schools, hotels and commercial food service prep) with commercial grade kitchens, we recommend running hot water for extended periods while testing cycle ejector systems (running water long enough to cycle the pump system) to ensure the system piping, traps and grease interceptors have not become clogged or obstructed from lack of use.

While ongoing flushes should resume at least once a week, each POU (point of use) should ideally be opened at least once a day. This helps replicate their frequent use during normal times of demand.

One way to tell if the flushing process is having a positive effect is to measure concentration of chlorine residual in the building water supply compared to the residual in the most distant tap of each zone. This will identify whether the flushing process is protecting the plumbing system against the ramifications of stagnant water.

Maintaining normal inspections and maintenance of equipment is critical for identifying problems in the present and to minimize malfunctions in the future. The cleaning of fixtures, replacing water filters and aerators to mitigate bacterial growth are key measures to protect equipment.

The same proactive measures also apply to building mechanical systems.

With little cooling demand due to lack of occupancy or mild spring weather, now is a perfect time to inspect and service cooling systems in commercial buildings. Air filters in fans coils or air handling unit should be inspected, cleaned or replaced. The same should be done for filter cartridges or bags used for particulate removal (typically side stream style in condenser water systems).

To ensure proper chiller operation capabilities, refer to chiller manufacturer requirements for minimum flow rate and pressure. Inspect chilled water pumps for required performance. Inspection of greasing motor bearings should also be inspected and greased if necessary (refer to motor manufacturer requirements for recommended hour interval).

When buildings do eventually re-open, it would be the absolute worst time to find decreased water quality or malfunctioned plumbing equipment. Now is the time for building crews to proactively maintain some semblance of water flow so that building water systems can effectively meet or exceed water demands for when operations return to normal.

As a reminder, Metropolitan Industries is open. Our sales team is readily accessible, including for in-person visits when necessary. There is no charge for a sales team member to visit a job site to discuss a customer’s application and to provide a solution. We’d love to learn about your application and offer any guidance we can to ensure that your building or facility is ready to go!

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