Safety For Dormant Water Systems In Buildings

Facilities closed or with reduced occupancy due to the COVID-19 pandemic need to evaluate current water systems to ensure a healthy return to operations. Phigenics, a firm focused on water management, provides insight.

On May 12, 2020, Phigenics, a Warrenville, IL-based company that helps building owners and facility managers develop and implement comprehensive water management programs, and other related services, presented a webinar: Recommissioning Dormant Water Systems (RDWS). The event was sponsored by APPA, the association for Leadership in Educational Facilities, and focused on how to recommission properly after prolonged closure (such as those due to COVID-19) to ensure the water is safe.water dispensers

Phigenics culled 40+ questions from the discussion, and offers the Q&A on its website for facility management professionals, building owners, and others who are interested in the safety of their water systems. Facility Executive is sharing a selection of these below, thanks to Phigenics. These are presented by the company’s Michael P. Doyle, P.E., LEED AP, vice president of operations, and Molly M. Scanlon, PhD, FAIA, FACHA, director of standards, compliance at research.

For potable water fixture flushing, what is the range of water temperature used to flush? (Q#1)
The flushing would be to the temperature the system is set at to run during normal operating conditions. When flushing we suggest opening the cold water first, then run the hot water to the highest temperature allowed through the system. If your question implies doing a superheating flush of the system that is a different matter and may involve raising the temperature of the entire system on a temporary basis but this should not be attempted without a coordinated water management team effort to avoid scalding, plumbing problems, biofilm sluff-off or other unintended consequences.

Please address ice makers. (Q#2)
Ice makers sitting in dormant buildings along with any other device with water reservoirs or storage/holding of water of any volume need to be emptied, drained, completely, cleaned, filter removed/replaced, and essentially go through a full preventive maintenance procedure per manufacturer’s equipment recommendations to bring back into normal operating conditions. Also flush the “hard plumb” connection at the wall similar to other fixture flushing. If the building is going to remain dormant, your team should consider taking the ice machines out of service, empty, drain, and completely dry out the unit until you’re ready to recommission the device. Then continue to flush the wall connection as you would any other fixture on your flushing schedule.

There appears to be significant risks with showers in university dormitory facilities. Proper operation of Hot Water Return systems is critical; however, appears to be little understanding on this (e.g.) legionellosis grows if the temperatures are not maintained (140 to 120 degrees F is goal). (Q#4)
Legionella optimal growth ranges are (77 – 108 degrees F) per the CDC Toolkit. Maintaining adequate temperature level is a known control for reducing the likelihood of Legionella growth and spread. Your organization would need to keep logs/documentation of such. Also, after dormant periods your organization may consider removing shower head and aerators and soaking in a mild bleach solution, then flush the system to assure bacteria is not stagnated in the head of the fixtures in dormitory settings.

It was mentioned that flushing (for commissioning) should start 3 weeks prior to operations starting (resuming). What if we expect staff to return sooner than 3 weeks? Is it safe or should 3 weeks of flushing be performed as a pre-requisite for operations resuming? (Q#7)
Your organization is going to have to decide on the risk of specific situations. Ideally your team would begin a process of prioritizing locations/building and develop a plan of action for each building. If you expect staff in early what are the exposure fixture types? Will staff/faculty be required to wear proper PPE and face masks to reduce exposure not just for COVID-19 but for aerosolized water from fixtures? That said, it is always better to flush early and often. The question to ask is how you are going to validate (test) that the flushing was effective.

We don’t have current water programs as described by CDC. We have a need to develop a plan to get our buildings back to operational status as soon as possible. Is there any basic guidance on what we need to do at a minimum to ensure water safety? We have 100+ buildings on campus that we may consider dormant with possibility of stagnant water with staff wanting to come back as soon as stay at home orders are lifted and don’t have time to develop a full WMP. (Q#8)
Your organization could start with a recommissioning water management program effort that dovetails into a longer term effort of an on-going water management program. As we mentioned buildings can be sub-categorized and develop a re-commissioning plan that is scheduled based on available manpower and critical re-occupancy dates. If your team is unfamiliar with water management please go to the following training source for base information, at this link on the CDC website.

What type of vendor should I use to confirm building flushing and disinfection is complete? (Q#11)
There are a series of steps your team should take. First, document all flushing and disinfection activities. Require any company performing services to submit a short report (even if one page) on who, what, when and where services were performed if by a third party. If internal keep logs and records. These documents are necessary to perform verification of the water management program (WMP). For confirmation of a WMP this can be either verification activities or validation activities. We recommend an independent third-party organization to verify and validate the WMP. Phigenics performs those services on WMPs. We can audit your WMP to assure it aligns with ASHRAE Standard 188. If an independent consultant is not an option, your organization could ask a different department in your organization (health and safety) to verify the WMP is being implemented as designed and then coordinate validation testing with an independent third party. The important point for defensibility is to avoid the same team members who manage the WMP from confirming it operations or testing to assure no one on the team is “rigging or gaming” the system.

Do school facilities have a good track record for summer shutdowns that could inform and guide what we are facing with these COVID-19 shutdowns? (Q#38)
In our experience educational organizations have primarily ignored low or no use periods for building water systems at seasonal semester breaks (spring, summer, or winter). They simply assume conditions are the same prior to and after breaks. Obviously the longer the break period the more disconcerting the situation is. The COVID-19 stay at home is now extending low and no use into extended periods of time (6+ months) which is now become worrisome to not only the educational provider but to local authorities having jurisdiction.

To view the full list of Q&A on Recommissioning Dormant Water Systems, visit the Phigenics website at this link. Scroll to the bottom of the page, and look for “Click here to view the Webinar Q&A document.” (See our coverage of Phigenics’ April 23, 2020 announcing its Water Management Services (WMS) Rapid Response – COVID-19 Adaptive Reuse of Space service.)

General disclaimer for answers provided: All questions are answered using broad industry methods or best practices and not intended to be a specific solution for any building water distribution system since we do not have any information about your organization’s building water system or water management program. All information should be reviewed in the context of your water management program and decisions of the WMP team. Additionally, you must check with any authority having jurisdiction at the local, county, state, or federal levels before taking action about recommissioning activities including disinfection and flushing activities.

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