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Renovate or Rebuild? How Facility Managers Should Decide

Renovate of Rebuild? How Facility Managers Should Decide

As buildings age and technology advances, facility managers and owners get hit with an important question: How can they bring these buildings up-to-date? It's not always easy to answer. Is it better to renovate an existing building, or demolish it and rebuild? Which is more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable? Before making a decision, facility managers should evaluate aging buildings based on several criteria. These include:

1. The building itself.

It's important to evaluate the building itself before anything else. How well has it aged? How well does the building envelope deal with drafts, pests, and moisture? Does the building suffer from major structural issues, or would any improvements be largely cosmetic? If a building has a sound foundation, good bones, and no major issues, renovating may be a better choice than rebuilding.

1. Expense.

Sometimes, renovating an old building is more expensive than demolishing it and starting a new build. This can be especially true if the old building requires extensive pest, mold, rot remediation. This isn't the only expense that needs to be considered, though. Buildings create a lot of ongoing costs -- while the initial expense is one consideration, it's just as important to acknowledge how much it will cost to maintain. If it's less expensive to start from scratch than it is to renovate, rebuilding may be the better choice.

2. Neighborhood and zoning.

The choice to renovate or rebuild may not be entirely up to the facility manager. Zoning laws may impact what can and can't be done with a property. It's also important to remember that, as buildings age, the streets and neighborhoods around them grow and change too. What may have been a natural, easy traffic flow when a building was new may no longer be so decades later. If the parking and surrounding traffic are impeding the building's function, these need to be factored into the decision to renovate or rebuild. Another factor to consider is exactly how old the building is. Very old buildings in a historic district may be considered "contributing resources." This means that the building has been found to add to either the architectural value or structural integrity of the historic area. In that case, renovation may be the only option. If the building is not part of a historic district or is considered a "noncontributing resource," rebuilding may still be allowed.

3. Sustainability.

The most environmentally-friendly buildings are the ones that are already built, even if they aren't using the most cutting-edge green technology. So, if a renovation isn't an option, every effort should be made to repurpose building materials, preserve natural features, and fit into the surrounding landscape with minimal environmental disruption.

4. Occupation and internal traffic flow.

If the building is currently in use, what will happen to the tenants during the renovating or rebuilding process? Will they be able to stay? How will construction impact their use of the building? This can impact how you plan and go about renovating or expanding. Rebuilding is only feasible if there are no tenants, or the tenants can be temporarily relocated without much of an issue.

5. Projected growth.

How well is the building's current footprint working out? Will it need to expand? If so, by how much? Minor expansions call for renovation, but, if those renovations are going to end up doubling the building's size, it may be better to rebuild. Large expansions often end up being just as expensive -- if not more so -- than tearing down and rebuilding. Rebuilding will also ensure that the finished product is aesthetically and structurally consistent.

6. The property size.

In major metropolitan areas, properties often have little horizontal space. If any expansion is going to happen, it has to be upward, not outward. As long as these buildings are structurally sound and have good foundations, a renovation will be more cost-effective and preferable to rebuilding.

The Pros and Cons of Rebuilding

Rebuilding is often a good investment, especially if an existing building is worth less than others in the surrounding area. It's also often far cheaper than repairing damage from pest infestations, fires, mold, or wood rot. Rebuilding also gives facility owners and managers more control over its appearance, which can help with branding. On the other hand, rebuilding is time-consuming. Even if it may be cheaper than renovation in some situations, it's still expensive. It's also only possible when the property can be emptied for the duration of the construction.

The Pros and Cons of Renovating

It's generally cheaper and more environmentally sustainable to renovate than it is to rebuild. Renovating also helps preserve a building's character, and is far less disruptive to occupants. Depending on the extent of the renovation, it may not have much of an impact on the building's day-to-day function at all. Conversely, renovating a building often uncovers problems that may have gone unnoticed for years. It's not uncommon for cosmetic enhancements to turn up leaking plumbing, aging gas fixtures, rotten wood, or faulty wiring. For this reason, it's important to budget extra time and money to cover unforeseen issues. No building is immune to aging. All construction needs some attention as it gets older. After a certain point, rebuilding may look more desirable than renovation. Before making a choice, facility managers should carefully evaluate their building and specific circumstances.

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6 Facility Management Blogs Every FM Should Be Reading

 6 Facility Management Blogs FMs Should Be Reading

The field of facility management is ever-evolving, so it's important to stay current. That's where blogs come in -- since they're updated regularly, they can be a veritable treasure trove of innovation and information. This has never been more true than right now, as governments and businesses alike hurry to develop strategies for safely operating in a post-COVID world. Keeping on top of all things COVID-related is a daunting task, even for a dedicated facility manager. Fortunately, tons of blogs out there are working hard to collect, distill, and provide the latest research in an accessible, easy-to-navigate format. The International Facility Management Association's Long Island chapter has a great blog that you should definitely follow, but it's always a good idea to have as many resources at your disposal as possible. To that end, here are the six sites that facility managers definitely want to have on their blogroll:

1. Facility Executive's Facility Blog

Facility Blog covers all industry-relevant breaking news. With a three-times-a-day posting frequency, you're sure to find something new and fascinating pretty much every time you check. Lately, many of their posts have covered news on the COVID front, including emerging technology, new partnerships, tools, and other resources facility managers can use to help keep their buildings safe and limit the spread. Don't miss their piece on Matrix Medical's COVID-19 certification program.

