4 steps for post-storm recovery of building systems

4 steps for post-storm recovery of building systems

Hurricane Sandy and the Nor’easter that followed a week later left a swath of destruction and a soggy mess in their wake. With the storms behind them, owners and operators of tens of thousands of commercial buildings -- including office buildings, schools, hospitals, malls and factories -- face the cleanup and remediation challenge of a lifetime. They need to get their buildings up and running quickly, but they also need to make sure that they are restoring a safe, healthy and comfortable indoor environment for building occupants and visitors.

Trane, a global provider of indoor comfort systems and services and a unit of Ingersoll Rand, offers these tips for commercial building owners and operators affected by the storms.

Get help to assess the situation. Cleaning up after a hurricane is a formidable task, so most building managers choose to work with experienced remediation experts to ensure that the job is done right. Make sure a qualified HVAC service provider is brought in to assess and address any damage to the HVAC system and use manufacturer-approved process steps to put the system back in service. 

Operators whose buildings are covered by a service agreement should contact their building services representative as soon as possible. Those building managers who worked with a building services provider to develop a comprehensive contingency plan are the best prepared.

Service the HVAC system. Hurricane Sandy flooded the basements, equipment rooms and grounds of many commercial buildings, often submerging HVAC systems and subsystems such as chilled water systems, refrigeration units, furnaces and air handlers. As a result, HVAC systems may be damaged or contaminated with dirt, debris and microorganisms.

At a minimum, the HVAC system needs to be thoroughly inspected, cleaned and disinfected by a qualified service technician, the sooner the better. HVAC systems that are exposed to moisture, dirt and debris over an extended period are more likely to rust or be compromised by bacteria, mold or fungus. As a result, it generally takes longer and costs more to make these HVAC systems operational again.   

Image of flooded buildings courtesy of Petrov Stanislav Eduardovich via Shutterstock.

Cleaning and remediation should be handled by experienced technicians. They will remove and discard flood-contaminated insulation and filter media, clean away dirt and debris, disinfect exposed components, and troubleshoot the system to determine whether any parts or components need to be replaced. Ready availability of certified parts is an advantage of working with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) with a well-developed parts distribution network.

There are also significant advantages of working with an original equipment manufacturer if HVAC system components are damaged beyond repair or if the cost of repair exceeds the cost of replacement. A good team can help building owners and operators consider all their options and make choices that will not only bring their building back on line quickly and efficiently, but will improve building performance, reduce their environmental footprint, and pay for themselves with energy and operating cost savings over time. 

Consider using temporary equipment. For some building operators, recovering from the hurricane and subsequent flooding may mean using temporary HVAC equipment. For example, portable dehumidification units can be highly effective at removing moisture from flooded areas to minimize damage and reduce the chances of further contamination by mold and other microorganisms.

Revisit the contingency plan. In the aftermath of a disaster, it is difficult for building operators to look beyond the immediate priority of getting their facilities up and running, reoccupying the building and returning things to business as usual.

However, Hurricane Sandy is a good reminder of the value of having an effective disaster recovery plan and business resumption plan that includes power and HVAC. Such a plan can help an organization reduce financial risk, protect the health and safety of building occupants, and provide peace of mind for the organization and its stakeholders.

Photo of Hurricane Sandy damage provided by Daryl Lang via Shutterstock.