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ASHRAE’s guide to reopening buildings

The ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force has developed guidance on how to reduce potential health risks when buildings reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic.

2019–20 ASHRAE President Darryl Boyce says we have reached a time where planning for a safe return to normal activities has become a priority.

“Safe operation of HVAC and building water management systems are critical components of building readiness and reopening, and ASHRAE’s resources provide a framework for developing plans in a variety of building types,” he says.

Some of the guidance recommendations include:

  • Create a strategic plan prior to opening a building. The plan should include measures to make occupants feel safer.
  • Review HVAC programming to provide flushing two hours before and post occupancies. This includes operating the exhaust fans as well as opening the outside air dampers. For buildings without the capacity to treat large quantities of outside air and when outside air conditions are moderate, open all windows for a minimum of two hours before reoccupation.
  • Ensure that custodial scope includes proper cleaning procedures on approved products and methods:
    • Disinfect high-touch areas of HVAC and other building service systems (e.g. on/off switches, thermostats)
    • Disinfect the interior of refrigerated devices such as refrigerators, where the virus can potentially survive for long periods of time. 
  • Run the system on minimum outside air when unoccupied.
  • Garage exhaust, if any, should run two hours before occupancy.

ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force chair Bill Bahnfleth says the key elements to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus are to perform needed HVAC system maintenance prior to re-occupancy.

Other considerations include how a decrease in water usage may have affected the plumbing, including if there is any bacteria growth. Facility managers and building owners can help mitigate the risk of waterborne pathogens (such as Legionella bacteria), by developing a water management plan.

ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force chair of Building Readiness guidance, Wade Conlan, says the building readiness guidance gives building owners resources and practical information while transitioning into a post-COVID-19 world.

More information about reopening buildings is outlined on ASHRAE’s frequently asked questions page, or click here to access the building readiness guidance.

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