2. i-FM

This UK-based blog offers facility managers the world over a wealth of news and information. Operating for over twenty years, this site had constantly evolved to make sure they bring their best to the field, and this year is no different. With news, comments, and features on topics ranging from sustainability to industry news, to effective cleaning, to tracking post-COVID office usage, i-FM has a lot to offer facility managers looking for information about any facet of the industry -- including how to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

3. FMLink

FMLink is maintained by a full staff of publishing, computer, and facilities pros, and offers a combination of their in-house professionals and contacts with facility management associations -- if they don't already have a blog post for you, they can get you the answer you need. If they can't, one doesn't exist. The site is also very navigable. Resources are organized by topic and type, so, if you need a white paper on sustainability or a case study on health and safety, you can find it. Their front page also has a hard-to-miss section of today's top facility management news, which is great for managers trying to keep on top of HVAC innovations, studies on the effectiveness of UV-C disinfection, or other COVID-related info.

4. Buildings.com

Buildings might not update quite as often as some of the other guys, but their posts are always high-quality. They span everything from the latest decorating trends (don't miss their piece on how to use Graham & Brown's 2021 color of the year) to ways buildings can improve mental and physical health. They even have a specific section of COVID-19 coverage, which saves a lot of work for managers specifically looking for pandemic-related information. They also offer a section of podcasts, for facility managers that prefer to get their information in an audible format, and even have a series of webinars.

5. Facilities Manager Magazine

Formatted as an online magazine rather than a traditional blog, Facilities Manager Magazine regularly brings in experts to post on the most relevant topics of the day. They're produced by the Association of Physical Plant Administrators, whose mission has been to support "educational excellence with quality leadership and professional management through education, research, and recognition" for over 100 years. The organization is for facility managers who want to refine their craft, and their blog reflects this -- every post is backed by some serious research. Don't miss their recent post on best management practices for face-to-face operations in the midst of COVID.

6. Service Futures

Service Futures is primarily geared toward workplace and people management, outsourcing, and integrated facility services. They put out high-quality posts every few days, which is helpful for facility managers who don't necessarily have the time to pore through multiple posts a day. Recent articles include coverage of post-COVID reopening strategies, the benefits of outsourcing hygiene and disinfection services, and the three traits of successful facility managers. It can be hard to keep up with industry-related posts, especially now. However, as new research emerges and old information gets cast aside, staying on top of the latest news is more important than ever. If you're a facility manager looking for tools and resources to keep your employees, guests, and buildings safe in a post-pandemic world, you can't afford to miss out on the gold mine of information offered by these blogs.

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How FM Software Can Ready Your Facility For Winter

How FM Software Can Ready Your Facility For Winter

Prepping a facility for winter can be challenging. There's a lot to remember and consider, and it's very easy to overlook minor problems that can turn into major issues once cold weather strikes. Fortunately, today's facility managers don't have to shoulder this burden alone. Facility management software takes a lot of stress out of the whole winterization process. Here's are just a few of the ways it can help:

1. Providing a contractor directory.

When a frozen pipe turns into a major flood, it doesn't leave a lot of time for shopping around for the best plumbing or flood remediation contractor to repair the damage. If an uninsured, uncertified contractor does a poor job, that can also turn a simple repair into a huge legal headache. Good facility management software includes a contractor directory, which puts a list of licensed, insured, experienced contractors right at a manager's fingertips. These lists include extensive profiles of each expert, with their insurance status, licensure, reviews, specialties, years of experience, and more.

2. Creating checklists.

One of the toughest parts of getting ready for winter is making sure that nothing gets missed. Have the HVAC units been inspected and maintained? Has water been shut off to unheated areas of the building? Are the pipes properly insulated? Facility management software can help managers create and manage checklists, streamlining the winterizing process, and ensuring that everything gets done.

3. Planning preventative maintenance and manage work orders.

A major component of winterization checklists is scheduling preventative maintenance. HVAC units need servicing, landscaping needs to be maintained, and minor repairs need to be taken care of before the winter weather hits. A solid maintenance plan helps managers stay in control of expenses and downtime, and facility management software makes that a lot easier. Facility managers can create a preventative maintenance plan, make maintenance calls, and stay on top of work orders, all in one convenient program.

4. Keeping on top of budgets.

Winter usually means higher bills, especially for facilities in areas that experience very cold weather. This can make it more challenging to keep on top of spending without sacrificing facility maintenance. Facility management software offers some sophisticated business analytics. This doesn't just help facility managers stay on budget during winter, it can make it easier to detect patterns and anticipate expenses for years to come.

