Has your business been closed for an extended period of time due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Even if you turned off your building’s water supply and drained all hot tubs and indoor pools prior to the shutdown, you will still need to take precautions to prevent waterborne illnesses when you reopen. The good news is that the CDC has an 8-step guide on how to safely restart your water and open for business after the pandemic is declared over.
8 Steps to Safely Reactivate Your Building Water Systems
1. Develop a Water Management Plan
Before you reopen your business, it’s a good idea to develop a water management plan in order to prevent bacterial contamination of the water supply. A particular risk for systems that have been shutdown for an extended period of time is Legionella, which most commonly grows in water that is between 77 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that water heaters, hot tubs and chillers are particularly susceptible to contamination from the bacterium. The CDC offers a Legionella training program.
2. Have Your Water Heater Serviced
Water heaters are susceptible to the growth of bacteria, especially after a long period of time where they were not used. Even if your water heater was left on during the shutdown, it’s extremely important to have it inspected by a professional to ensure it is in good working order and to have maintenance performed, including flushing and refilling the water heater and checking the temperature setting. Water heaters should be set to at least 120 degrees Farenheight.
3. Flush Your Entire Plumbing System
Before reopening for business, you’ll need to flush your entire plumbing system. This is because water can sit in your potable water plumbing pipes and stagnate. Of course, you’re probably thinking that the city treats all the water and those chemicals will remain in the water and protect it against the growth of pathogens. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The chemicals used to treat water don’t remain in stagnant water, and as the amounts of those water treatment chemicals diminish, bacteria growth can flourish.
In order to ensure the water flowing from your taps is safe, it’s very important to turn the taps on and let them run long enough to replace all the stagnant water with fresh water, which could take several minutes. This includes showers, bathtubs and all faucets. If you have an extremely large building with a lot of faucets, showers and bathtubs, you may need to flush the system by room or by floor to prevent a low water pressure situation. You will need to flush the hot and cold water separately. For the hot water, let the taps run until the maximum temperature has been reached at the point of use.
4. Clean and Sterilize All Water Features
If you have fountains and other water features in your building, you will need to drain, clean and sterilize them. This includes cleaning visible grime, slime and biofilm from the fixtures. The CDC and our plumbers at Althoff recommend following your manufacturer's recommended cleaning guidelines for your specific water features. If your water feature is fed by its own water supply, don’t forget to flush the pipe by running the water for a few minutes. Once the fixture is clean and the pipe has been flushed, you can return the water feature to service.
5. Have Any Pools and Hot Tubs Serviced
If your building has any pools or hot tubs that have been closed for an extended period of time, you will need to completely drain the water if the water was not drained when the fixture was closed. You will need to clean the pool or hot tub and remove any visible debris, slime, biofilm and biological growth. If you are not sure how to clean your pool or hot tub, it’s best to review the manufacturer's guidelines or call a professional pool and/or hot tub cleaning company to help you. Once the pool or hot tub has been fully cleaned, refilled and treated, it’s important to test the water to ensure it is safe. Only after all cleaning and testing has been performed should you return the fixture to service.
6. Have Your HVAC Cooling Tower Professionally Serviced
Prior to allowing the public and employees back into your building, make sure your cooling tower is clean and in good repair. Legionella, as well as other types of bacteria and pathogens, can grow inside cooling towers. This is because they are used to transfer heat. Our HVAC technicians in Chicago recommend having the cooling tower professionally serviced, which involves inspecting the cooling tower for visible filth and slime, cleaning the tower and testing the water, according to the manufacturer's recommended guidelines and the best industry practices for cleaning, disinfecting, shutting down and restarting cooling towers.
7. Have Your Safety Equipment Inspected and Tested
Before reopening your building your business, make sure all your safety equipment is in good repair, flushed and clean. This includes eyewash stations, decontamination showers and safety showers and fire suppression systems. Eyewash stations and safety showers should be flushed, cleaned and sanitized. If you’re not sure how to clean these fixtures, it’s best to call a professional. Your fire suppression system should be inspected, tested and repaired by a professional.
8. Check and Test Your Water Regularly
Once you’ve completely cleaned, sanitized and flushed your plumbing system, water features, pools, hot tubs and any other water-using appliances and equipment, remember to regularly test the water for contaminants, pH levels and temperatures. If you find any issues with your water system, you may need to clean certain items again. This is where your water safety program becomes essential because it will give you guidelines on what to check and when to check it and parameters for determining if extra cleaning and disinfecting as well as repairs need to be made.
Getting Ready to Reopen with Help from Althoff
If you’re getting ready to reopen after a prolonged shutdown, we can help. We have professional plumbers and HVAC technicians that can test and check your water, flush your pipes and water heater and prepare your HVAC system for reactivation. We can also perform any needed maintenance and repairs on your plumbing and HVAC systems.
To learn more about how we can help you safely reopen your business and to schedule a service or repair, give us a call at 800-225-2443. We are also available 24 hours a day to handle plumbing and HVAC emergencies.