5. Creating an emergency plan.

If severe weather strikes, an emergency plan is crucial. Every facility should have established equipment shutdown procedures, power outage backup plans, and bad weather policies. Facility management software makes it easy to keep all of this information in a central, easy-to-update place that can be accessed from anywhere.

6. Standardizing.

Standardization helps boost efficiency and cut costs. Facility management software makes it easier to keep track of exactly what bulbs, fuses, hoses, filters, and other consumables are needed, and where. Using standard consumables simplifies ordering and inventory, two things that can save a lot of time and money if supply lines get delayed because of winter weather.

7. Saving manuals.

There's nothing worse than trying to troubleshoot or maintain a piece of equipment without a current, easy-to-read manual. Paper manuals can fade, tear, get stained, be lost, or just fall apart. Facility management software can help by saving manuals where employees can access them whenever they need to. When HVAC, plumbing, irrigation, and other equipment maintenance and tune-ups are such an important part of winter readiness, it's better not to take a chance on hard copy manuals.

8. Staying connected.

From severe weather to COVID-19 related business shutdowns, a lot of things can keep facility managers out of the office. Web-based management software is secure and easy to access from anywhere with an internet connection, even with a tablet or cell phone. This means that facility managers can make sure that things are running smoothly, enact emergency plans, and facilitate a safe, thorough business shutdown if need be. All the contacts, work orders, manuals, and other information they might need are right at their fingertips. Winter can turn minor maintenance and inventory concerns into emergencies, and the best way to avoid that is to be proactive. Facility management software takes a lot of stress out of planning for winterization, from making checklists, to creating emergency plans, to managing inventory and lists of contractors. If you're starting the process of readying your facility for winter, make your job easier. Let facility management software handle the organization and analytics for you.

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9 Winter Preparation Tips For Facility Managers

9 Winter Preparation Tips For Facility Managers

Winter can be a brutal season for facilities. Inclement weather strikes, unused heating systems get pressed into service, and sand and road salt can wreak havoc on landscaping. With the addition of the COVID-19 outbreak this year, winter is shaping up to be especially challenging. Here are 9 tips to help facilities weather the season:

1. Clean ducts and change filters in HVAC systems.

A dirty HVAC filter won't just make the air in a facility smell and feel bad, it'll negatively impact the health of the occupants. This is especially true now, as experts recommend switching from typical HVAC filters to ones that are more efficient at trapping small particles, to hopefully reduce the amount of SARS-CoV-2 virus in the air. More efficient filters get clogged and dirty more quickly, so be sure to swap them out before winter hits. Clean ducts to get rid of dust, debris, and mold spores. It might be a good idea to consider installing a UV sanitizer, as well -- it's a simple way to help eliminate airborne viral particles and keep them from being blown around by HVAC systems.

2. Get ready to increase ventilation.

It might seem counterintuitive, but research shows that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is capable of remaining airborne for longer than previously thought. This means that during winter, when facility managers typically focus on keeping their buildings' energy-efficient and sealed up tight, facilities could inadvertently create conditions that encourage the virus to spread indoors. Bringing in more air from outside, either via windows or through adjusting the HVAC system, can help dilute the number of viral particles in the air. It'll mean higher energy bills, but the payoff is healthier, safer employees and guests.

3. Clean out gutters.

Autumn leaves mean clogged gutters, and clogged gutters can mean water damage. Be proactive before winter storms hit, and remove leaves, sticks, and other debris from gutters. During winter, clean gutters regularly to keep them from being blocked by snow and ice.

4. Inspect the building's exterior and make any needed repairs.

The middle of winter isn't a great time to have to fix a leaking roof or repair a door, so facility managers should give their buildings a thorough inspection to spot any potential trouble spots. Check the heating system, window insulation, doors, plumbing, and attics, or crawl spaces. Making repairs now will save a lot of trouble in the long run.

5. Take inventory.

Winter's a terrible time to have to make the trip to buy supplies, and severe snow and ice can delay shipments. Don't wait for stocks to run low -- have spare supplies on hand in case of an emergency. This includes items like disinfectants and cleaning supplies, paper products, de-icing supplies, disposable masks, and hand sanitizer.

6. Get ready for power shortages.

Storms can knock out power lines, leaving facilities scrambling to keep operating. Downed power lines aren't the only concern this year, though -- as more places consume power to keep their buildings adequately heated with increased ventilation, there's going to be a higher demand put on power grids. Have emergency lighting, a backup generator, and a solid plan in place in case the power goes out.

7. Prepare outside spaces.

People generally don't spend as much time outdoors in winter, but it's still important to maintain the landscaping. Water plants regularly before the first frost, so they'll be able to weather the dry winter air. Add two to three inches of mulch around the base of plants to help insulate their roots and keep water from evaporating too quickly. Figure out a designated spot to pile snow that won't damage plants, or make plans to have snow professionally removed and hauled away. Determine what de-icing treatments are safest for landscaping, and make a plan for keeping plants protected.

8. Winterize cooling systems.

Chances are, cooling systems aren't going to see much use for the next few months. For facilities that shut off theirs during winter, it's especially important to make sure that they go into the season properly cleaned, drained, and maintained. For facilities that keep them running, make sure that they're properly protected against freezing.

9. Pay attention to unheated spaces.

Unheated spaces might not look like a big deal, but they're a huge problem for pipes. Plumbing that runs through an unheated room is at risk of freezing and bursting, leading to a big, expensive mess and an equally expensive emergency visit from a plumber. Shut off the water and drain pipes that feed unheated rooms, or, if that's not possible, work out a way to insulate the pipes and keep the rooms warm enough to prevent freezing. Winter is a tough season. Proactively engaging in good, thorough winter preparation can help facility employees and occupants stay healthier, safer, and more comfortable while reducing long-term costs by avoiding emergency repairs.

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Tips For Cutting Energy Costs In School Facilities

Tips For Cutting Energy Costs In School Facilities

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools are some of the most seriously impacted institutions. Many schools remain closed, and those that open are facing hundreds of empty seats as kids attend either part-time or via remote learning. Not only do schools have to cope with creating flexible, effective learning plans for distant students and providing a safe learning environment for those who attend in person, but they also have to do so while staring down budget cuts. Fortunately, there's one way that schools can decrease their outgoing expenses: cutting their energy costs.

Public and Private Schools Suffer from Budget Cuts

Schools of every stripe rely on state governments to provide funding. When the pandemic drastically raised the unemployment rate and left business unable to operate, that decreased the amount of tax revenue that states were able to bring in -- sometimes by as much as 30%. Lowered tax revenue translates into budget cuts, and schools all around the country have had to plan around serious budget cuts.

Lowering Energy Costs Helps Schools Make Ends Meet

Heating, cooling, and lighting a building as large as a school costs a lot of money. There are numerous ways that schools can reduce their expenses by paring down their power bills:

1. Undergo a (re)commissioning study. Before making changes to a school's energy consumption, it's a good idea to figure out exactly where and how to reduce expenses. In a commissioning study, an engineer observes a building to see how efficiently it operates, and make recommendations to improve efficiency and cut energy costs. Research shows that monitoring a school's energy systems can lead to as much as a 15% reduction in energy bills -- as much as $14,000 per year for an average school building.

2. Trade fluorescents for sunlight. Fluorescent lighting is inexpensive, but it still costs money. Schools can take advantage of natural lighting by installing blinds, adding skylights, and turning the lights off. While fluorescent lighting can be harsh and distracting, natural sunlight help people relax and focus and improves mood. If natural light isn't an option, consider LED bulbs. Modern LEDs allow lighting in different color temperatures, ranging from the cool of a fluorescent bulb to the warm gold of sunlight. They're also inexpensive to operate and last for a very long time.

3. Seal off unused areas. For schools with reduced class sizes, consider closing off unused classrooms. Block off vents to keep cooled air out of unoccupied rooms. This will keep air conditioning where it's most needed, and keep the HVAC system from consuming more power than is necessary.

4. Perform regular HVAC maintenance. It's easy to underestimate the amount of power an inefficient heating or cooling system can waste. An economizer can help save power by drawing in cool air, but can end up adding to the power bill if the damper linkage jams or breaks. Dirty condenser coils cut an air conditioner's cooling capacity, wasting energy as it struggles to keep the building cool. Dirty filters and dust-choked ducts keep air from circulating where it needs to go. Regular HVAC maintenance keeps heating and cooling systems running efficiently and saves money in the long run. If a school's cooling system is more than 15 years old, it might be time to consider a replacement. Even with regular maintenance, old air conditioning systems consume up to 20% more energy than newer ones. Air conditioning is the second largest energy sink in commercial buildings, and the most efficient air conditioning systems on the market are 52% more efficient than the federal standard.

5. Set up sensors. Automated sensors can turn the power on to occupied rooms, and shut it off as soon as they're empty. In areas like bathrooms, lights are often left on for safety and convenience. With a motion sensor, there's no reason to keep the room lit when it isn't in use -- they can turn on and off as needed, saving energy.

6. Swap out old appliances. While the old adage says, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," there are a lot of ways for appliances to fail before they break. Older refrigerators and microwaves consume far more power than energy-efficient models. Many newer appliances (like convection ovens) also produce healthier foods than conventional fryers at a fraction of the energy cost.

7. Don't forget the water bill. Low-flow faucets and showerheads don't just save water, they also save the power needed to heat that water. It's also a good idea to install sensors that automatically shut off sinks and showers after a specific period of time, to encourage students to reduce water use. Many schools already suffer from underfunding, and it can be hard to figure out how to reduce costs more than they already do. By consulting an energy expert and making a few changes to lighting, water, and HVAC usage, schools can cut their energy costs and better cope with COVID-19-related budget cuts.

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Access Control Procedure & Policy Tips For Facility Managers

Access Control Procedure & Policy Tips For Facility Managers

One key strategy for protecting employee and guest health is keeping pathogens out of a facility. The best way to do this is by rigorously controlling who can come and go, though this isn't always an easy task. Most businesses are used to limiting access to protect their equipment, employees, and intellectual property from things like theft, sabotage, and violence, not viruses. Here are some tips for making sure that people who may be sick -- including carriers of COVID-19 -- are prevented from accessing your building:

1. Create a solid (and legal) access policy.

The first thing any facility manager should do is implement a way to determine who is and isn't allowed in, and how that determination is made. Will all visitors have to pass a temperature check? What is required for someone to come back after they are sent home? If you choose to use a temperature check, what number will you consider a fever? The CDC defines a fever as over 100.4° F. Some states consider a fever anything over 99.5° F. Some places turn away anyone with a temperature over 100° F. After forming a plan, run it past the company's legal department. There are several ways that these policies can end up doing more harm than good -- they may infringe on employee's rights. You may be required to inform tenants or employees that you will be collecting protected information. If you plan to employ security guards to turn away potentially infected people, follow all OSHA guidelines regarding proper protective equipment. Ensure that whatever procedures you choose to put in place are legally sound and consistently enforced without bias. It's also important to inform employees, visitors, and tenants of any policy changes verbally, then follow with a written notice. Emails, regular mail, and signage can all help here. Be sure to include a phone number that they can call if they need help with compliance.

2. Consider adding a temperature checkpoint.

A fever is a pretty reliable indicator of illness, though it isn't the only one. People can run a fever without realizing it, or try to come to work regardless if they don't show other symptoms. Some facilities use security guards equipped with non-contact infrared thermometers, and instructions to turn away people whose readings are abnormal. Other options include biometric temperature monitors connected to door locks. One potential avenue is to equip an entryway with a thermal camera -- if a visitor reads as having a fever, the door will not open. Some companies specializing in touchless access point control are adding thermal sensors to their lines. A fire department in Duxbury, Massachusetts, uses wearables to continuously track vital signs.

3. Know what to do when visitors fail to pass the checkpoint.

It's understandable that someone might be upset at being asked to leave after failing a temperature check. For this reason, it may be a good idea to perform two or three checks a few minutes apart -- if all of them fail, the person must go home. This must be handled discreetly, to protect the person's privacy. If the person is an employee, make sure they know that they can be subject to disciplinary measures for refusing to go home. Follow up with them afterward, outlining what is necessary for the tenant or employee to return. If someone refuses to leave, consider your options. If you provide accommodation to one person, you must be prepared to provide it to everyone. You may have to threaten a belligerent person with termination (if they're an employee) or legal action.

4. Have a procedure for dealing with high traffic times.

Checkpoints create a bottleneck, and this can make it difficult to keep things efficient and streamlined. Pay employees for the time they spend waiting and being screened. Make sure all available entrances are open and able to be used, so not everyone is crowded near one door.

5. Have a procedure for handling deliveries, visitors, and messages.

Visitors and delivery people generally aren't in a company's access database. They don't have badges, so this can make them difficult to keep track of. Create a policy that determines who is allowed to enter, whether they should be accompanied through the building by an employee, and how to handle cleaning and disinfection afterward.

6. Consider adding new tech to your arsenal.

COVID-19 has exposed a lot of vulnerabilities that businesses and facility managers just weren't aware of before, and tech is rapidly moving to take care of them. Cloud-based access control systems allow facility managers to work remotely, granting or restricting access as-needed without having to be in the building. Some biometric access technology now includes mask-detection. Safe Scan by Optec International, for example, scans for elevated temperature and mask-wearing and can scan up to forty faces per minute. Access control has always been about safety, but it's only recently become about illness prevention. By using these tips, facility managers can restrict access to their buildings, protecting everyone inside from potentially dangerous pathogens.

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Airborne Coronavirus and Your Building's HVAC System

Airborne Coronavirus and Your Building's HVAC System

Amid all of the discussion of mask policies and sanitization, one area often gets overlooked: the HVAC system. Research has shown that the novel coronavirus is much more likely to infect people in a confined, poorly-ventilated space than it is outdoors. What can you do to make sure the air in your facility is clean?

How does SARS-CoV-2 spread?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus responsible for COVID-19 primarily spreads through person-to-person contact. This means that if an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or otherwise sheds respiratory droplets, and these droplets get into the eyes, nose, or mouth of an uninfected person, that uninfected person can become infected. There's also reason to believe that an uninfected person may pick up the virus by touching a contaminated surface, then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. While the CDC hasn't indicated that airborne transmission is a major risk, they acknowledge that one of the most important things that facility managers and employers can do is improve building ventilation. Dr. Fauci has also said that airborne transmission is "something that we can't completely rule out." In mid-July, the World Health Organization updated a scientific brief to say that reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in closed settings, such as bars, churches, and restaurants, indicates that airborne transmission may be possible.

Are HVAC systems responsible for circulating the virus?

A study by the University of Oregon found the SARS-CoV-2 virus present in 25% of the vents in hospital rooms that saw COVID-19 patients, suggesting that indoor ventilation systems can potentially contribute to the spread of the virus. It's not yet fully understood exactly how much of a risk they pose, but one thing is for certain -- poorly-ventilated indoor spaces are correlated with spikes in COVID-19. Even if HVAC systems aren't found to be responsible for circulating the virus themselves, they can still help mitigate the risk of infection.

How can HVAC systems prevent the spread?

Proper filtration is one crucial element of cleaning any potential viral particles from the air. Filters are generally measured in Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERV). The higher the MERV rating, the more efficient the filter. As filter efficiency increases, it requires more energy for the system to force air through it. This is why most commercial systems don't use the highest-rated filters that they possibly can -- they trade energy efficiency for filtration efficiency. If possible, HVAC systems should use a HEPA filter. If not, they should use the highest MERV filter they can handle. UV lighting units can also help sanitize air. These can be installed in the ventilation system itself, treating the air as it passes through. New advances in specific UV wavelengths show some very promising results when it comes to inactivating the novel coronavirus. Humidity control is another important factor. Maintaining a level of 40-60% humidity can help decrease the risk of infection for the building's occupants.

Are there new technologies that can help HVAC systems keep the air cleaner?

New UV sterilization systems that employ UV-C can help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. While germicidal UV units have been in use for a long time, interest in UV-C is relatively new. UV-C is one of the types of ultraviolet light that the sun gives off, but gets filtered out by the ozone layer before it can reach the Earth. It's a good thing, too -- in addition to inactivating viruses, it can also cause serious harm to living cells. This is what makes it perfect for use in an HVAC unit. It can sanitize the air, without coming into contact with any occupants.

How are some employers and facility managers handling the situation?

In many cases, they're trading sustainability for employee health. Not only are they switching to filters with a higher MERV rating, but they're also increasing the number of times indoor spaces get "flushed" with outdoor air. If flushing isn't an option, increasing the air change rate can still help. Some are also creating more separation within buildings, by isolating areas and setting up smaller HVAC units. This keeps air from mixing as easily, so, if there's an outbreak, it is easier to confine to one area. In old buildings without central HVAC units, facility managers are bringing in fans and opening windows to bring in as much outdoor air as possible. When it comes to protecting employees and guests from SARS-CoV-2, improving ventilation is key. Even though we don't yet fully understand all of the ways it's possible to transmit the novel coronavirus, data shows that crowded, poorly-ventilated areas quickly turn into hotbeds. By increasing the air change rate, bringing in as much outdoor air as possible, controlling humidity, isolating areas, and installing UV units and better filters, facility managers can help keep the air as virus-free as possible.

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Office Space Planning For The "New Normal"

Office Space Planning For The

As more people return to the workplace after working from home, it raises a number of questions for owners, facility managers, and employees alike. Workers want to know if their buildings are going to make them ill. Owners want to know if they can keep their businesses open without having to worry about shutting down due to an outbreak. Facility managers want to know how to allay everyone's fears.

COVID-19 has forced us to reimagine what a workspace looks like. For many people, wearing masks and staying at least six feet away from others has become second nature. How is this "new normal" going to impact office space planning?

1. Reduced capacity.

Before the novel coronavirus, offices were planned for efficiency. Now, health is the number one priority. Following the CDC and WHO recommendations that people stay six feet away from each other, modern office spaces will shift to accommodate. Rooms will, by necessity, become lower capacity as facility managers move desks and conference seating to allow for space.

2. Changes in traffic flow.

Part of maintaining space between employees involves changing the way they navigate office spaces. If two people are walking toward each other, there comes a point where it's impossible to maintain a safe amount of distance.

In addition to changes in policy, this is going to lead to a shift in office layout. Avoiding sickness relies heavily on employee behaviors, but office planning can help change those behaviors. Some layouts make it easier to reinforce one-way navigation, and more and more offices are going to adopt them.

3. Changes in meeting spaces.

In the past, it was common practice for employees to hold meetings in their offices. Now, that may not be safe or comfortable for everyone involved -- offices are enclosed spaces, and disinfecting between meetings can create disruptive pauses in the middle of the workday. In the future, we're likely to see a new type of common room emerge: a room furnished with easy-to-sanitize materials and treated as an auxiliary office space just for holding meetings. These rooms could be thoroughly cleaned between uses, allowing employees the disruption-free space and atmosphere they need, while keeping everyone safe.

4. Touchless environments.

Washing your hands frequently, wearing gloves, using hand sanitizer, and not touching your face help keep you from contracting the novel coronavirus, but touchless environments are even better. They keep employees from coming into contact with each other's pathogens in the first place, so proper hygiene becomes added insurance against infection.

Increases in the automation of everything from doors to bathrooms, to HVAC systems help reduce the number of touchpoints in an office, thereby reducing the chance of a COVID-19 outbreak. In the near future, modern office buildings will be designed with minimal contact in mind, including the integration of app-based technologies to allow employees to enter, exit, adjust the lighting, open the blinds, and everything we currently rely on touch-based controls to do.

5. More flexible spaces.

Research has shown that fresh air and sunlight make it more difficult to contract COVID-19, and sealed-up buildings can develop sick building syndrome at the best of times. Modern office plans are probably going to become more of a compromise between the two -- offering increased fresh air and light, and flexible indoor-outdoor spaces for employees to work.

Before this, building design largely emphasized energy efficiency. This shift represents a compromise between saving energy and being healthy and more appealing. Fresh air spaces don't just reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, they can entice remote workers to spend time at the office. This is important for maintaining a solid company culture; even employees who spend 90% of their time working from home benefit from a shared space for collaboration.

6. New furniture.

Studies show that the novel coronavirus is capable of surviving on certain surfaces, like glass and some metals, for up to 5 days. While surfaces aren't considered as important as airborne droplets in terms of transmitting the disease, choosing furnishings that are inhospitable to viruses and easy to clean is still important for maintaining a safe, healthy building. Materials like copper and aluminum, two of the least hospitable to SARS-CoV-2, are likely to become more popular in the future. We may also see the emergence of office furniture treated with continuously active antiviral coatings. While these coatings are still in the experimental stage, they have shown virus-inhibiting activity for 90 days at a time. That makes them a valuable addition to modern office furniture, doors, elevators, and other furnishings.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, has changed everything about the way we live and work. Even with a vaccine and improved treatment for this disease, it's going to be with us for a while. By adjusting office planning and culture to accommodate social distancing and employee safety, facility managers can ensure that workers stay safe, and businesses stay open.

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Restroom Operation Tips For Facility and Property Managers

Restroom Operation Tips For Facility and Property Managers

Restrooms are important for the comfort of employees and visitors, but can also require a lot of time and resources to keep clean, stocked, and maintained. The novel coronavirus has made an enormous impact on how people react when confronted with the possibility of infection, and this has caused many to view public restrooms with suspicion. As a place that potentially hundreds of people may visit daily, touching everything from door handles, to counter spaces, to toilet handles, public restrooms represent a significant possible source of surface-transmitted infection. Here are some ways that facility and property managers can make their restroom areas as safe, clean, and reassuring as possible:

1. Train employees to avoid cross-contamination and use cleaning tools appropriately.

There are a lot of disinfectants that are approved for eliminating the novel coronavirus on surfaces, but they only work as long as users are able to follow instructions. Some need to be applied on surfaces and allowed to work for ten minutes, and can't do their job if a maintenance worker is in too much of a rush to give them time. Make sure staff members understand the importance of following usage instructions to the letter, cleaning frequently, and taking steps to avoid cross-contamination. Some facilities achieve the latter by using color-coded reusable cleaning rags, saving one color for handles, another for windows, another for toilets and urinals, and another for surfaces like tables and counters.

2. Take advantage of low traffic times.

Every facility has peak usage hours, and times when things slow down a bit. Document when restrooms are likely to see few visitors, then use that time to schedule deep cleanings. Restrooms should receive regular disinfection at least once a day, in addition to regular deep cleaning to tackle spaces that may have been missed, hard-to-reach areas, or spots that get a lot of traffic.

3. Post signage.

Hand sanitizer is great in a pinch, but hand washing is more effective -- as long as it's done properly. Posting a helpful reminder of proper hand washing techniques can increase handwashing by up to 40%, according to The Healthy Hand Washing Survey by Bradley Corp. Signs can also help restrict the maximum occupancy of restrooms, making it easier to socially distance. Signs don't just let employees and guests know what to do, they show that you take their health seriously and are working to protect them.

4. Enforce social distancing.

Placing tape or plastic bags over urinals, or even physically locking bathroom stalls, can help users maintain social distancing. With fewer fixtures to choose from, guests will be forced to use ones that aren't adjacent to each other, reducing the risk of person-to-person coronavirus transmission. This also reduces the number of fixtures that need attention from employees, saving time, and helping to streamline routine cleaning and disinfection.

5. Provide hand sanitizing stations near exits.

After a guest has washed their hands, they may still need to touch the sink, hand dryer, paper towel dispenser, or door handle before leaving. Providing a space for them to use hand sanitizer afterward can help keep them from picking up pathogens from these surfaces, and either getting sick or carrying them to another surface. Roughly 65% of people use paper towels to avoid touching these surfaces, so providing a trash can for them to dispose of used towels can help keep things neat.

6. Upgrade to touchless fixtures.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and all the cleaning and disinfecting in the world can only do so much. Since it's not feasible to thoroughly sanitize a restroom after each visitor, especially during peak usage times, touchless fixtures can offer guests a way to do what they need to do, while coming into contact with as few surfaces as possible. Hands-free washrooms are safer for guests and require fewer resources to sanitize.

7. Keep doors open.

While having touchless sinks, hand dryers, and toilets is great, there's still one spot that few guests can avoid touching: the door. Since touchless doors aren't a practical solution here, the next best thing is to keep them propped open. This keeps guests from having to touch the door with their hands to enter or exit, and allows them to gauge how many people are inside. This eliminates another key touchpoint and lets guests follow occupancy limits and socially distance more effectively.

Restrooms are a necessary evil. They require a lot of time and energy to keep clean and stocked, and, in a post-pandemic world, properly disinfected. Few guests look forward to visiting a public restroom, especially now. With these tips, facility and property managers can help improve their disinfection, protect their guests and employees, and ensure that their restrooms are as safe, clean, and welcoming as possible.

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Long Island's Plan For Reopening: What Facility Managers Need To Know

Long Island's Plan For Reopening: What Facility Managers Need To Know

As Long Island begins the process of reopening, it's important to have a solid plan in place -- not just at the federal, state, and local levels, but on an individual level. Before they attempt to reopen, facility managers should have their ducks in a row to make the process as smooth and painless as possible. Here's what we know about the phased reopening process (and what we don't):

What We Know

New York is planning to reopen in stages. Right now, Phase 1 of the reopening plan consists of manufacturing, construction, wholesale facilities, certain retail establishments with curbside pickup, landscape and gardening companies, low-risk outdoor recreation, and drive-in movies. This phase is expected to last about two weeks. Governor Andrew Cuomo's office has laid out seven criteria that areas need to meet in order to qualify for Phase 1 of the reopening plan. This is designed to keep tabs on the state's ability to contain existing outbreaks, as well as to weather a possible second wave of infections. The criteria are:

  • A 14-day long sustained decline in hospitalizations or under 15 new hospitalizations (averaged over three days) due to COVID-19.
  • A 14-day long decline in COVID-19-related hospital deaths or under five new deaths (averaged over three days).
  • Fewer than two new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents.
  • 30% or more of a region's hospital beds must be available.
  • 30% or more of a region's ICU beds must be available.
  • The capacity to conduct at least 30 COVID-19 tests per 100,000 residents monthly.
  • Must have at least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents, depending on the region's infection rate.

As of two weeks ago, Nassau and Suffolk county still fell short of these metrics. Right now, the number of hospital deaths has not been steadily declining, and there are still too many new hospitalizations for the areas to qualify. However, while Long Island still misses the mark, it's just barely -- the region saw an average of 3.06 new hospitalizations. According to the most recent data, Long Island also saw six days of declining hospital deaths with an average of 13 hospital deaths per day across the last three days.

As of this writing, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to use technology and limit train capacity in order to safely bring passengers back to the Long Island Rail Road, and Long Beach plans to reopen its boardwalk to city residents only. After evaluating the effects of Phase 1 comes Phase 2, at which point more businesses, including real estate firms, more retailers, and professional services, may reopen. Phase 3 allows bars, hotels, and restaurants to reopen. Lastly, during Phase 4, schools and entertainment venues (like cinemas and theaters) can resume operations.

What We Don't Know

It's important to highlight that the phased reopening process is designed to gather data just as much as it is to protect the public. While it relies on seven criteria that indicate a favorable turn in the spread of the virus, it's also designed with an uncertain future in mind. That means that there's still a lot that we don't know yet. It's anticipated that areas with lower population density, like upstate New York, are going to reopen first. Lower New York, which has a much higher population density, is expected to take longer. While the criteria put forth gives a solid idea of what these regions need to achieve before they can open, there's really no timeline.

Reopening depends entirely on its ability to curb infections and have enough medical capacity to deal with the emergence of new ones. This is going to take however long it takes, and can't be rushed. The original plan to shut down New York expired on May 15th, but many areas aren't ready to open just yet. As a result, the plan has been extended to the 28th. Right now, data on Long Island's hospitalizations and hospital deaths is still being gathered and evaluated. A fairly recent upswing in cases of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization set the region back, so, despite the current decline, Long Island officials are not yet sure when the region can enter Phase 1.

Where to Go for Help

Here are some resources for facility managers looking for more detailed information for their specific regions: The Nassau County Department of Health Phone: 516-227-9500 The Suffolk County Department of Health Services Phone: 631-854-0000 The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (for Kings and Queens county) Phone: 347-396-4100 The NYC COVID-19 Response Map Coronavirus Hotline: 888-364-3065 With experts predicting a resurgence of COVID-19, reopening needs to proceed with an abundance of caution. While Long Island hasn't quite met all of the criteria for entering Phase 1 of New York's reopening plan, it's getting close. Facility managers should be ready to proceed according to the plan, with risk management strategies in place to deal with the potential for new infections.

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